General Information of Japan for Tourists
The combination of Japan’s mountainous territory and the length of the archipelago (covering 22 degree of latitude) makes for a complex climate. There are big climate differences between Hokkaido in the north, which has short summers and long winters with heavy snowfalls, and the southern Ryukyu Islands, which enjoy a subtropical climate. At the same time, Japan’s proximity to the continental landmass also has significant climatic implications, producing a high degree of seasonal variation. In the winter months (December to February), cold, dry air masses from Siberia move down over Japan, where they meet warmer, moister air masses from the Pacific. The resulting precipitation results in huge snowfalls on Japan’s western side. The eastern side of Japan receives less snow but can still get very cold; Tokyo has colder average January temperatures than Reykjavik in Iceland, but snow, when it does fall on the capital, rarely lasts long. The summer months (June to August) are dominated by warm, moist air currents from the Pacific, and produce high temperatures and humidity throughout most of Japan. In the early part of summer there is a rainy season lasting a few weeks that starts in the south and gradually works its way northwards. Further heavy rains can occur in late summer when the country is visited by typhoons bringing torrential rains and strong winds that can have devastating effects, particularly on coastal regions. In contrast to the extremes of summer and winter, spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) are comparatively mild. Rainfall is relatively low and the days are often clear.
Average temperature▶ Average temperature
The unit of currency is the Yen (￥ or 円). Bills (notes) come in denominations of 10,000 yen, 5,000 yen, 2,000 yen and 1,000 yen (but nowadays 2,000 yen bills are rare). Coins come in denominations of 500 yen (both new and old coins), 100 yen, 50 yen, 10 yen, 5 yen and 1 yen.
Money can be exchanged at currency exchange counters located mainly at banks, post offices, hotels and airports.
Unfortunately, Japan does have a 8% consumption tax at shops, restaurants, etc. Tax may be included in the price depending on the product or restaurant. Tourists from overseas who make purchases tax-free at department stores and shops where duty-free services are available by presenting their passports. Please ask the department stores and shops for details. If you eat at expensive restaurants and stay at first class accommodation you will encounter a service charge – a disguised form of tipping – which varies from 10% to 15%. At Onsen (hot spring) resorts, a separate Onsen tax applies. This is usually 150 yen and applies at accommodation and public bath facilities.
ATMs accept overseas credit cards such as VISA, MasterCard, JCB, Diners Club and American Express as well as cash cards with logos issued by major banks of the world such as PLUS and Cirrus can be found. For other ATMs available for use, please refer to the following websites or visit the websites of the card companies.
- International ATM Service-JAPAN POST BANK
- Seven Bank Ltd.｜International cash cards have become available!
Mail can be sent from Japan to abroad at the post office. Post cards and letters can be left at the front desk of your hotel or dropped in a post box on the street or at a tourist site. All post cards cost 70 yen. Letters vary from 90 yen to 130 yen, depending on the destination.
The electric voltage in Japan is 100V AC, and odd voltage found almost nowhere else in the world. The frequency differs between eastern and western Japan. Tokyo and eastern Japan are on 50 Hz, western Japan including Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka is on 60 Hz. Most North American electrical items, designed to run on 110V to 120V, will function reasonably well on Japanese current. Japanese plugs are Flat 2-pin type (Type A), identical to North American plugs.
Tap water is safe to drink all over Japan, but drinking from mountain streams should be done with caution. There have been reports of the schistosomiasis parasite still lurking in the countryside in rice paddies or stagnant water – avoid wading around barefoot in these places.
In Japan you will come across both western style toilets and traditional Asian squat toilets, through generally traditional squat toilets are on the way out – you rarely find them in modern buildings or in homes. When you are compelled to squat, the correct position is facing the hood, away from the door. This is the opposite to squat toilets in most other places in Asia. Make sure the contents of your pockets don’t spill out. Public toilets are free in Japan, but toilet paper isn’t always provided so carry tissues with you. In homes and accommodations, separate toilet slippers are often provided just inside the toilet door. These are for use in the toilet only, so remember to change out of them when you leave.
Although smoking is prohibited in most public facilities as a general rule, there are some facilities with smoking areas. Smoking is prohibited where specified in the streets of downtown areas, shops, restaurants, etc.
How to bath in an Onsen hot spring
Two-thirds of Japan’s territory is mountainous, and most of these mountains were formed through volcanic activity. Thanks to this activity, we are now able to enjoy the benefits of Onsen hot springs in some 3,000 locations throughout the country.
Japanese baths differ from those in the West in that the tubs are deeper and they have a separate area for washing the body (called “Araiba”). When bathing in an Onsen, please observe the manners.
- Avoid bathing when hungry or full.
- Drink plenty of water before bathing. Do not drink alcohol.
- Before entering the bath, wash your body.
- Do not put towels in the bathwater.
- Rest after bathing.
Useful Japanese Phrases
|English Phrases||Japanese Phrases||How to pronounce|
|Yes / No||はい / いいえ||Hai / Iie|
|Thank you (very much).||ありがとう（ございます）。||Arigato (Gozaimasu)|
|I’m sorry / Exculse me.||すみません。||Sumimasen|
|This one please.||これをください。||Kore o kusasai|
|How much is it?||いくらですか？||Ikura desuka|
|Could you tell me where I am?||私がいる場所はどこですか？||Watashi ga iru basho wa doko desuka|
|Where is [the restroom]?||[トイレ]はどこですか？||[Toire] wa doko desuka|
|Where is [the bank]?||[銀行]はどこにありますか？||[Ginkou] wa doko ni arimasuka|
|How long does it take to get to [the train station] from here?||[駅]はここから何分ですか？||[Eki] wa kokokara nanfun desuka|