• Japan Destination Guide

Japan Destination Guide

Congratulations – you will soon be traveling to Japan! One of the world’s great travel destinations, arriving in this magical, mystifying country can feel like stepping onto a different planet. We know that you’ll have lots of pre-trip questions, so we’ve sorted together the frequently asked below.

Entry Requirements

Please note that all of the below information is correct at the time of writing. Your consultant will be contacting you separately with country-specific entry requirements well in advance of your departure.

Japan is fully open for foreign visitors. As of 29th April 2023 there is no requirement for Covid resting either pre-departure or on arrival, regardless of vaccination status.

Visa-free travel has resumed for citizens of 69 countries (full list here) which includes the US, Canada, UK, EU, Australia, and New Zealand. Passport holders from these nations have no restrictions on entry and nothing to arrange in advance of your departure. 

If you hold a passport from a country outside of this list you will need to arrange in advance of travel. Please speak to your consultant for further advice.


As Japan stretches from the northernmost island of Hokkaido near Russia all the way to the subtropics of Okinawa, the climate varies greatly from region to region making it essential to research your specific destination. 

Summers tend to be cool, while winters are long and chilly in the Hokkaido region. Around the Sea of Japan, there are fewer rainy days but winters bring heavy snowfall. Regions near the Pacific have mild winters with the rest of the year humid, warm, and sunny. In the Central Highlands, winters are moderately cold while summers are hot and humid. The Ryukyu Islands enjoy warm winters in the south and mild conditions in the north, with hot summers. They’re typically prone to typhoons.

In general, spring, the popular cherry blossom season, is cool and breezy with frequent sunny skies, although the rainy season begins in late May. Temperatures are mild, around 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the south (20 Celsius) and range in the low to upper 50s in the north (10 to 15 Celsius). Summer days are typically very hot and humid in many areas. The mercury can climb to 100 degrees (high 30s Celsius). The rainy season is June through mid-July, a time you’ll need an umbrella as well as a foldable fan to cool down. 

While typhoons are common in September and early October, the weather begins to cool and it won’t be as rainy, while temperatures hover anywhere from the low 50s to upper 60s Fahrenheit (10 to 20 degrees Celsius). Winters, especially in the mountains and in Hokkaido, can be very chilly with temperatures dropping to freezing, but in the Kyushu region, it can be quite pleasant, with high temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit, around 15 to 20 Celsius.

Health Matters

There are few potential health hazards in Japan. Japan is a first world country with excellent healthcare facilities all throughout the country. 

Tap water is safe to drink everywhere and food hygiene standards are very high. To avoid unnecessary plastic waste we recommend taking along a refillable water bottle and using water coolers (commonly found in hotel reception areas) to fill up as much as possible. 

You must arrange appropriate travel insurance before you depart for Japan. Your insurance policy should cover all medical costs, personal injury cover, and emergency evacuation. 

For an up-to-date list of vaccinations and inoculations required please speak to a medical professional well in advance of travel. 


Japan’s national language is Japanese, with little to no other language spoken anywhere in the country. Outside of major attractions and venues catering to foreign tourists, there are few who can speak conversational English. Younger generations have a better understanding thanks to English being taught in schools, but the emphasis is on reading and writing, rather than speaking. 

However, Japanese people are incredibly accommodating. Even with no grasp of eachothers’ language, you will find that locals go to extraordinary lengths to communicate with you. Google Translate – plus body language, mime, and lots of smiles – will get you through most interactions!

Individuals that you’ll be spending the most time with – your private guides, and key hotel and restaurant staff – will have a much better grasp of English vocabulary and understanding. Please be aware though that some may speak with a strong accent. Be patient and ask politely for a sentence to be repeated if you need to.

Public transport is extremely accessible for foreigners in Japan. All signage, and all train announcements, are in Japanese and in English. Automated ticket machines are multi-language. You will also find dedicated English-speaking reservation desks in all major stations. 

It’s still a great idea to learn some basic words and phrases for an easier experience while endearing yourself to the locals at the same time. Below are a selection of common phrases which will be useful wherever you are traveling in Japan.

  • Hello: konnichiwa  
  • Good morning: ohayo gozaimasu
  • Good evening: konbanwa
  • Goodbye: sayonara
  • Thank you (very much): arigato (gozaimasu)
  • How are you: ogenki desu ka?
  • Yes: hai
  • No: iie
  • Please: onegai shimasu
  • Sorry / excuse me: gomen nasai
  • I don’t understand: wakarimasen
  • It’s delicious!: oishii
  • Cheers: kanpai!

Cultural Etiquette

Throughout Japan you will find your hosts, and the general Japanese population very warm, polite, and welcoming to visitors. There are few major cultural faux pas and foreigners are usually given the benefit of the doubt. However, some things to be aware of:

  • Hellos, goodbyes, thank-yous, apologies, arrivals and departures…all involve a flurry of bowing. The precise length and depth of the bow denotes status between two individuals…but foreigners are not expected to know or partake in this. A slight nod or half-bow is perfectly acceptable – you will find yourself doing so countless times each day.
  • The Japanese dress relatively smart in general, particularly in bigger cities. Formal wear is not required, but looking neat and tidy is important.
  • Punctuality is a cornerstone of Japanese culture. Please study the pick-up times for transfers and tours noted in your itinerary. It is incredibly rude to be late in Japan.
  • Tokyo’s public transport system is famously busy, especially at peak times. Pushing and shoving on trains and around stations is common. Try not to feel aggrieved or to display aggression – this is simply part of city life. For this reason it’s generally best to avoid the subway network at peak times of day!
  • The feet are the lowest and therefore dirtiest part of the body. Your shoes should be removed when entering any home, any place of worship, and any room with tatami flooring (for instance ryokan bedrooms). You’ll often find shelves of communal slippers to use in many establishments; if you’re not keen on these, or have oversize Western feet, it’s fine not to use them…but be sure to pack your nicest socks.
  • Blowing one’s nose in public is considered very impolite. Keep sniffing until you find somewhere private!
  • The phrase itadakimasu – literally “I humbly receive” is said before every meal. You should never start eating before all members of the table are seated and this is spoken.
  • You might be surprised to learn that slurping and making other noises while eating is considered polite, especially when eating noodles. This is an expression of enjoyment of the food, so don’t be afraid to do it yourself. Holding a bowl of food close to your face is acceptable too.
  • However, never leave a pair of chopsticks set vertically in a rice bowl; this is offensive throughout much of Asia as it looks like incense sticks that are burned for the dead. 
  • Elders receive a high level of respect – they should always be allowed to take the lead in conversation and dining. The general rule is to never sit higher than the eldest person in a room. 
  • If you’re drinking with others then never fill your own glass – this implies that your host is ungracious. Wait for a drinking companion to fill it, holding the glass with two hands as they do as a mark of respect. Your hosts will also be expecting you to fill their glass when empty too – again use two hands for utmost respect. And remember to kampai! – cheers!
  • Etiquette around bathing in onsen could fill an article on its own. In brief: the water is for bathing, not for washing. You will find disrobing and washing areas before you get to the onsen – use them. The water is also considered sacred and nothing apart from bare skin should touch it – no bathing suits are allowed, no towels should touch the water, and long hair should be tied up. Most bathhouses are therefore separated by gender. If you feel squeamish about being naked then it is important to remember that everybody is in the same boat, so to speak, and the Japanese are accustomed to public nudity – no-one minds!
  • Passing money directly from hand-to-hand is rare in Japan. You will quickly come to notice the small trays at all shop, bar, and restaurant counters, hotel check-in desks, and in taxis. Place your money there, where the attendant will take it and then replace with your change.

Japanese Cuisine

Japanese cuisine has focuses on fresh, seasonal ingredients. The staple of most meals is white rice which is typically served steamed. Soybeans are often used, such as miso, and seafood is also very common (including seaweed), featuring heavily in Japanese fare. Every region in the country has its own unique and delicious dishes based on fish and locally available crops.

While there are many Michelin-starred restaurants here, you’ll also find lots of budget eats, including fast-food outlets and cheap eateries in shopping arcades and around train stations. There are countless KFCs and McDonald’s, along with Japanese chains such as Lotteria, Mos Burger, and Freshness Burger. You’ll never be far from a noddle joint offering ramen, udon, and soba. The bento, or boxed meal, is the equivalent to a packed lunch, available in convenience stores, train stations, and food halls at department stores. 

Traditional restaurants are often very small and typically specialize in one type of food, such as sushi, tempura, or yakitori. Some have picture menus, window displays, or English-language menus. 

Breakfast tends to be simple, such as a piece of toast with a fried egg and tea or coffee. At ryokans, you’re likely to be served rice, pickled vegetables, cold fish, and miso soup.

Japanese dishes come with various garnishes and sauces. Rice isn’t topped with soy sauce but eaten plain or with a blend of crumbled seaweed, spices, and fish. Soy sauce is used to dip sushi in before eating. It’s poured on tofu and grilled fish as well. 

Wi-Fi and Staying Connected

Most major hotels in Japan offer free Wi-Fi for guests, but traditional ryokans and smaller minshuku-style properties often don’t, especially in rural or mountain towns. If it’s a necessity, be sure to check the availability before booking. Often, you’ll find free Wi-Fi at fast food restaurants, coffee chains, and convenient stores although the signal can be slow. Paid hotspots are also available. 

If you plan on using calls and SMS during your stay then it is best to purchase a local SIM card. There are many providers offering SIM cards – your local guides will be happy to help you get set up when you meet them. You may be able to use your cell phone here by contacting your carrier and adding an international plan.Your other option is to turn off data roaming and only use your phone when connected to Wi-Fi.

Japan’s dialing code prefix is +80

Voltage and Your Electronic Gadgets

Japan operates on a 100V supply voltage and 50/60Hz. There are two associated plug types, types A and B.  We strongly recommend purchasing a universal travel adaptor to cover all your charging needs; those with multiple USB ports are especially useful. 

Japan observes Japan Standard Time, all year round, and does not adhere to Daylight Savings time. Time zone is UTC + 9:  nine hours ahead of London (GMT), 14 hours ahead of New York (EST), 16 hours ahead of Los Angeles (PST), and two hours behind Sydney, Australia (AEDT).


Japan’s currency is the yen. Banknote denominations are 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 Yen and coins currently in circulation are 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 & 500 Yen. The lower denomination notes and higher denomination coins will be your most used. 

Be aware that despite its advanced technology, Japan is still very much a cash-based society, although there have been great strikes made in the last few years, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic. You won’t be able to go completely cashless here. Most Japanese carry large amounts of cash but there are mobile apps, including Apple Pay and Google Pay, along with places where credit cards can be used. 

Most hotels and stores that serve foreign customers will take credit cards, but many grocery stores, bars, cafes, and smaller hotels do not. Businesses that do accept credit cards typically have a minimum charge and a surcharge, but that is starting to fade away. JCB is the most popular credit card here and Discover can be used anywhere that accepts JCB. It’s more widely accepted than Visa, Mastercard, or American Express. The rule to keep in mind is to always have cash as an alternative just in case. 

Debit cards are not widely accepted at stores and restaurants, but you can use your debit card to get cash from many ATMs. ATMs at most banks and convenience stores usually won’t work with foreign cards, but 7-11s are the exception. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they accept most foreign cards. ATMs at airports and post offices are another option.

You can also exchange currency at banks, but it’s pricier than what you’ll pay using an ATM. Post Offices can exchange cash for yen at a slightly better rate.

Tipping Expectations

Tipping isn’t customary in Japan, and it can even be considered rude. The Japanese culture is rooted in hard work, respect, and dignity, with people here taking pride in providing exceptional service while doing their job rather than hoping for a tip. That means you shouldn’t tip at a restaurant – most restaurants here require customers to pay for their meals at a front register and not with the server. There is no tipping required for taxi rides or hotel services either. Any attempt to tip will most likely be turned down.

There are two key exceptions for tourists however. Thanks to the influx of foreign tourists, private guides have become more accustomed to receiving tips. Secondly, tips to staff a ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inns) may also be acceptable. For example, if you’ve had an exceptional stay with thoughtful and personalized service (as is likely to be the case at high-end ryokans), you may feel the desire to tip the nakai-san (your room attendant) or the okami (the ryokan manager) at the end of your stay.

In both instances please remember that guides and staff in Japan are paid well and do not expect a tip. You should only tip if you feel you have received exceptional service, in which case a small amount of around US$10-20/per day (JPY 2,000-3,000) is about right. Remember that money should never be passed directly. Bills should be placed in an envelope, and handed over with both hands and a slight bow.


Japan is an extremely welcoming and safe place to travel. Asian societies are generally more collective-minded and conservative than we are used to, so crime, in general, is lower than in the west. Foreign visitors who take the same sensible, common-sense approach that they would when visiting any new city or country will near certainly have a completely stress-free trip.

Low-level petty crime is extremely rare, and crimes against tourists rarer still. Nonetheless, it is sensible to dress conservatively (flaunting wealth is frowned upon anyway) and leave any big watches or flashy jewelry at home. Do not take out or openly display big amounts of cash; just take out what you expect you’ll need that day. The rest can stay back in the hotel safe or be drawn out from ATMs as you travel around. If you’re walking around with a bag then it’s best to use a satchel or rucksack which can be strapped close to you.

If at any time you feel that you are in an uncomfortable situation or believe that you have been a victim of crime, immediately call our local partners using the 24-hour emergency contact details provided. Our local offices will immediately be able to assist and can take the lead in any dealings with the police if required.

If at any time you feel that you are in an uncomfortable situation or believe that you have been a victim of crime, immediately call our local partners using the 24-hour emergency contact details provided. Our local offices will immediately be able to assist and can take the lead in any dealings with the police if required.