For a singularly great vacation, plan a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. This island nation of bullet trains and towering pagodas showcases the best of the ultra-modern and a wide ranging past. Snow-capped mountains, Zen gardens, cherry blossoms, and haunting forests all frame this beautiful country.
Getting into Japan
You do not need a visa to enter Japan for any vacation that will last less than 90 days. A passport that will remain valid for the duration of your stay is all that is needed. Unless you are a millionaire, bringing cash into Japan isn’t a problem. If you bring in more than 1 million dollars, however, you will have to declare it.
Expect to have your fingerprints and a photograph to be taken upon entry. Except with certain exceptions, if you’re traveling with a diplomatic visa or transiting to another country through Japan, you will have to submit to these requirements.
If you have plans to work in Japan during your stay, you will need to apply for an appropriate visa. Traveling visa-free with only a passport makes you ineligible to work while you are in Japan. Like many other countries, changing your visa status while in Japan is impossible, so if your journey includes plans other than vacationing, you should prepare accordingly before you land.
While there are no required vaccinations for entry into this country, you should make sure you are up to date on all the common vaccinations, such as the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), chicken pox, polio, and the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccines. Optional vaccines include Hepatitis A and B, Japanese Encephalitis, and the rabies vaccine. You should consult your doctor before a trip to determine which vaccines, if any, would be appropriate for you based upon your travel plans and activities.
The Japanese are proud of the fact that their country has four distinct seasons. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit and take advantage of the mild climate with little rain. Summer time can be troublesome because of a month long rainy season followed by hot and humid conditions. Winters can be cold, which is well suited for some activities in the mountains, such as skiing, but can also be uncomfortable since many buildings lack central heating.
Here are some of the highlights for a vacation in Japan:
All of these suggested sites are merely the tip of the iceberg for a fulfilling vacation to Japan. For even deeper explorations into Japanese culture, learn the national Japanese game, Go, but do not be alarmed if you get beaten handily. In Tennoji Park in Osaka, it’s not uncommon to find large crowds gathered around two Go masters engaged in a game. The Gion district in Kyoto is another area where you can immerse yourself in traditional Japanese culture. While somewhat expensive, a stay in a Ryokan inn in Japan can give you the flavor of Japanese living. The unique culture of Japan and nearly infinite variety of activities will keep you coming back to the Land of the Rising Sun for years to come.
The traveler’s tongue
Even though many young Japanese learn English in school, the education system emphasizes written English. Consequently, fluent English speakers are few, especially outside of areas heavily frequented by tourists. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to be understood in English, you may have better success writing down what you want to communicate, given the Japanese educational emphasis on the written form of English.
The national language in Japan is Japanese, even though there is no official language of the country. While there are numerous dialects throughout the country, almost everyone will understand the Tokyo style of Japanese that most travelers learn. As a good rule of thumb, you should carry your hotel’s business card with you. In case you get lost or need to clarify your destination for a taxi, this business card can come in handy.
Written Japanese uses a mix of the Chinese derived kanji mixed with other more local systems such as hiragana and katakana. The latter can be particularly helpful because it is the syllable system used to incorporate foreign words. Since it consists of 50 symbols it is much easier to learn than kanji, which can take a lifetime. Complicating matters is the fact that the same words written in kanji in China and Japan have different meanings. Knowing Mandarin Chinese can give you the jump on learning Japanese, but be prepared to run into unexpected differences.
Naming conventions in Japan are entirely different from what we practice in the US. Unless you are close friends with someone, it is considered rude to use their given name. Instead use their family name followed by the suffix –san, which is the equivalent to Mr. or Mrs. in English. However, you must also remember that the Japanese use their family names first, followed by their given names. Instead of “John Smith,” to use an English example, the Japanese convention would be “Smith John,” and if you are not close friends with this person, than it would be polite to call them “Smith-san.” This is an Anglicized example and would not occur as such in Japan. It is given here only as an example of the concept.
Is Japan expensive?
A vacation in Japan is going to be on the pricey side. A single traveler on a moderate budget who plans to stay in mid-level hotels and to eat at reasonably priced restaurants a couple of times a day should plan for a daily budget of around 15,000 yen, the Japanese unit of currency. This translates to roughly around $150 a day and includes the costs of transportation, lodging, eating, and sightseeing.
Backpackers can get by in Japan on a tight budget of around $75 a day; however, you will need to plan on eating inexpensively at fast food restaurants or convenience stores (of which there are plenty), stay in hostels (a good resource for finding exceptional deals on hostels and dormitories is www.hostelworld.com), and travel by bus using a Japan Bus Pass.
Regardless of your budget, if you plan on traveling to multiple cities in Japan during your stay, a Japan Rail Pass is great investment. This allows unlimited travel on the main Japan Rail for a fixed period, either 7, 14, or 21 days. These trains only run until 9 PM, so plan accordingly.
Japan is a cash culture, meaning that most businesses will not accept credit cards. The few who do take credit cards charge an additional service fee for doing so. Most banks can convert your cash from dollars to yen, but you will find better rates at post offices. Withdrawing cash with your debit card can be a challenge as well. Most Japanese ATM's do not accept foreign debit cards. 7-11 convenience stores are exceptions to this however, and they are numerous. It is a good idea to carry a reasonable amount of cash with you in case you have trouble finding a suitable ATM to make cash withdrawals.
Do not tip! When you are in Japan do not even tip your change. The Japanese value hospitality and good service as a matter of course and conceive of tipping as a bribe for what is given naturally. It’s considered rude to tip.
C.W. Garay is an alumnus from the University of North Texas, where he received both his BA in psychology and an MA in English, specializing in creative writing, fiction. When not traveling he resides in Denton, TX, rated as the number one small town in which to live in the US according to Business Insider’s 2013 survey. In addition to writing articles on traveling, he also writes fiction under a pseudonym. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.