Accessible Travel

Japan gets mixed marks in terms of accessibility, or what is called bariafurī (barrier free; バリアフリー) in Japanese. You'll find most service staff will go out of their way to be helpful, even if they don't speak much English. In cities, train stations usually have lifts and station staff will help you on and off the train with a temporary slope. Rural stations are harder to navigate.

Across the board, newer buildings are likely to have access ramps and wheelchair-accessible toilets. Major sights are often accessible, even if not obviously so: shrines and temples, for example, often have back entrances with ramps. That said, what is considered 'accessible' at many sights might still mean steep slopes or long gravel paths.

A fair number of hotels, from the higher end of midrange and above, offer a barrier-free room or two (book well in advance); note that what constitutes barrier free is not always consistent, so check the details carefully. Should you decide upon arrival that a wheelchair (車いす; kuruma isu) would be helpful, hotel staff can help you rent one.

Some downsides: many neighbourhoods in Japanese cities lack pavements, and restaurants are often too cramped to accommodate diners in wheelchairs. Look for shōtengai (商店街; market streets), which are often pedestrian-only, covered arcades; most cities have them.

Accessible Japan (www.accessible-japan.com) is the best resource; they also produce an ebook with lots of detail.

Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

Bargaining

Bargaining is not common practice in Japan; flea markets are an exception, but a hard approach would still be considered rude.

Climate

Japan is prone to disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Sophisticated early-warning systems and strict building codes do much to mitigate impact, but are not foolproof.

Hot and humid summers present a real risk of heat stroke. Typhoon season runs from July to October (though may hit earlier or later). Severe typhoons can cause transportation delays or even shutdowns; at their worst, they can cause deadly flash floods and landslides.

Japan Meteorological Agency (www.jma.go.jp) Real-time weather and disaster warnings and up-to-date info concerning on-the-ground conditions in English.

JNTO Safety Tips (www.jnto.go.jp/safety-tips) Primer on what to do in the event of a disaster. Their app is clunky, but offers searchable and location-enabled weather and disaster alerts from the Japan Meteorological Agency, plus downloadable 'communication cards' with key phrases to help you get information in the event of an emergency.

Dangers & Annoyances

The biggest threat to travellers is Japan's general aura of safety. It's wise to keep up the same level of caution and common sense that you would back home.

  • In certain nightlife districts with underground sex and/or drug industries, travellers may be harassed or solicited. These include Roppongi and Kabukichō (Tokyo), Susukino (Sapporo) and Nakasu (Fukuoka).
  • Avoid touts or anyone who offers to 'help' you in such neighbourhoods, as the end result may be extortion.
  • In the event of a non-emergency situation, in which you would like to consult with the police, call 9110.

Government Travel Advice

The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.

  • Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
  • British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
  • US State Department (http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country.html)

Discount Cards

  • Seniors Many sights in Japan offer discounted entry to seniors (usually over the age of 65). A passport is usually sufficient proof of age.
  • Students Discounts for students are common at sights though foreign cards – even the International Student Identity Card – are recognised inconsistently. A Japanese-university-issued student card will always work, and is the only one that qualifies for student fares on trains and ferries.

Electricity

The Japanese electricity supply is an unusual 100V AC. Appliances with a two-pin plug made for use in North America will work without an adaptor, but may be a bit sluggish. Tokyo and eastern Japan are on 50Hz, and western Japan, including Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka, is on 60Hz.

Embassies & Consulates

Emergency & Important Numbers

Drop the 0 in the area code when dialling from abroad.

Ambulance & fire119
Police110
Country code81
International access code010

Feature: Japan Helpline

Japan Helpline (0570-000-911; 24 hours) is an all-purpose, English-language information hotline for problems large and small; for data users, contact them via the web form online at jhelp.com.

Entry & Exit Formalities

So long as you abide by the rules, entering and exiting Japan is usually hassle-free.

Customs Regulations

  • Japan has typical customs allowances for duty-free items; see Visit Japan Customs (www.customs.go.jp) for more information.
  • Stimulant drugs, which include ADHD medication Adderall, are strictly prohibited in Japan. Narcotics (such as codeine) are controlled substances; in order to bring them for personal medical use you need to prepare a yakkan shōmei – an import certificate for pharmaceuticals. See the Ministry of Health, Labour & Welfare's website (www.mhlw.go.jp/english/policy/health-medical/pharmaceuticals/01.html) for more details.
  • Pornography that clearly shows genitalia is illegal in Japan.
  • To bring a sword out of the country, you will need to apply for a permit; reputable dealers will do this for you.

Visas

Visas are issued on arrival for most nationalities for stays of up to 90 days.

Visitor Visas

Citizens of 68 countries/regions, including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, USA, UK and almost all European nations, will be automatically issued a temporary visitor visa on arrival. Typically this visa is good for 90 days. For a complete list of visa-exempt countries and visa durations, consult www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/short/novisa.html#list.

On entering Japan, all holders of foreign passports are photographed and fingerprinted. If asked, travellers arriving on a temporary visitor visa should be able to provide proof of onward travel or sufficient means to purchase an air or ferry ticket; in practice, this is rarely asked.

Visa Extensions

Citizens of Austria, Germany, Ireland, Lichtenstein, Mexico, Switzerland and the UK are able to extend their temporary visitor visa once, for another 90 days, but need to apply at a regional immigration bureau before the initial visa expires. For a list of immigration bureaus, see www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/soshiki/index.html.

For other nationalities, extending a temporary visa is difficult unless you have family or business contacts in Japan who can act as a guarantor on your behalf.

Resident Card

Anyone entering Japan on a visa for longer than the standard 90 days for tourists will be issued a resident card (在留カード; zairyū kādo). Those arriving at Narita, Haneda, Kansai or Chūbu airport will receive their cards at the airport (show your visa to airport staff to be directed to the correct counter); otherwise the card will be sent to a registered address.

Working-Holiday Visas

Citizens of 20 countries/regions are eligible for working-holiday visas: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Hong Kong, Hungary, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Taiwan and the UK.

To qualify you must be between the ages of 18 and 30 (or 18 and 25 for Australians, Canadians and Koreans) with no accompanying dependants. With few exceptions, the visa is valid for one year and you must apply from a Japanese embassy or consulate abroad.

The visa is designed to enable young people to travel during their stay, and there are legal restrictions about how long and where you can work; you may also be required to show proof of adequate funds.

For more details, see www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/w_holiday.

Etiquette

Japan is famous for its etiquette, though it's not as strict (or as consistent) as you might think.

  • Greetings Japanese typically greet each other with a slight bow, but may greet foreigners with a handshake; hugging and cheek kissing is considered alarming.
  • Queuing Join the queue, usually a neat line.
  • Public Transport It's bad form to eat or drink on public transport, except when riding the shinkansen (bullet train), or reserved-seat limited express trains; beverages in resealable containers are an exception.
  • Shoes Off Many lodgings and restaurants (and some attractions) request you leave your shoes at the door. Just take a quick look around – for a sign or slippers in the foyer – to see if this rule applies. Never wear shoes or slippers on tatami (woven floor mats).
  • Religious Sites There is no dress code for visiting a shrine or temple but it's polite to keep your voice down.

Insurance

Basic emergency coverage is adequate. Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.

Checking insurance quotes…

Internet Access

Decent wi-fi is standard in accommodation in Japan (though exceptions exist). Many cities and even some prefectures and villages have free wi-fi networks; however, public signals are often weak and/or patchy. Some convenience stores, shopping centres and attractions also have wi-fi. To avoid having to sign up and log in to multiple networks, download the Japan Connected (www.ntt-bp.net/jcfw/en.html) app, which gives you access to all partner networks.

Some travellers do manage to get by solely on free wi-fi, but many find it too inconsistent. If staying connected is a priority (and it can be very useful to have online-access navigation apps), consider renting a pocket internet device, which can be shared among multiple devices.

Japan Wireless (www.japan-wireless.com) Pocket wi-fi rentals at reasonable prices and with reliable service; pre-order online.

LGBT Travellers

LGBT+ travellers are unlikely to encounter problems in Japan. There are no legal restraints on same-sex sexual activities here, apart from the usual age restrictions.

Outright discrimination is unusual; however, travellers have reported being turned away or grossly overcharged when checking into love hotels with a partner of the same sex. Such discrimination is illegal, but is rarely litigated.

One thing to keep in mind: Japanese people, regardless of their sexual orientation, do not typically engage in public displays of affection.

Tokyo has the largest gay and lesbian scene, centred around the neighbourhood Shinjuku-nichōme ('Nichōme' for short), followed by Osaka (centred in Dōyama-chō). Though there have been signs in recent years of growing acceptance, outside of these safe spaces many LGBT+ people in Japan remain fearful of the potential social and economic ramifications of living publicly out.

To keep up to date with issues concerning Japan's LGBT+ community, and to learn about events and meet-ups, follow Nijiro News (@nijinews) on twitter. Utopia Asia (www.utopia-asia.com) is also a great resource.

Akta Community Centre Free AIDS tests, counselling and any other information you might need, in Tokyo's Shinjuku-nichōme.

Media

Free Magazines English-language magazines made by and for the expat community, like Tokyo Weekender (www.tokyoweekender.com) and Kansai Scene (www.kansaiscene.com), can be good sources for events listings and dining and drinking recommendations; look for them at TICs and popular foreigner hangouts.

Newspapers The Japan Times (www.japantimes.co.jp), sold at convenience stores, train-station kiosks and select hotels, is Japan's long-running independent English-language daily. Also see Asia & Japan Watch (www.asahi.com/ajw), the online, English-language portal for Japan's just left-of-centre newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun, for news and commentary.

Radio Bilingual DJs on Tokyo's InterFM (76.1FM; www.interfm.co.jp) do news broadcasts and public service announcements in English; in Kansai, tune into multilingual FM Cocolo (76.5FM; www.cocolo.jp).

TV NHK World (www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld), the English-language version of Japan's national broadcaster NHK, has lots of shows on travel and food in addition to domestic and international news; watch it online or in select hotels.

Money

In cities, credit cards are widely accepted; rural areas are hit and miss. Post offices and most convenience stores have international ATMs.

Currency

The currency in Japan is the yen (¥). The Japanese pronounce yen as 'en', with no 'y' sound. The kanji for yen is 円. With the exception of the ¥5 coin, all coins and banknote values are noted in Roman numerals.

Yen denominations:

¥1 coin; lightweight, silver colour

¥5 coin; bronze colour, hole in the middle

¥10 coin; copper colour

¥50 coin; silver colour, hole in the middle

¥100 coin; silver colour

¥500 coin; large, silver colour

¥1000 banknote

¥2000 banknote (rare)

¥5000 banknote

¥10,000 banknote

Feature: Have Cash on Hand

Be warned that there are still places in rural Japan that don't accept credit cards. It's wise to assume you'll need to pay cash at ryokan and smaller restaurants and shops; stock up when you're in a town with an ATM.

ATMs

Only a few branches of major Japanese banks – the big two are Sumitomo Mitsui (SMBC) and Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (MUFG) – have ATMs that accept foreign-issued cards; there will be a sign in the window if the bank has an international ATM. Otherwise, even bank ATMs that display Visa and MasterCard logos only work with Japan-issued versions of these cards.

The easiest place to get cash in Japan is at one of the country's ubiquitous 7-Eleven convenience stores. Their Seven Bank (www.sevenbank.co.jp/english) ATMs consistently work with foreign-issued Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Plus, Cirrus, Maestro and Union Pay cards; have instructions in English; and are available 24 hours.

Other convenience-store chains have international ATMs, but Seven Bank is the most user-friendly.

Japan Post Bank (ゆうちょ銀行; www.jp-bank.japanpost.jp/en/ias/en_ias_index.html) ATMs, found inside post offices and sometimes at train stations, also accept most foreign-issued cards and have English instructions. The downside is that they have opening hours that are only slightly longer than regular post-office hours.

There is a withdrawal limit of ¥100,000 per transaction at Seven Bank ATMs (and ¥50,000 at Japan Post Bank ATMs). Bear in mind that your bank or card company may impose an even stricter limit; if your card is rejected, this might be the reason why.

Credit Cards

More places in Japan accept credit cards than they used to, and now many bookings can be paid for online. Businesses that do take credit cards will often display the logo for the cards they accept. Visa is the most widely accepted, followed by MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club. Foreign-issued cards should work fine.

Note that Japanese tend not to use credit cards for small or sundry purchases; some shops and restaurants have a minimum purchase requirement (of maybe ¥3000 or ¥5000 to use a card).

Exchanging Money

Major banks and post office main branches can usually exchange US, Canadian and Australian dollars, pounds sterling, euros, Swiss francs, Chinese yuan and Korean won.

MUFG operates World Currency Shop (www.tokyo-card.co.jp/wcs/wcs-shop-e.php) foreign-exchange counters in major cities that can handle a broader range of currencies, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand dollars. In all cases, you'll need to show your passport. Note that you receive a better exchange rate when withdrawing cash from ATMs than when exchanging cash or travellers cheques in Japan.

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1¥80
CanadaC$1¥85
Europe€1¥129
New ZealandNZ$1¥74
UK£1¥144
USUS$1¥111

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

International Transfers

Western Union (www.wu-japan.com) has counters in most major cities.

Tipping

Tipping is not customary in Japan.

High-end restaurants & hotels usually add a 10% service fee to the bill.

Opening Hours

Note that some outdoor attractions (such as gardens) may close earlier in the winter. Standard opening hours:

Banks 9am to 3pm (some to 5pm) Monday to Friday

Bars 6pm to late, with no fixed closing hour

Boutiques noon to 8pm, irregularly closed

Cafes vary enormously; chains 7am to 10pm

Department stores 10am to 8pm

Museums 9am or 10am to 5pm; often closed Monday

Post offices 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday

Restaurants lunch 11.30am to 2pm; dinner 6pm to 10pm; last orders taken about half an hour before closing

Post

Japan Post (JP; www.post.japanpost.jp) is reliable, efficient and, for regular postcards and airmail letters, not markedly more expensive than in other developed countries. Even the smallest towns have post offices. Look for the symbol: a red T with a bar across the top on a white background (〒).

Mail can be sent to, from or within Japan when addressed in English (Roman script). If you want to ship purchases back, boxes are available for purchase at post offices. When presenting a package for shipping, staff will ask if there is a letter (tegami) inside, which will raise the shipping rate slightly.

Public Holidays

When a public holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is taken as a holiday. If that Monday is already a holiday, the following day becomes a holiday as well. Note that while only 1 January is an official public holiday most venues will remained closed (or with reduced hours) through 3 January.

Ganjitsu (New Year's Day) 1 January

Seijin-no-hi (Coming-of-Age Day) Second Monday in January

Kenkoku Kinem-bi (National Foundation Day) 11 February

Tennō Tanjōbi (Emperor's Birthday) 23 February

Shumbun-no-hi (spring equinox) 20 or 21 March

Shōwa-no-hi (Shōwa Emperor's Day) 29 April

Kempō Kinem-bi (Constitution Day) 3 May

Midori-no-hi (Green Day) 4 May

Kodomo-no-hi (Children's Day) 5 May

Umi-no-hi (Marine Day) Third Monday in July

Yama-no-hi (Mountain Day) 11 August

Keirō-no-hi (Respect-for-the-Aged Day) Third Monday in September

Shūbun-no-hi (autumn equinox) 22 or 23 September

Taiiku-no-hi (Health-Sports Day) Second Monday in October

Bunka-no-hi (Culture Day) 3 November

Kinrō Kansha-no-hi (Labour Thanksgiving Day) 23 November

Smoking

  • Smoking Many cities (including Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto) prohibit smoking in public spaces except within designated smoking areas. From October 2019, smoking in Tokyo will be banned inside all bars and restaurants that employ staff (other than family), unless they can provide an air-tight smoking area – the strictest regulations in the country to date; elsewhere smoking is permissible inside bars and restaurants unless specifically prohibited by the establishment.

Taxes & Refunds

Japan’s consumption tax is 8% (rising to 10% in October 2019). Many retailers (often noted by a sticker in English on the window) offer duty-free shopping for purchases totalling more than ¥5000. Only visitors on tourist visas are eligible; you'll need to show your passport.

More Information

Some shops will simply not charge you consumption tax at the point of sale. Others – particularly department stores – will charge you and then require you to go to the store's tax refund counter to get the money back; a small service fee may be deducted for this process.

Airports in Japan do not handle tax refunds so you do need to sort it out at the time of purchase. A form will be affixed to your passport then, which you'll simply hand over to customs officials at the airport when you depart.

For details, see https://tax-freeshop.jnto.go.jp.

Telephone

The country code for Japan is 81. Regional area codes vary from two to four digits (and always begin with a '0'); the total number of digits for landline numbers will always be 10, and 11 for mobile and IP phone numbers.

Mobile phone numbers start with 090, 080 or 070; IP phone numbers with 050; and toll-free numbers with 0120, 0070, 0077, 0088 and 0800.

When dialling Japan from abroad, dial the country code (81), drop the initial '0' and then dial the rest of the number.

Public Phones

Japan still has many public phones – a crucial lifeline when disasters wipe out the mobile network. Ordinary public phones are green; those that allow you to call abroad are grey and are usually marked ‘International & Domestic Card/Coin Phone’. Public phones are most commonly located around train stations.

Local calls cost ¥10 per minute; note that you won't get change on a ¥100 coin. The minimum charge for international calls is ¥100, which buys you a fraction of a minute – good for a quick check-in but not economical for much more. Dial 001 010 (KDDI), 0061 010 (SoftBank Telecom) or 0033 010 (NTT), followed by the country code, area code and local number. There’s very little difference in the rates from the different providers; all offer better rates at night. Reverse-charge (collect) international calls can be made by dialling 0051.

Mobile Phones

Japan operates on the 3G and 4G (LTE) networks. Prepaid data-only SIM cards (for unlocked smartphones only) are widely available at the airport or electronics stores.

More Information

Prepaid data-only SIM cards for unlocked smartphones are widely available and can be purchased at kiosks in the arrival halls at Narita, Haneda, Kansai and New Chitose airports, and also from dedicated desks at major electronics retailers like Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera. You can reserve ahead online or purchase on arrival.

Two safe bets are the Japan Travel SIM (https://t.iijmio.jp/en) and Japan Welcome SIM (https://wow-j.com/en/sim_wifi). Getting the SIM to work may require some fiddling with settings, so make sure you've got a connection before you leave the counter. Staff usually speak some English.

Currently only Mobal (www.mobal.com) offers SIMs that give you an actual phone number from which to make and receive calls; they offer English-language support and can ship to your accommodation. Otherwise, the variety is huge, and which provider to go with depends on the length of your stay and how much data you need.

Many mid- to high-end hotels in cities around Japan offer complementary Handy phones, which you can use free of charge for data and calls. For a list of properties that provide this service, see www.handy.travel.

Time

All of Japan is in the same time zone: nine hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Sydney and Wellington are ahead of Japan (by one and three hours, respectively), and most of the world's other big cities are behind: (London by nine, New York by 14 hours and Los Angeles by 17). Japan does not observe daylight saving time.

Toilets

  • The word for toilet in Japanese is toire (トイレ, pronounced 'to-ee-rey') but many prefer to use the more politely evasive o-te-arai (お手洗い; wash room) or keshōshitsu (化粧室; powder room).
  • Japan has few actual public toilets; most people prefer the privately maintained ones provided by train stations, tourist attractions, department stores, convenience stores and malls, which tend to be nicer.
  • Toilets are typically marked with generic gendered pictograms; but just in case, note the characters for female (女) and male (男).
  • Newer or recently redeveloped buildings may have 'multi-functional' (多機能; takinō) restrooms; these large, separate rooms are wheelchair accessible, may have nappy-changing or ostomate facilities, and are gender-neutral.
  • Increasingly, Japan's toilets are western-style (yōshiki; 洋式), often with fancy bidet features (these are called 'washlets'); however, you may still encounter a traditional squat toilet (washiki; 和式), especially in rural areas. When using a squat toilet, the correct position is facing the hood.
  • Toilet paper is usually present, but it's still a good idea to have a packet of tissues on hand.
  • Paper towels and hand dryers may or may not be present; most Japanese carry a handkerchief for use after washing their hands.
  • Separate toilet slippers will be provided in establishments where you take off your shoes at the entrance; they are typically just inside the toilet door. These are for use in the toilet area only, so remember to shuffle out of them when you leave.

Tourist Information

Even the smallest towns have tourist information counters (観光案内所; kankō annai-sho), located inside or in front of the main train station. In major cities, there should be at least one person on staff who can speak English. Outside of major cities, staff may or may not speak English (there is no consistency); however, there will usually be English-language materials, such as maps, and staff are accustomed to the usual concerns of travellers (food, lodging and transport schedules). Many tourist information centres have free wi-fi. While those in cities usually do not make bookings, rural ones can often call around for you.

Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO; www.jnto.go.jp), Japan's government tourist bureau, produces lots of travel information; its website, with content available in many languages, is a useful planning tool.

Travel with Children

Japan is generally a great place to travel with kids: it's safe, clean, full of mod cons and easy to get around. Not many sights go out of their way to appeal to children, so you may have to get creative, but teens should be easily wowed by pop culture and dazzling cityscapes.

Best Regions for Kids

  • Tokyo

Pop culture galore: stay in a hotel with a giant Godzilla statue, explore the world of Japan's top animator, Miyazaki Hayao, at the Ghibli Museum or shop for character goods. Teens will love neighbourhoods like Harajuku and Shibuya.

  • Kansai

Meet the deer of Nara-kōen, see the castle in Himeji and bask in the colourful lights of Osaka.

  • Central Honshū

Hiking and skiing in the Alps, cycling past rice fields and exploring old farm villages outside Takayama and a fantastic castle in Matsumoto.

  • Sapporo & Hokkaidō

Great skiing, snowboarding, hiking and camping opportunities for outdoorsy families.

  • Okinawa & the Southwest Islands

Work in a little beach time in subtropical Okinawa – a popular destination for local families. Off-the-beaten-track island Taketomi is great for kids: there are no cars (only bicycles!) and great, low-key beaches.

Japan for Kids

Larger cities have more public facilities for nappy-changing and nursing; department stores, shopping malls and larger train stations are all good bets. Breastfeeding is generally not done in public, though some mums do (find a quiet corner and use a shawl).

Eating

Local families take a lot of meals at 'family restaurants' (ファミレス; famiresu). Chains like Gusto, Jonathan's, Saizeriya and Royal Host have kids' meals, high chairs, big booths and nonsmoking sections. High chairs are not as common as in the West. Supermarkets, bakeries, fast-food restaurants and convenience stores stock sandwiches and other foods that kids are likely to go for; supermarkets carry baby food.

If your child has allergies, get someone (perhaps at your accommodation) to write them down in Japanese. Chain restaurants often have common allergens marked on the menus with icons. If you plan to stay at a ryokan with a meal plan, discuss any menu modifications when you book (places that regularly get foreign tourists should be accommodating); you can also book a stay without meals.

Getting Around

  • Trains and buses have priority seating for elderly, disabled or pregnant passengers, or people with young children, though many passengers ignore this; a gentle sumimasen (excuse me) should do the trick.
  • You won't get much sympathy if you get on a crowded urban train during morning rush-hour (7am to 9.30am) with a pram. If you must, children under 12 can ride with mums in the less-crowded women-only carriages.
  • Children between the ages of six and 11 ride for half-price on trains (including bullet trains), while those aged under six ride for free.
  • Most train stations and buildings in larger cities have lifts; however, many attractions, such as temples and shrines, do not have ramps (and prams do not get the same access to special elevators and back passages for visitors in wheelchairs).
  • Beware that side streets often lack pavements, though fortunately traffic is generally orderly in Japan.
  • Travelling by car is often a good strategy for families, as it makes child and luggage-wrangling easier. Destinations that are good for driving include pretty much anywhere outside the major cities.
  • Child seats in taxis are generally not available, but most car-rental agencies will provide one if you reserve in advance.

Children's Highlights

Amusement Parks

Trains

Japanese kids love trains; odds are yours will, too. Just getting to ride the shinkansen is a neat experience.

Skiing & Snowboarding

Cycling Tours

All of the following have child-sized bikes, though urban tours are better for older kids.

Baseball

Baseball is Japan's most popular sport and the crowds go wild for it, really putting on a show. This can be a really fun experience for kids, even if they're not already fans of the sport. All major cities have a local team. The season is March to October.

Karaoke

Every Japanese city has a karaoke parlour with English-language song catalogues listing all the latest hits (and plenty of classics too). A great way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Planning

Very little special planning is necessary for travellers with children heading to Japan.

Accommodations

Most hotels can provide a cot for an extra fee (providing there's enough room for one). Some hotels have triple rooms, but quads or rooms with two queen-sized beds are rare, as are conjoining rooms.

Local families often stay in traditional accommodation (ryokan and minshuku) with large tatami rooms that can hold up to four or five futons, laid out in a row. Unfortunately this can be pricey: if your child is old enough to require their own futon, the price is often the same or near to that of an adult (minus a discount for meals).

Hostels and guesthouses often have family rooms (or at worst, a four-person dorm room that you can book out); again there is usually no discounted child price. These also often have handy kitchen facilities.

What to Pack

Do bring any medicines that your child takes regularly (or may need), as Japanese pharmacies don't sell foreign medications (though similar ones can be found). The shinkansen (bullet train) is very smooth and few travellers report feeling motion sickness, but if your child is very sensitive, you might consider preventative measures; winding mountain roads are as nausea-inducing as anywhere.

Pharmacies stock nappies (diapers) and wipes; grocery stores and pharmacies carry baby food. You can find some common foreign snack foods (like certain brands of cookies) in grocery stores and convenience stores, but the selection is not huge. You might want to pack small plastic forks and spoons, as not all restaurants have these on hand.

Volunteering

Most meaningful volunteer work in Japan requires Japanese language ability or an ongoing commitment.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms Japan (www.wwoofjapan.com) Popular with travellers, this organisation places volunteers on organic farms around the country, providing participants with a good look at Japanese rural life and the running of an organic farm.

Weights & Measures

  • Weights & Measures Japan uses the metric system.

Women Travellers

Japan is a relatively safe country for women travellers, though perhaps not quite as safe as some might think – crimes against women are believed to be widely under-reported. The best advice is to avoid being lulled into a false sense of security and to take the normal precautions you would in your home country.

Foreign women are occasionally subjected to some forms of verbal harassment or prying questions. The risk of harassment is highest in nightlife districts, especially for solo female travellers. Local women tend not to wear low-cut or form-fitting tops; wearing one may draw unsolicited attention. Physical attacks are very rare, but do occur.

Several train companies have women-only cars to protect female passengers from chikan (men who grope women and girls on packed trains). These cars are usually available during rush-hour periods on weekdays on busy urban lines. There are signs (usually in pink) on the platform indicating where you can board these cars; children of any gender may also ride these cars.

Work

It is illegal for non-Japanese to work in Japan without a proper visa. Holders of student or cultural visas who have filed for permission to work, or holders of working-holiday visas, can work legally in Japan under certain restrictions. A full-time job requires an employer-sponsored working visa. There are legal employment categories for foreigners that specify standards of experience and qualifications.

The most common job is English-teaching; however, it is increasingly difficult to find jobs while in Japan that offer visa sponsorship. If you do find one, know that the sponsorship process can be a lengthy one – typically taking at least three months.

The first step is to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility, which requires handing over any number of documents (depending on the desired visa status), at the nearest Japanese immigration office. Once this certificate has been issued, you can then apply for a visa. Some companies may handle some or all of this process for you.

Given the high cost of living in Japan, it makes sense to secure employment and a working visa while still in your home country or while in Japan on a visa that allows part-time work (such as a student or working-holiday visa). The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme (jetprogramme.org), as well as some large English conversation school chains, sponsor qualified applicants.