Japan Travel Notes

We have planned for your trip to be enjoyable and carefree one with few concerns about preparation or any serious things to worry over after arrival. However, there are important cultural differences to be aware of, with some aspects of travel in this unique country often described as "only in Japan". Your pre-trip materials will include much of the information here as well as specific information about your trip.


Important Dates

April 29-May 5: Golden Week*
March & April: Cherry Blossom (Sakura)
September Sumo Festival
April-October: Baseball Season
April: Takayama Spring Festival

October: Jidai Matsuri Festival in Kyoto

October (2nd week): Onta Folk Pottery Festival
September: National Sumo Festival

* Avoid this very bust travel period


- Japan is one of the most expensive travel destinations in the world.
- Finer hotels can fill up to a year in advance.
- English is not widely spoken.
- Credit cards are not widely accepted.
- Japan is the safest travel destinations in the world.
- Mount Fuji is not visible much of the year.

- Specific activities and experiences may require advance planning.


Arrive and depart through Tokyo's Narita Airport, or through Osaka, by Japan, United, American, and ANA Airlines. Contact us for specific routing and quotes.


No visa is required for Japan. Visitors are permitted a stay of 90 days.


Our custom, private trips start from about US$500 per day, per person.


First time in Asia,Tranquility, History, World Heritage, Rituals, Festivals, Culture, Cuisine, Honeymoon, Arts, Pottery


China, Hong Kong, Taiwan


After almost three years, Japan has finally re-opened its borders to international travelers. Japan shut down their borders longer than most countries but the borders are open again, in part because the yen is losing value to the dollar and the tourist economy has bottomed. The overall economy is very weak and some places, like Kyoto, are running up debt in the hundreds of millions of dollars. In short, Japan needs foreign tourists now and it's the most affordable its been in decades. It’s a great time for a more affordable trip to Japan than it has been in decades. While this is good news for travelers, there still may be time before Japanese are fully comfortable with travelers returning. Be prepared for sanitary measures and masking, obviously, but also for locals keeping their distance.


A Beginners Guide to Japan by Pico IyerLong-time Japan expat Pico Iyer's 2019 A Beginner's Guide to Japan is an excellent primer on Japanese culture, mannerisms, and way of life. A collection of insightful observations and musings, Iyer reveals many of the enigmas foreigners encounter visiting Japan for the the first time, for example: "Japan is a society based more on trust than on faith; and lack of transparency can be less the enemy of trust than its perfect safeguard."

JAPAN CLIMATE (When to go)

Best: April & May, September & November
Good: December - March
Avoid : July & August (heat & humidity)

- Japan has four seasons, although it's important to recognize the regional diversity, with the archipelago stretching from subtropical islands in the southwest to the snow and ice of Hokkaido in the far north.
- Cherry blossoms (Sakura) ushers in spring, an ideal time to visit. Although there's a four-week rainy season across parts of Japan in June, the summer is warm and humid, with many festivals and special events taking place.
- Fall is cool, made especially beautiful by the autumnal colors. Southern Japan is mild and pleasant in winter but you can expect cold temperatures and short days throughout most of the rest of the country.

Major Festivals

- Mid-March through to early May is Japan's iconic cherry blossom season. Destinations in the south and west bloom first; Tokyo's first bloom is typically around the end of March. Places like Sapporo in the north bloom later, extending the season into May. Note that the cherry blossom season is the most popular time to visit Japan and accommodation is booked up long in advance.
- The Takayama Spring Festival (April 14 – 15) and Autumn Festival (October 9 – 10) transform a traditional wooden town with festival floats and a vibrant insight into traditions, Karakuri dolls among the things you'll get acquainted with.
- Gion Matsuri is Japan's most famous festival, filling Kyoto with additional enchantment throughout the entire month of July. July 17th and July 24th are the two most important dates.
- Hundreds of ice sculptures fill the northern city of Sapporo during the Sapporo Snow Festival, which typically takes place in the first full week of February.
- For a really local experience, consider the Chichibu Night Festival on December 2nd and 3rd, featuring lots of traditional flute music and many artistic floats.



The Thousand Autumns The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
An engaging realistic historical novel set during a period of Japanese history known as Sakoku when the Dutch held a trading concession with Japan in the late 18th century. The year is 1799, the place Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the Japanese Empire’s single port and sole window onto the world, designed to keep the West at bay. See other travel books and shows on Japan


Kurosawa's masterpiece, Ran. 1960s' international art-house sensation, Woman in the Dunes. Miyazaki's wonderful animated films, including Academy Award-winner and Japan's highest-grossing movie of all time Spirited Away.


- Japan is the most expensive travel destination in the world.
- Finer hotels can fill up to a year in advance


Our comprehensive pre-tour cover every detail of your trip and travel in Japan.
English is not widely spoken
Japanese Travel Myth Number 1
"The Japanese practice a refined culture and care must be taken not to offended". Relax, there are certainly some no-nos to avoid when traveling in Japan (such as touching people) but even if you speak impeccable Japanese and are unfailing polite, you are and will always be gaijin (foreigner).

Where to Stay

- Japan combines tradition with hyper-modernity and nowhere is this better explored than the accommodation. Stay in authentic ryokans and temples, or discover some of the world's most elaborate luxury hotels.

Traveling to Japan

- Tokyo is a typical starting point with a variety of direct connections from cities across the US and Europe. Osaka is a good alternative for incoming flights, another major city with a detailed network on onward domestic flights. On many Japan private tours it's worth investigating a multi-stop flight using both Tokyo and Osaka.

Traveling Around Japan

- Traveling around Japan is a major part of the experience. While domestic flights are required to reach the outlying islands, most travel is done by train, with high-speed Shinkansen bullet trains zooming through the country, and deliberately slow trains offering beautiful journeys through rural landscapes. This rail network enables ambitious itineraries to be realized, with a chance to stop in destinations all across the country.

Visa Requirements

- Visitors of most Western countries do not require a visa to visit Japan, including those with EU, US, Australian or Canadian passports.
- Upon arrival, visitors are given a 90-day visa-free stay.

Health and Safety

- Japan is one of the world's healthiest nations, something that partly emanates from the incredible cleanliness that the country is well known for. Health facilities are groundbreaking, at least on par with what can be found in major Western nations. Ensure travel / health insurance is up to date before travel.


Japan At A Glance

Capital: Tokyo
Time Zone: GMT + 8 (entire country)
Country Code Prefix: +81
Mobile: 3G and 4G compatibility
Electrical: 100 volts AC, two flat parallel prongs (same as in North America).
Emergency Numbers: Police 110, Ambulance and Fire 119.
U.S. Embassy Tokyo: 03-3224-5000
Embassy of Canada Tokyo: 03-5412-6200
British Embassy Beijing: 03-5211-1100

Japan has four distinct seasons. The following is a general guide, but it's also worth considering the regional changes. Tropical Okinawa has a climate more akin to Hawaii, while northern Hokkaido has a long winter ski season, stretching the seasonal boundaries. All the seasons are pleasant and there's no wrong time to go, although the longer days make summer the most popular season.

Spring (March – May)

Spring is Japan's premier time to visit, with a pleasant climate and the iconic cherry blossom season. It's recommended to book as far in advance as possible, due to the availability of hotels during these peak months.

Appearance of the plum blossom is a good sign that the cold winter will soon end and spring is just around the corner. This ushers in spring in early March and is followed by the famous cherry blossoms that bloom between the end of March and the beginning of April. Splendid views of mountains, fields and gardens, all blanketed in gentle pink abound in this season. Clothing: light jackets, light sweaters and other similar kinds of tops.

Summer (June – August)

The Japanese summer begins in June with a three to four-week rainy season, an important time for farmers to plant rice. It becomes hot and humid from July onwards and many Japanese enjoy bathing in the sea and relaxing at cool resorts in mountainous areas. Summer is when many interesting festivals and other events are held all over the country. It's a good season to see everywhere in the country, with the exploration enhanced by the long hours of daylight. Clothing: light clothes (cardigans and other similar kinds are handy, since indoors are mostly air-conditioned.)

Fall (September – November)

Fall always brings fresh light breezes and cool temperatures after the hot and humid summer. Forests explode in dyed pigments of glorious colors. Chrysanthemums create beautiful displays with their abundance of flowers, enchanting visitors in parks and gardens. Then there's the autumnal foliage, so many oranges and reds covering the trees. Fall is an excellent time to visit Japan and a season for many exhibitions, music concerts and sports tournaments. Clothing: light jackets, light sweaters and other similar kinds of tops.

Winter (December – February)

The temperature rarely drops below 0°C in the plains along the Pacific coast during wintertime but it is cold nonetheless. It is also quite dry and very often sunny. Southern Japan can be optimal now as it's comparatively mild and pleasant in winter. However, the northern island of Hokkaido is blanketed with snow, leading up to the famous Sapporo Snow Festival, among other winter pleasures. Clothing: overcoats, sweaters, long underwear, gloves.

Pre-Departure Planning

Travel and Cancellation Insurance

Obtain comprehensive before traveling to Japan, in particular, ensure you have an insurance policy that covers you for health emergencies when away from home. Japan has some of the world's best hospitals and healthcare, but it comes with a very hefty bill for anyone who isn't insured.

Passport Requirements

Your passport must be valid for six months beyond the end date of your trip; please check your passport is indeed valid for this amount of time. It's worth carrying a separate photocopy of your passport — invaluable for a quick replacement in the case of emergency.

Visa Requirements

No visa is required for travelers carrying passports from the USA, Canada, UK or any EU country. Upon arrival, visitors are issued a 90-day visa-free stay.


This is a country with so much to discover. Our Japan guided tours like to explore a vast array of sites and attractions, taking you to famous icons and hidden corners. This isn't the country for spending languid days on the beach, or lazy weeks at a resort. Japan is immersive and evocative, each day bringing something new. You'll be on the move, taking high-speed Shinkansen trains and domestic flights between destinations. You'll also be staying in traditional-style accommodation, with minimal furniture and the beauty of simplicity. As such, it's good to pack relatively light, taking luggage that's easy to open and pack away on a regular basis.

Packing List (And What Not to Pack)

As part of detailed pre-departure notes, Indochina Travel provides a recommended packing list to all clients, dependent on the destinations they plan to visit. The Japanese have an interesting way of dressing and many subcultures can be observed. It's difficult to blend in so we'd recommend that you pack the clothes that you are most comfortable wearing.

Japan has strict laws on what is considered an illegal substance, outlawing many pharmaceuticals that may be purchased over the counter in other countries. In particular, pseudoephedrine like Vicks inhalers and Sudafed are prohibited, along with very strong painkillers. This kind of medication can be brought into Japan with a Yakkan Shoumei, an import certificate that's declared to customs. At the very least, you should carry a copy of your prescription for any medication you're bringing into the country.

Landing in Japan

Touching Down

Our escorted tours Japan come with chauffeured transfers. So touch down, grab your luggage, and find your escort waiting just outside the arrivals terminal. We'll provide more detailed information on where to find your chauffeur before you travel.


As you would expect in the country that designs and manufactures so many electronics, Japan leads the way in terms of communication. Almost all hotels provide free WiFi Internet and there's excellent 4G connectivity all across the country.

Getting Around

A famous mantra says that travel is as much about the journey as the destination. That certainly rings true in Japan, a country that invented the bullet train and rules the world when it comes to efficient transport. The Shinkansen high-speed rail services are a real delight, giving you a quick insight into rural landscapes as they connect distant destinations at over 200mph. The second class seats would be considered premium anywhere else in the world. You can also travel on the network of domestic flights, a good option when visiting the outlying islands.


It's often amazing how many Japanese people speak passable English. However, confidence in using this English language is low and you may find that many locals aren't comfortable in conversing with you in English. That's certainly true on the streets, but in tourist establishments you should be met by a good standard of English, particularly in high-end hotels and restaurants. Your guide will assist on private Japan tours, as well as translating when you enjoy encounters with some of the country's unique locals.

The Japanese language rolls off the tongue and it's easy to learn a few basic phrases. We'd highly recommend doing this as it's a great way to endear yourself to the locals; any attempt at speaking Japanese is revered.

Money Matters

Japan should pose no problems when it comes to accessing money. Visa and MasterCard are readily accepted all across the country. American Express and other American brands are also used throughout the country; it's rare that you will be somewhere and not be able to pay with plastic. Almost all ATMs accept foreign cards although an additional fee is likely to be levied.

Forex facilities can be found in the airports and dotted across the city. Your guide can advise the best place to change your money. US dollars are the easiest but it's rarely a challenge to exchange other currencies.

Tipping is not expected in Japan, nor is it part of the culture. Respect and politeness are both valued above any monetary tip. Don't be offended or surprised if you give a tip and it is refused. If you are keen to leave a tip and aren't sure about how to go about it, check with your guide or the hotel concierge.

Health and Medical

China is a very safe and friendly place to travel. Medical facilities are excellent and crime is extremely low.

Immunization and Vaccinations

In general, no specific immunizations of vaccinations are recommended for travel in Japan. There is no malaria risk anywhere in the country.

Medical Facilities

Japan has an innovative and often world-leading infrastructure of medical facilities. This stretches into rural areas and you are never far away from an excellent hospital in the event of an emergency. Just make sure you have adequate travel / health insurance.

English-speaking staff can be found in most medical facilities but not everyone will be able to speak English. Often, the hospital or clinic will need to source one of their English-speaking staff. Another advantage of escorted Japan tours is having a guide who can accompany you and translate when required.


For pre-existing conditions, bring medication that can last your entire vacation. It is very difficult to purchase medication in Japan, even with a prescription from your doctor at home. Many medications that are available over the counter in the United States are outlawed in Japan, although some basic painkillers and other medications can be sourced. We recommend that you pack your medication as part of your carry-on luggage and inform us in advance of any notable medical conditions; we can alert guides in advance if required. All medical records, just like all your personal information, is kept confidential.

Personal Security

Japan is relatively rare as a country. Crime is so low that it's possible to leave possessions unattended without worry. Not that this is always advised, but it's a good indication of how the country operates. Indeed, Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and residents can go a whole lifetime without being victim of a crime.

Passports & Visas

Japan At A Glance

377,829 sq km/145,877 sq. miles (nearly the size of California)
Population: 127 million
Density: 333.7 people per sq km.
Capital: Tokyo (13 million+)
Time: GMT + 9
Country Code Prefix: 81
Mobile: 3G compatibility
Electrical: 100 volts AC
USD$1 = ~100¥
GBP£1 = ~135¥
not widely spoken

No visa is required for travelers from E.U., U.K., Canada or U.S.A. Your passport must be valid for six (6) months beyond the ending date of your trip; please check your passport is indeed valid for this amount of time. Please carry a separate photocopy of your passport and mobile phone image of the informations page—invaluable for quick replacement of a lost passport

Immunizations and Vaccinations

None required, nor recommended

Safety & Security

You may be astonished the first time you see Japanese leaving their possessions unattended, including cameras and purses, even in the larger cities. Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world (its most common crime is bike theft, yet even then, Japanese police recover more than 50% of stolen bicycles).

Weather & Climate

Japan, like many Western countries, actually experiences four seasons:

Spring (March – May)

Appearance of the plum blossom is a good sign that the cold winter will soon end and spring is just around the corner, followed by the famous cherry blossoms blooming between the end of March and the beginning of April. Splendid views of mountains, fields and gardens all blanketed in gentle pink abound in this season. Clothing: light jackets, light sweaters and other similar kinds of tops.

Summer (June – August)

The Japanese summer begins in June with a three to four-week rainy season, an important time for farmers to plant rice. It becomes hot and humid from July onward and many Japanese enjoy bathing in the sea and relaxing at cool resorts in mountainous areas. Summer is when many interesting festivals and other events are held all over the country. Clothing: light clothes (cardigans and other similar kinds are handy, since indoors are mostly air-conditioned).

Fall (September – November)

Autumn always brings fresh light breezes and cool temperatures after the hot and humid summer. Forests explode in dyed pigments of glorious colors. Chrysanthemums create beautiful displays with their abundance of flowers to enchant visitors to parks and gardens. Autumn is also the season for many exhibitions, music concerts and sports tournaments in Japan. Clothing: light jackets, light sweaters and other similar kinds of tops.

Winter (December – February)

The temperature rarely drops below 0°C in the plains along the Pacific coast during wintertime but it is cold nonetheless. It is also quite dry and very often sunny and Southern Japan is optimal, comparatively mild and pleasant in winter. Clothing: overcoats, sweaters, long underwear, gloves.


Japan Climate Chart

Average Rainy Days per month Tokyo, Japan

General Travel Notes

- Surprising to most travelers to the most modern country in the world, is how easy it is to become lost. With most signs in Japanese and English not widely spoken (even by taxi drivers), getting around can be confusing. Carry your guide, office, and hotel business cards with address in Japanese at all times (even in Tokyo, it's possible to get very lost).
- Locals rarely speak English with any fluency.
- Japan remains largely a cash-based society and credit cards are not accepted for most dining and in shops. Be prepared to exchange currency and withdraw from ATMs (easily accessible at every 7-11).
- Navigation an be difficult, with many street signs only in kanji. Most taxi drivers do not read English, have clear instructions for your destination written in Japanese. Your mobile GPS, which works great at home, may not work nearly as well in Japan.
- Pack with the expectation to be arriving into the world's greatest shopping city, Tokyo, where almost anything can be found and even Kyoto, which has fabulous shopping venues as well.
- Japan is a 3G mobile-friendly country and GSM-only phones do not work. In geek speak: local coverage is typically 3G UMTS 2100 MHz, 3G CDMA2000 800 MHz, or LTE band 1. Mobiles may easily be rented as well (inquire with us).
- Japan offers one of the healthiest and safest (and most efficient) travel destinations in the world. No vaccinations are required nor recommended and the country features world-class medical facilities.

Narita Airport

STOPOVER: No visa is required for Japan, meet escort for private transfer to hotel (35 minutes). If you have a stopover in Tokyo, the airport has ATMs to obtain Yen before you transfer into the city which we recommend in this cash-based society. For longer layovers, consider a sightseeing and dining in nearby Narita itself.

TRANSIT: No visa required for Narita although you will pass through a quick immigration and security screening checkpoint. The airport is easy to navigate and efficient, although we may arrange a transit escort upon request. Narita offers free Wireless Internet access and charging stations (North American dual-flat prong plugs).


Note that if stopping briefly at places between Tokyo and Kyoto, it is customary and an interesting "only in Japan" experience to have luggage transported separately directly to your Kyoto hotel room, which we will arrange. As with many other carriers, checked bags are typically limited to 20 kilograms or 44 pounds per piece.

Money Matters

Notify your credit card company in advance you will be making charges in Japan. Plan on bringing currency for immediate exchange at the airport and ATM card for obtaining Yen (¥) during your trip.

Japanese Yen


You may use credit cards for fine dining and larger purchases in Japan, but be aware many places in Japan are strictly cash only, including finer, expensive restaurants. ATMs can be used at post offices (but not banks) and ubiquitous 7-11s, all of which have quick and simple to use ATMs (which accept foreign cards as well). Money can be changed at the airport, at most banks, hotels, and at post offices. For best rates and to avoid bank lines, exchange travelers checks at the airport. Quick tip: How much is the Yen equal to? About a penny, roughly 100 to the dollar.

Exchange Rate for Today's Date:

Internet & Mobile Phones

As almost any place else, public Wi-Fi or wireless LAN hot spots are available at Starbucks, major airports, stations, and hotels. 3G & 4G phones are compatible with local Japanese service. For iPhones, AT&T charges about US$1.70 per minute under their World Traveler program or you may prepay under their LTE Roaming add-on. Use iMessage rather than text messaging, which is charged per messaging. Kyoto offers free Wi-Fi throughout the city in public spaces.


Japanese plug

Japan has 100 volts AC, similar to the U.S.. at 60Hz in the west (Osaka), 50Hz in the east and Tokyo. Flat 2-pin plugs are most common.

Two pin plugs (image right) from the US will work in almost all plug sockets in Japan which are identical. Only in very old sockets would you experience an issue but you are very unlikely to come across any of these

Out and About

Toto washlet remotePublic toilets are common throughout Japan and like most public spaces, typically spotless and private. Electric toilets with all manner of functions may take some getting used with instructions in kanji and puzzling icons (image right), but there is usually a manual flush button as well if you look around.


Don't be adverse to public transport, your guide may recommend this option to reach places far more difficult by car and every traveler should experience the marvel of Tokyo's subway at least once during their visit.

Larger shopping mall food courts are famous for their incredible variety and artisnal quality of dishes and should also be considered as an option for lunches.

If out on your own, most restaurants and cafes will not English menus, but often have photos or examples of dishes made from realistic plastic (an art in Japan).

Service in Japan is immediate and attentive, however you may expect mixed results often with staff only able to provide basic information or assistance.

Only in Japan

- In Tokyo, many other urban places, museums, train stations, and even your hotel, be prepared for crowded and limited spaces. A visitor will never forget riding the Tokyo metro during peak hours. Rooms, public toilets and spaces are much more narrowly defined in Japan and as likely a much taller foreigner, you will have to watch your head.

- Many travelers are surprised not only by the advanced technology in everyday Japanese life from bullet trains to toilets with full operating panels, but equally surprised by lack of modernity that many outsiders become accustomed to, such as using credit cards.

- Many of our travelers, justifiably, say they do not want to do much or any shopping during their trip. However, the Japanese are devoted to shopping, their favorite activity. In a country where shopping has evolved into a fine art, there is astonishing variety and style of shops, malls, and even vending machines. One basement food court in Kyoto is called the "theater of food" featuring delicacies only found in Japan and in the same store one may view ancient crafts and $100,000 kimonos. Unlike most of Asia, bargaining is not done in Japan.

Social Etiquette

"Better to die than live in shame." —Japanese Proverb
As you've no doubt heard, Japan is even more of a challenge than France in regards to etiquette. The Japanese can be painfully polite with the phrase "suimasen" or excuse me being heard constantly, in a low voice of course. It's often difficult to interpret locals, when they live in a culture where public display of emotion is muted ("The nail that sticks up gets hammered down" is another, timeless Japanese saying). But don't worry too much about it—locals will not expect you to adhere to each and every custom nor be offended if you do not (largely a myth perpetrated by travel media e.g. "chopsticks symbolize death," "don't point," "don't touch children on the head..."). Here is our short list of the most common things to pay attention to:

- In Japan, being direct and personal are not cultural traits as they are in Western societies, including such simple gestures as making eye contact. It is better to stay with general chit chat until you spend enough time with a local to touch upon personal subjects. Japanese are also unaccustomed to engaging in unexpected conversations or meetings with foreigners making it difficult to cozy up to chefs and artists as one may elsewhere, for example. Even asking directions can become a formal process. In Japan, open expressions of anger are rarest of all and confrontation of any kind is always avoided, as are yelling or loud speech.

- Forgo the handshake (or any physical contact), simply incline your head slightly (with eyes down) to greet someone. Japanese are typically uncomfortable with physical contact touch such as hugging and you'll quickly notice eager displays of affection such as kissing, are also uncommon.

- Shoes should be taken off when entering a house, onsen (bath), temple, some restrooms or restaurant with traditional flooring. There may be slippers placed out for you to wear in such places.

- Japan has many places that off-limits or begrudgingly open to foreigners, such as bath houses where a single tattoo will eliminate you from entry. Many establishments have signs only in Japanese. Please don't be offended.

- Japan is more formal than any other Asian countries and while casual clothes, such as jeans, are perfectly fine for sightseeing, adult men in T-shirts, flip-flops and shorts are a no-no.

- Shoes come off when entering homes, baths, ryokans, for but a few examples.

- Onsen etiquette (bath houses): Some onsen do not allow foreigners. Many onsen do not allow tattoos. Remove everything (shoes, and yes, all of your clothing). Shower or bucket wash before entering the bath.

- Obsessive cleanliness: taxi drivers with gloves, face masks (worn by those who are sick, not those as you would imagine are trying to avoid sickness or pollution), bowing instead of handshakes, complete lack of litter on the streets... the Japanese take being clean to another level entirely.

- Saving face, like in much of Asia, is in full effect in Japan. Even if someone is absolutely wrong, it's not appropriate to call them on it. Likewise, you may find locals shy about questions, like directions, in order to avoid embarrassing themselves or simply may give a you a best guess.

- Japanese do not typically eat or drink while walking in public. This one may be good to adhere to, because public trash bins are rare, and you may be left holding your trash for awhile. However, take this and other travel no-nos you may have heard or read about as far from being absolute. After all, you may exhibit perfect manners while traveling in Japan, you may have even spent decades in living there, but you will always be Gaijin (a foreigner), treated differently and not expected to adhere to Japanese customs. It's nothing personal, but the Japanese are steadfast in this cultural aspect more than almost an other people on Earth.

Dining Etiquette in Japan

Itadakimasu or "I will receive," which is polite to say before eating. Wait to drink until after someone has made a small toast. A small wet cloth used it to wash your hands (and never your face) before you dine.

- Since there is no tipping in Japan you are not assigned a dedicated waiter and may simply request service from any wait staff by yelling out "sumimasen!" Expect service to be outstanding despite the no tipping culture.

- In sushi restaurants, eat what is served without making special requests. In other places, eating is typically family style, sharing a mix of dishes.

- Pour drinks for your companion and they will do the same for you.

- Do drink and slurp soup out of your bowl with gusto.

- If you've been invited out, don't go Dutch—whomever invited whom out will pay the bill, but making a gesture to pay is appreciated. Also note, restaurants in Japan are unaccustomed to splitting checks.


Carry your hotel and guide telephone numbers at all times. You may dial 104 anytime and ask for an English operator. English is not as widely spoken in Japan as in many other Asian countries. In the major cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto there are more English speakers and in most situations you will usually find someone around who speaks English. However the further away from large urban areas you get the less English you will find spoken, and in rural areas you may struggle to find anyone who understands you

However there are often staff who speak some English at hotels, tourist sights and attractions. Signs in English follow a similar pattern – both in English and Japanese in the big cities, less so in smaller towns and rural areas. All but the tiniest train stations are signposted in English, including the whole rail and subway network in Tokyo. English explanations at sights and attractions vary; some have plenty of information in English, some have rather less. Menus in English can be found at some restaurants, again mainly those in the big cities with more regular non-Japanese trade. However, many restaurants that do not have English menus will have handy picture menus

  • Japanese basics:
    Yes = Hai
  • Please = Kudasai
  • Thank you = Arigato
    Excuse me = Suimasen
    Thanks, sorry, excuse me (informal, to a friend) = Domo

    Hello = Kon-nichi-wa
  • Goodbye = Sayonara
    See you later (informal) = Ja mata

Ryokan (Inn) Accommodation Notes

Ryokan lodging, at some point in your trip, provides the quintessential Japanese travel experience. However, some travelers skip the ryokan due to lack of comfort Western style hotel beds and furniture typically provide (Japanese futons lie flat on the floor) and rooms often feature minimalist, wooden furniture). Some ryokan do address this by offering Western beds. Urban-based ryokan also understand you may not want to be locked into having dinner included with so many options within a city and provide it as an optional part of your stay. Ask us for specific recommendations by location to best suit you.


Japan is famous for its no tipping culture in restaurants and for other services, but for Gaijin, "outside person" or foreigner, there are a few exceptions such as guides, drivers, and ryokan staff. In these cases, tipping should be made by envelope and not by giving cash directly from your pocket. Tipping is common when staying at a ryokan, with tip handed directly to your server or maid (1,000 yen in a small envelope is customary and up to 3,000 when staying consecutive nights), although a small souvenir gift from one's country is also acceptable. You can try to let a taxi driver "keep the change" but you may find that the driver at first refuses the tip, and tries to hand it back to you; it may take a couple of tries to get them to keep it. As in everywhere else in the world, guides and drivers are customarily tipped based on satisfaction.

Guides are tipped typically at 2,500 to 5,000 yen per day and drivers about half this amount.

Japan by the Numbers

"Only in Japan" is a typical saying about Japan, meaning that to a significant degree has things very different from most of the world. Nowhere is this better captured in numbers and statistics about Japan, with some more unusual ones listed below:

  • 45,936 sq. miles - Japan is about the same size as California
  • 127 million - population (almost 1/3rd above the age of 65)
  • 1.2 - Japan’s fertility rate, one of the lowest in the world and still declining
  • 38.14 million - population of greater Tokyo, the world’s largest city
  • 2.4 million - people who cross Shibuya Station intersection each day
  • 98.5 percent of population is Japanese (the most homogeneous in the world)
  • 200+ years - the amount of time Japan was closed off to the world
  • 84.5 years - Female life expectancy: (2nd highest in the world)
  • 99% - Literacy rate
  • US$3.7 trillion - Japan’s GDP (est.)
  • 1,500 - Number of earthquakes each year in Japan
  • 1,455 years - Age of the oldest company in the world (in Japan)
  • 110 - Number of active volcanoes in Japan
  • 17 - number of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto (most in a city)
  • 35.4°N - Latitude of Tokyo, about the same as Los Angeles (34.05°N)
  • 6,800+ - Islands in the Japanese archipelago (approximately)
  • 80% - Amount of land in Japan that is mountainous
  • 1 - No. of Emperors, Japan is the world’s only country with an emperor
  • 7.4 million tons of seafood - consumed, more than any other nation
  • 3,000 to 4,000 - number of trains using Tokyo Station everyday
  • 3,000+ - number of public onsen (hot springs) in Japan
  • 740,000 - passengers/day at world's busiest station: Tokyo’s Shinjuku
  • ¥481 billion (about US$5b.) - Money spent on manga (comics) each year
  • 300km/h (180 mph) - cruising speed of the Shinkansen (bullet train)
  • 50% - the percent of the zippers made in the world (by YKK)
  • 100% - Percent of ancient geisha who were male, more like court jesters
  • 4 - An unlucky number in Japan and avoided for addresses, etc.
  • 9,000 - Number of naked men in the annual Hadaka Matsuri
  • 5 million - Approximate number of vending machines in Japan
  • 85% - Percent of Jamaica’s annual coffee production imported to Japan
  • $200 - Cost of Japan’s most prized melons

INDOCHINA Travel Company

San Francisco California
Phone: (415) 418-6800