Bargaining

Bargaining is not common practice in Japan; flea markets are an exception.

Dangers & Annoyances

Japan is prone to natural disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, typhoons and landslides. Sophisticated early warning systems and strict building codes do much to mitigate impact (but they are not foolproof – a devastating lesson from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami). Smartphone app Safety Tips sends notifications regarding weather alerts, tsunami warnings and impending seismic activity and also lists key phrases to help you get information in the event of an emergency.

Otherwise, 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.

Government Travel Advice

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

  • Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.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

  • A good number of sights in Japan offer discounted entry to seniors (usually over the age of 65). A passport is usually sufficient proof of age.
  • Student discounts are common though not all places will accept a foreign student card.

Electricity

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
International operator0051

Feature: Japan Helpline

Japan Helpline (0570-000-911) is an emergency English-language hotline that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week; you can also make contact online at http://jhelp.com/english/index.html. Staff can help you negotiate tricky situations – such as dealing with a police station – or simpler ones, like recovering a bag you left on the subway.

Entry & Exit Formalities

Customs Regulations

  • Japan has typical customs allowances for duty-free items; see Visit Japan Customs (www.customs.go.jp) for more information.
  • To bring a sword out of the country, you will need to apply for a permit; reputable dealers will do this for you.
  • Pornography that clearly shows genitalia is illegal in Japan.

Visas

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

Visitor Visas

Citizens of 67 countries, including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, USA, UK and almost all European nations will be automatically issued a tanki-taizai (temporary visitor visa) on arrival. Typically this visa is good for 90 days. For a complete list of visa-exempt countries, consult www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/short/novisa.html#list.

Japanese law requires that visitors entering on a temporary-visitor visa possess an ongoing air or sea ticket or evidence thereof. In practice, few travellers are asked to produce such documents, but it pays to be on the safe side.

For additional information on visas and regulations, contact your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate, or visit the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (www.mofa.go.jp).

On entering Japan, all short-term foreign visitors are photographed and fingerprinted.

Visa Extensions

Citizens of Austria, Germany, Ireland, Lichtenstein, Mexico, Switzerland and the UK are able to extend the temporary visitor visa once, for another 90 days. To do so, you need to apply at the nearest immigration bureau before the initial visa expires; there is a processing fee of ¥4000. 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, which must be carried at all times.

Working-Holiday Visas

Citizens of Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Taiwan and the UK, and residents of Hong Kong between the ages of 18 and 30 (or 18 and 25 for Australians, Canadians and Koreans) can apply for a working-holiday visa.

This visa allows an initial six-month stay and two six-month extensions. It is designed to enable young people to travel extensively during their visit and there are legal restrictions about how long and where you can work. If you are considering moving to Japan and are eligible, a working-holiday visa is a good strategy: it allows you to work while looking for a full-time position that will sponsor a work visa.

To apply, single applicants must have the equivalent of US$1800 in funds (US$3000 for a married couple), plus an onward ticket from Japan. The working-holiday visa must be obtained from a Japanese embassy or consulate abroad. For more details visit www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/w_holiday.

Work Visas

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 a working visa. There are legal employment categories for foreigners that specify standards of experience and qualifications.

Arriving in Japan and finding a job that offers visa sponsorship is quite a tough proposition these days; though some do accomplish this, you will need sufficient funds to support yourself during the process.

Once you find an employer in Japan who is willing to sponsor you, it is necessary to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from your nearest Japanese immigration office. The same office can then issue your work visa, which is valid for either one or three years. This procedure can take two to three months.

The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program as well as some large English conversation school chains sponsor qualified applicants. Such jobs are best applied for before leaving home.

Etiquette

Japan is famous for its etiquette, though it's not as strict as you might think (and foreign visitors are usually given a pass).

  • Greetings Japanese typically greet each other with a slight bow, but may greet foreigners with a handshake; hugging and cheek kissing is considered alarming.
  • Queueing The Japanese are famous queuers, forming neat lines in front of subway doors, ramen shops etc.
  • Eating & Drinking Eating and drinking on streets and subway cars is generally frowned upon; beverages in resealable containers are an exception.
  • Shoes Off Many lodgings and restaurants (and even some museums!) 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 on tatami mats.
  • Religious Sites There is no dress code for visiting a shrine or temple but it's polite to keep your voice down.

Gay & Lesbian Travellers

Gay and lesbian travellers are unlikely to encounter problems in Japan. There are no legal restraints on same-sex sexual activities in Japan apart from the usual age restrictions.

Some travellers have reported being turned away or grossly overcharged when checking into love hotels with a partner of the same sex. Otherwise discrimination is unusual (though you'll likely be given a hotel room with twin beds). One note: Japanese people, regardless of their sexual orientation, do not typically engage in public displays of affection.

Tokyo has the largest and most welcoming gay scene, followed by Osaka. Most cities have at least a few gay bars, though the scene may not be as open to foreign travellers as that of Tokyo and Osaka. In rural areas, if there is a meeting spot, it's likely very underground. Utopia Asia (www.utopia-asia.com) has good recommendations for Japan.

Insurance

A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is essential. 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

Many cities in Japan (including Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto) and even some regions (like Shikoku) have free wi-fi networks for travellers, though the system is still clunky in areas. To avoid frustration, heavy users might consider hiring a pocket internet device.

Most accommodation now has wi-fi. Hostels and business chain hotels are the most reliable for this; other places might only have a solid connection in the lobby.

Getting Online in Japan

Wi-fi Hot Spots These include train and subway platforms, tourist sites and convenience stores – though signals are often weak. Look for the sticker that says 'Japan Wi-Fi'. Download the Japan Connected (www.ntt-bp.net/jcfw/en.html) app to avoid having to log in to individual networks; if you are unable to connect, try clearing your cache.

Pocket Wi-fi If you want the confidence that comes with a steady signal, portable wi-fi hubs that can connect to multiple devices are a good choice (especially for group travellers). Japan Wireless (http://japan-wireless.com) and Rentafone Japan (www.rentafonejapan.com) rent them out for around ¥5000/12,000 per week/month and can deliver to your hotel.

Boingo Subscribers to Boingo's global plan (www.boingo.com) can use BB Mobilepoint wi-fi at McDonald's restaurants, some convenience stores and some restaurants; coverage in urban Japan is good.

Internet Cafes Ubiquitous manga kissa (cafes for reading comic books) double as internet cafes; prices range from ¥200 to ¥700 per hour.

Starbucks All (1000-plus!) Starbucks stores in Japan offer free wi-fi to customers. You must register online to use the service (go to http://starbucks.wi2.co.jp).

Media

Newspapers are sold at convenience stores, train-station kiosks and some hotels in major cities. Look for free mags at airports and hotels; and bars and restaurants popular with expats; many cities have expat-run online magazines, too. 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).

  • Japan Times (www.japantimes.co.jp) Long-running English-language daily.
  • Japan News (http://the-japan-news.com) English version of Japan's most popular (and right-of-centre) daily, Yomiuri Shimbun.
  • Asahi Shimbun (www.asahi.com/ajw) Japan's left-of-centre daily has English articles online.
  • Time Out Tokyo (www.timeout.com/tokyo) Quarterly magazine on pop culture and events; look for its excellent mini city guides at TICs around Japan.
  • Metropolis (http://metropolisjapan.com) Tokyo's not-quite-as-relevant-as-it-used-to-be free expat rag.
  • Kansai Scene (www.kansaiscene.com) Free paper for Kansai's expat community.
  • Kyoto Journal (www.kyotojournal.org) In-depth articles on arts and culture from Japan and Asia.

Money

Post offices and most convenience stores have international ATMs. Most hotels and department stores, but only some restaurants and ryokan, accept credit cards.

Currency

The currency in Japan is the yen (¥). The Japanese pronounce yen as 'en', with no 'y' sound. The kanji for yen is 円.

Yen denominations:

¥1 coin; lightweight, silver colour

¥5 coin; bronze colour, hole in the middle, value in Chinese character only

¥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 many places in Japan – particularly outside the cities – that don't accept credit cards. Ryokan and smaller restaurants and shops are common cash-only places. It's wise to assume you'll need to pay cash; stock up when you're in a town with an ATM.

ATMs

Most Japanese bank ATMs do not accept foreign-issued cards. Even if they display Visa and MasterCard logos, most accept only Japan-issued versions of these cards.

The following have ATMs that routinely work with most cards (including Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Plus, Cirrus and Maestro; some MasterCard and Maestro with IC chips may not work). Be aware that many banks place a limit on the amount of cash you can withdraw in one day.

7-Eleven (セブン・イレブン; www.sevenbank.co.jp/english) The Seven Bank ATMs at 7-Eleven convenience stores have English instructions and are available 24 hours a day. Considering that 7-Eleven convenience stores are ubiquitous, this is the easiest option for getting quick cash. Withdrawal limit of ¥100,000 per transaction.

Japan Post Bank (ゆうちょ銀行; www.jp-bank.japanpost.jp/en/ias/en_ias_index.html) Post offices have Japan Post Bank ATMs with English instructions; opening hours vary depending on the size of the post office, but are usually longer than regular post-office hours. Withdrawal limit of ¥50,000 per transaction.

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.

Exchanging Money

With a passport, you can change cash or travellers cheques at any Authorised Foreign Exchange Bank (signs are displayed in English), major post offices, some large hotels and most big department stores.

For currency other than US dollars, larger banks, such as Sumitomo Mitsui (SMBC), are a better bet. They can usually change at least US, Canadian and Australian dollars, pounds sterling, euros and Swiss francs.

Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (MUFG) operates World Currency Shop (www.tokyo-card.co.jp/wcs/wcs-shop-e.php) foreign-exchange counters near major shopping centres in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Fukuoka. They will exchange a broader range of currencies, including Chinese yuan, Korean won, and Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand dollars.

Note that you receive a better exchange rate when withdrawing cash from ATMs than when exchanging cash or travellers cheques in Japan. Rates for the US dollar and euro are generally reasonable in Japan; other currencies, including the Australian dollar and the currencies of nearby countries, often fetch poor exchange rates.

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1¥84
CanadaC$1¥85
Europe€1¥120
New ZealandNZ$1¥80
UK£1¥141
USUS$1¥114

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

International Transfers

Western Union (http://wu-japan.com/find-locations/en) has counters in most major cities. For sending money out of Japan, Shinsei Bank's GoRemit service (www.shinseibank.com/goremit/en) is convenient.

Tipping

Tipping is not customary in Japan (leaving money on the table in a restaurant will usually result in the waiter chasing you down the street to give it back). High-end restaurants and hotels will 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 from around 6pm to late

Department stores 10am to 8pm

Museums 9am to 5pm, last entry by 4.30pm; often closed Monday (if Monday is a national holiday then the museum will close on Tuesday instead)

Post offices 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday; larger ones have longer hours and open Saturday

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

Post

  • The Japanese postal system is extremely reliable, efficient and, for regular postcards and airmail letters, not markedly more expensive than in other developed countries.
  • The airmail rate for postcards is ¥70 to any overseas destination; aerograms cost ¥90. Letters weighing less than 25g are ¥90 to other countries within Asia, ¥110 to North America, Europe or Oceania (including Australia and New Zealand), and ¥130 to Africa and South America.
  • If you want to ship purchases back, boxes are available for purchase at post offices.
  • One peculiarity of the Japanese postal system is that you will be charged extra if your writing runs over onto the address side (the right side) of a postcard.
  • The symbol for post offices is 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).

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.

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

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

Tennō Tanjōbi (Emperor's Birthday) 23 December

You will find intercity transport crowded and accommodation bookings hard to come by during the following high-season travel periods. Note that many shops and restaurants close for Shōgatsu and O-Bon.

Shōgatsu (New Year) 1 to 3 January

Golden Week 29 April to 5 May

O-Bon mid-August

Smoking

  • Smoking Japan has a curious policy: in many cities (including Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto) smoking is banned in public spaces but allowed inside bars and restaurants. Designated smoking areas are set up around train stations. The number of smokers is declining every year; in Tokyo especially, an increasing number of restaurants and bars are banning smoking.

Taxes & Refunds

Japan’s consumption tax is 8% (with an increase to 10% planned for October 2019). A growing number of shops offer tax-free shopping (noted by a sticker in English on the window) if you spend more than ¥5000. Passport required.

More Information

Since the tax is not charged at point of sale, there is no need to collect a refund when leaving the country; however, you should hand in a form affixed to your passport to customs officials when you depart. For details see http://enjoy.taxfree.jp.

Telephone

Japanese telephone numbers consist of an area code plus the number. You do not dial the area code when making a call in that area from a landline. When dialling Japan from abroad, dial the country code (81), followed by the area code (drop the '0') and the number. The most common toll-free prefixes are 0120, 0070, 0077, 0088 and 0800. Directory-assistance numbers:

Local directory assistance 104 (¥60 to ¥150 per call)

Local directory assistance in English 0120-36-4463 (9am to 5pm Monday to Friday)

International Calls

For international operator-assisted calls dial 0051 (KDDI; operators speak English).

There's very little difference in the rates of direct-dial international numbers. Dial one of the numbers, then the international country code, the local code and the number.

  • KDDI 001-010
  • NTT 0033-010
  • SoftBank Telecom 0041-010

Prepaid International Phonecards

Prepaid international phonecards can be used with any push-button phones, including regular pay phones. Look for the KDDI Superworld Card or the SoftBank Telecom Comica Card at convenience stores.

Pay Phones

Public phones do still exist and they work almost 100% of the time; look for them around train stations. Ordinary public phones are green; those that allow you to call abroad are grey and are usually marked ‘International & Domestic Card/Coin Phone’.

Local calls cost ¥10 per minute; note that you won't get change on a ¥100 coin. If you anticipate using pay phones regularly, you can purchase a telephone card (terefon kādo), sold in ¥500 and ¥1000 denominations at convenience stores.

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.

Mobile Phones

Purchase prepaid data-only SIM cards (for unlocked smartphones only) online, at airport kiosks or at electronics stores. For voice calls, rent a pay-as-you-go mobile.

More Information

Japan operates on the 3G network, so overseas phones with 3G technology should work.

Pre-paid SIM cards that allow you to make voice calls are not available in Japan. You must sign a contract for a monthly plan (minimum six months commitment with cancellation fees).

Iijmio Japan Travel SIM (https://t.iijmio.jp/en) cards work around this by partnering with telecom company Brastel (www.brastel.com/pages/eng/home), whose dedicated app will allow you to make and receive phone calls through your own 050 telephone number. Included with the SIM is a Brastel card that you can top up to pay for calls. Packages are good for 30 days or three months.

For short-term visitors (who think all of the above sounds awfully complicated), Rentafone Japan (www.rentafonejapan.com; email@rentafonejapan.com) offers straightforward phone rentals for ¥3900 a week (plus ¥300 for each additional day); domestic calls cost a reasonable ¥35 per minute (overseas calls start at ¥45 per minute).

Good for heavy users, JCR (http://jcrcorp.com) rents smartphones with plans that include voice calls, large amounts of data and tethering (meaning it can work as a portable wi-fi hub for other devices) from US$30 per week.

Both Rentafone Japan and JCR have good customer service in English.

Data-only SIM cards for unlocked smartphones are available at kiosks at Narita, Haneda and Kansai airports and at large electronics stores (like Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera etc) in major cities. You'll need to download and install an APN profile; ask staff to help you if you are unsure how to do this (they usually speak some English).

There is a wide range of options, depending on your data and speed needs (many cards will continue to work after data usage has been exceeded but the speed will be very slow).

B-Mobile's Visitor SIM (www.bmobile.ne.jp/english/index.html), which offers 14 days of unlimited data (the speed will be reduced for heavy users) for ¥2380, is a good choice.

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: (New York by 14 hours, Los Angeles by 17 and London by nine). Japan does not have daylight-savings (summer) time.

Toilets

  • You will come across both Western-style toilets and traditional squat toilets in Japan. When you are compelled to squat, the correct position is facing the hood, away from the door.
  • Public toilets are free. The katakana for 'toilet' is トイレ, and the kanji is お手洗い. Also good to know: the kanji for female (女) and male (男).
  • Toilet paper is usually provided, but it is still a good idea to carry tissues with you. You may also be given small packets of tissues on the street – a common form of advertising.
  • In many bathrooms, separate toilet slippers are provided – usually located just inside the toilet door. These are for use in the toilet only, so remember to change out of them when you leave.

Tourist Information

Even the smallest towns have tourist information offices (kankō annai-sho; 観光案内所), located inside or in front of the main train station. Outside of major cities, staff may or may not speak English (there is no consistency); however, there are usually English-language materials and staff are accustomed to the usual concerns of travellers (food, lodging and transport schedules). Many Tourist Information Centers (TICs) have free wi-fi.

Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO; www.jnto.go.jp) is Japan's government tourist bureau. It produces a great deal of useful literature in English, which is available from its overseas offices as well as its TIC in Tokyo. JNTO's website, with content available in many languages, is a useful planning tool.

JNTO has overseas offices in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the UK and the USA (see the website for details).

Travel with Children

Safe, clean and full of mod cons, Japan is a great place to travel with kids. The downside is that many cultural sights (shrines, temples and museums) may bore them; you'll want to work in plenty of activities to keep things fresh. Teens will love the pop culture and neon streetscapes.

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, take in an amusement park or shop for character goods. Teens will love neighbourhoods like Harajuku and Shibuya.

  • Kyoto

There are museums here that kids will love, like the International Manga Museum and the Kyoto Railway Museum, plus plenty of parks and gardens. Teens can get made up as geisha.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Japan for Kids

Eating

Food can be an issue if your child is a picky or unadventurous eater. Supermarkets, bakeries, fast-food restaurants and convenience stores stock sandwiches and other familiar foods; 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.

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, that have kids' meals, high chairs, big booths and nonsmoking sections. High chairs are not as common as in the West.

Sleeping

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.

Local families often stay in traditional accommodation (ryokan and minshuku) with large tatami rooms that can hold up to five futons, laid out in a row.

Hostels often have family rooms (or at worst, a four-person dorm room that you can book out). These also often have kitchen facilities.

International hotels in Tokyo partner with local childcare agencies that have English-speaking staff.

Infants

Nappies (diapers) are readily available. A picture on the package usually indicates if they are for boys or girls. Bottles, wipes and medications are available at large pharmacies.

Department stores, shopping malls and larger train stations usually have nappy-changing facilities. More are adding nursing rooms.

Breastfeeding is generally not done in public, though some mums do (find a quiet corner and use a shawl and likely no one will notice).

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 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 ask in advance.

Children's Highlights

Amusement Parks

Trains

Baseball

Take kids to see the crowds go wild for the country's favourite sport. Even non-fans are likely to get caught up in the infectious enthusiasm of the fans. All major cities have a local team.

Cycling Tours

Skiing & Snowboarding

  • Niseko United, Niseko One of Japan's biggest resorts, with English-speaking instructors and children's ski camps.

Karaoke

Every Japanese city has a karaoke parlour with 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, but 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. The only other thing you might want to pack are small plastic forks and spoons, as not all restaurants have these on hand.

Travellers with Disabilities

Japan gets mixed marks in terms of ease of travel for those with disabilities. On the plus side, many new buildings have access ramps, major train stations have lifts, traffic lights have speakers playing melodies when it is safe to cross, and train platforms have raised dots and lines to provide guidance for the visually impaired. You'll find most service staff will go out of their way to be helpful, even if they don't speak much English.

On the negative side, many of Japan's cities are still rather difficult to negotiate, with many narrow streets lacking pavements.

Major sights take great pains to be wheelchair friendly and many have wheelchairs you can borrow for free. Note, however, that 'accessible' at traditional sights (like castles and temples) might still mean steep slopes or long gravel paths. Often the accessible routes aren't obvious; tell staff (such as those at the ticket counter) that someone in your party is travelling in a wheelchair (車椅子; kuruma-isu) and you may be led around to some secret back corridors.

Train cars on most lines have areas set aside for people in wheelchairs. Those with other physical disabilities can use the priority seats near the train doors. You will also find these seats near the front of buses; usually they're a different colour from the other seats.

A fair number of hotels, from the higher end of midrange and above, offer a ‘barrier-free’ (バリアフリー; bariafurii) room or two (book well in advance). Larger attractions and train stations, department stores and shopping malls should have wheelchair-accessible bathrooms (which will have Western-style toilets).

Japan Accessible Tourism Center (www.japan-accessible.com/city/tokyo.htm) is a cheat-sheet for accessible sights and hotels in Tokyo.

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

Volunteering

Most meaningful volunteer work in Japan requires Japanese language ability; however, there are a few organisations that accept short-term, English-speaking volunteers.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms Japan (www.wwoofjapan.com) Popular with travellers, this organisation places volunteers on organic farms around the country and provides participants with a good look at Japanese rural life and the running of an organic farm. It's also a great chance to improve your Japanese-language skills.

OGA for Aid (www.ogaforaid.org) This bilingual (Japanese and English) group does community work in the coastal regions affected by the 2011 tsunami.

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 generally believed to be widely under-reported, especially by Japanese women. Foreign women are occasionally subjected to some forms of verbal harassment or prying questions. Physical attacks are very rare, but have occurred.

The best advice is to avoid being lulled into a false sense of security by Japan's image as one of the world's safest countries and to take the normal precautions you would in your home country. If a neighbourhood or establishment looks unsafe, then treat it that way. As long as you use your common sense, you will most likely find that Japan is a pleasant and rewarding place to travel as a woman.

Several train companies have introduced 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, and the cars themselves are usually labelled in both Japanese and English (again, often in pink).

While it's a little old, Caroline Pover's Being A Broad in Japan (2001) is still a good resource for any woman setting up in Japan.

Work

Japan is an interesting place to live and work for a year or two and you'll find expats in all the major cities doing just that. Teaching English is still the most common job for Westerners, but bartending, hostessing, modelling and various writing/editorial jobs are also possible. Outside of these fields, Japanese language ability or local connections are vital.

Note that it is illegal for non-Japanese to work in Japan without a proper visa. To qualify for most work visas you need a four-year university degree (even for the same jobs that hire working-holiday visa holders, who are not required to have a four-year degree). An exception is modelling, acting or entertainment work; however, most agencies have their own recruitment channels and landing a contract on arrival is near impossible without connections and a portfolio.

The key to landing English teaching jobs is presentation. While an English teaching certificate helps, a polished appearance and an eager, upbeat attitude go a long way.