Travel essentials

To make sure you enjoy your trip to Japan to the fullest, please read the following information.

Passport and Visas

To travel to Japan, your passport must be valid for 6 months upon entering the country and you must have a return ticket. EU passport holders will automatically receive a 90-day visa free of charge when they arrive in Japan. Other nationalities should check with their national Japanese embassy before booking.

Health

We advise you to make a travel appointment with your local medical team a few months prior travelling for the most up-to-date and accurate information.

You do not require any mandatory vaccinations to travel to Japan although some are recommended. We recommend consulting the Japan section in NHS Fit Travel as these have much more specific information.

In general, hygiene standards are high in Japan and street food and drinks, as well as tap water, are safe to consume.

Insurance

We strongly recommend that you take out a policy to cover theft, loss and medical issues. Please visit our page on travel insurance for further information. It is a good idea to photocopy and scan all relevant documents – passport, travel insurance policy, etc. – and leave one copy at home. Carry another copy with you, separate from the originals, and digital versions on your smartphone

Electricity

The electricity currents used throughout Japan are 100V. Japan uses two flat pin plugs, therefore you will need a regular type A adaptor.

Departure fee

Japan has a recently introduced a departure fee of 1,000 JPY(about £7) for both Japanese and foreigners when leaving the country. This tax will be included in your flight tickets so you do not have to worry about queueing for this at the airport.

Time difference: GMT +9

Clothing

Lighter clothing in the summer is recommended, but jackets are necessary if you plan to explore the Alpine regions. If you are visiting in the spring then bring some warmer clothes as the temperatures drop considerably at night. As a general rule, Japanese locals are always meticulously dressed and you are often expected to do the same. While Japan is less strict when it comes to dress codes than other Asian countries, when visiting temples it is always polite to dress conservatively and with covered shoulders. Easy to slip on/slip off shoes are more practical when visiting temples, or staying in ryokans, as you will be asked to remove your shoes when you enter.

While being there. Laws and Customs:

Bowing

Touching is considered impolite and hand shaking is not common in the Japanese culture. Simply bowing your head is the safest way to greet people and show gratitude.

Tipping

There isn’t a tipping culture in Japan because providing good service is considered an understood part of one’s job and is reflected in the price. However, tipping is not “rude” as some guidebooks suggest and in certain situations tips will be welcomed (see below). Do remember that it is bad manners to hand over tipping money directly, and it should always be done discreetly by, for example, leaving the tip in an envelope.

A general guide to tipping in common situations:

  • Restaurants: Tipping is not expected nor welcomed in restaurants. A service charge is already included in the prices.
  • Taxis: Taxi drivers do not expect tips. Private car drivers will welcome tips, but remember to hand them over discreetly. For a full day, we would suggest about 2,000 JPY (approx. £14).
  • Guides: If your guide was exceptional, you might want to reward him or her. The amount is at your discretion, but we would recommend between 2,000 and 5,000 JPY for a full day. Small gifts from your city are also welcomed instead of money.
  • Geisha shows: If you have the luck to attend a private evening with a geisha or maiko (apprentice geisha), tips are greatly appreciated especially by maiko who do not receive a salary. Appropriate tips for maiko/geisha are 3,000 – 5,000 JPY or even a 10,000 JPY note. These should always be passed on discreetly in an envelope at the end of the evening. If, however, you are participating in a shared dinner with geisha entertainment, tips aren’t necessary.

Please remember that haggling on prices is an uncommon practice in Japan at any establishment and it is even considered impolite.

Change of shoes

When entering a ryokan or an establishment with tatami mats, you will be asked to take off your shoes and wear slippers provided. During your travels in Japan, at places such as ryokan and izakaya (Japanese gastropubs), you may notice that there are slippers provided especially for use in the bathroom. When you enter the bathroom, leave your “non-bathroom” slippers outside and switch to the bathroom slippers.

Etiquette (dos and don´ts)

Dos in Japan

• Do bow when greeting someone. Bowing is the customary greeting in Japan, but handshaking is becoming more common especially in business contexts with Westerners. Bowing is a very important custom as it can express many meanings, including respect, gratitude, apology, etc.

• Do learn a few common Japanese phrases before you travel as English is not widely spoken.

• Do pack a few little gifts such as a little souvenir from your home town. It is considered rude to visit a Japanese home without bringing a gift.

• Give and receive gifts with both hands, and do not open a wrapped gift until later.

• Do wash yourself thoroughly before using public baths. The use of public baths is an integral part of daily life in Japan. However, the communal bath is for soaking and you should be clean before you join fellow bathers. All communal baths have an area with small stools, brushes and soaps to wash before you enter the main bathing area.

Don´ts in Japan

• Don’t be overtly affectionate in public. Japanese people do not show affection in public – kissing and hugging in the street are not common scenes and even a pat on the back is considered impolite.

• Don’t enter a Japanese home with your shoes on. It is customary to remove shoes at the door. There will most likely be a pair of slippers set aside for guests.

• Don’t leave your chopsticks sticking up out of a bowl of rice or any other dish. This positioning is associated with Buddhist funerals in Japan. When you are not using your chopsticks, place them neatly on the small chopstick rest provided.

• Don’t pass food from your chopsticks to someone else’s chopsticks. The only acceptable time to pass something between two people using chopsticks is at a funeral. After a cremation, the remaining bones of the deceased are picked up by a relative with special chopsticks and passed to chopsticks held by another relative who then places the bones into the urn.

• Don’t start drinking until everyone at the table is served and glasses are raised to make a toast. The Japanese drinking salute is “Kampai!”

• Don’t use your phone or talk loudly on the train.