Tokyo Travel Information
Electrical current is 100 volts, 60Hz in the west (Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Hiroshima); 100 volts, 50Hz in eastern Japan (Tokyo, Sapporo, Yokohoma). Flat two- and three-pin plugs are used.
Japanese is the official language. Most Japanese people will have studied English at school, but few can speak it well or understand exactly what is said to them in English.
No vaccination certificates are required for entry to Japan. Long-term travellers, staying for more than a month in rural areas, should consider getting a Japanese encephalitis vaccination if they are travelling between the months of June and September. Medical facilities are very good in Japan, but medical assistance can be very expensive and visitors have to pay the whole cost upfront. Travellers should ensure that they have adequate medical insurance before travelling. Vicks inhalers and other common medications used for allergies and sinus problems are banned under the strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law, and visitors are advised to check with the Japanese embassy if in doubt. It is always best to take prescribed medications with you when you travel, in the original packaging and with a signed and dated letter from your doctor detailing what the medication is and why you need it.
Tips and bargaining are not expected in Japan; in fact, tipping is usually considered almost rude and shouldn't be attempted.
The vast majority of visits to Japan are trouble-free. It is generally a very safe country with low levels of common crime and is stable, highly developed and modern. Travellers should, however, still be vigilant about personal safety and belongings.
Typhoons are common, particularly from August to October, and travellers should take note of storm warnings along the coastal regions if travelling during this period. Japan is in a major earthquake zone, and earthquakes of varying sizes occur very frequently.
The Japanese are formal and reserved and visitors are expected to behave politely. Their system of etiquette is one of the most complex in the world, with a strict code of conduct for almost every situation. It is important to avoid causing 'loss of face' by insulting or criticising someone in front of others. Bowing is the customary greeting.
Business in Japan can be highly formal and greetings are usually rather ritualistic due to the hierarchical society; a third party introduction is useful. Central to doing business in Japan is the notion of 'Kaizen', which represents the drive for constant improvement. Japanese business culture is very formal in dress code and conduct.
Always greet in order of seniority, first by bowing and then offering a handshake. A polite bow is customary; the more senior the person, the deeper the bow. Expect silence in meetings and don't be surprised if a business associate goes silent and closes his eyes in a meeting - it indicates reflection. As with many Asian countries, it is important to avoid being too direct, while still illustrating sincerity and honesty. When deflecting difficult or embarrassing questions, vague forms of expression are key.
Relationship building is central to business culture in Japan. Meetings often include excessive small talk as a means of building rapport. Calm, introverted and humble personality types garner respect. However, sober attitudes are suspended during social activities; evening drinks with business associates is an important part of solidifying business relationships in Japan, and whatever happens during the evening drinks, is never repeated or spoken about during business hours.
Business cards are exchanged often, using both hands. It can be useful to have cards printed with both English and Japanese, and one should present the card with the Japanese side facing the recipient. English translators are vital when conducting business in Japan as Japanese tends to be the language of business. Office hours start at 8am and finish at 6pm throughout the week. Business wear is formal and gifts, although not expected, are appreciated. Small items branded with your company's logo are generally well received.
The international access code for Japan is +81. The outgoing code depends on what network is used to dial out on (e.g. 001 for KDD) followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0011 for the United States). City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)3 for Tokyo and (0)82 for Hiroshima. Local calls can be made from any public phone, but only some allow international calls. Telephone cards are sold at kiosks and from vending machines. Hotels, cafes and restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. As international roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.
Travellers to Japan over 20 years do not have to pay duty on 3 bottles of alcoholic beverages; 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; perfume up to 56ml; and gifts and souvenirs to the value of ¥200,000. Prohibited items include all types of firearms and ammunition, narcotics, pornography, meat products, counterfeit money, all plants and vegetables with soil, fresh fruit, vegetables and plants or parts thereof.
Our Travel Expert
Anne loves travelling the world and says her memories are her most prized possessions. She has lived in Tokyo for many years and works for Arigato Japan, a company offering food tours and cooking classes.
Become our Tokyo Travel Expert
We are looking for contributors for our Tokyo travel guide. If you are a local, a regular traveller to Tokyo or a travel professional with time to contribute and answer occasional forum questions, please contact us.