Top events in Japan

March
08

Osaka Sumo Basho is one of the six annual big sumo wrestling tournaments in Japan which attracts huge crowds of sumo fans. Tickets can be...

March
11

This annual summer sumo wrestling tournament in Nagoya is very popular and attracts large crowds.

March
11

Japan's most famous festival takes place in downtown Kyoto, lasts for a month and includes the spectacular Yama-boko Junko parade of 30 floats on...

Mount Fuji, Japan
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Mount Fuji, Japan

© 123rf.com / Craig Hanson

Japan Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

377,915 sq km (145,913 sq miles).

Population

127 million (2014).

Population density

336.7 per sq km.

Capital

Tokyo.

Government

Constitutional monarchy.

Head of state

Emperor Akihito since 1989.

Head of government

Prime Minister Shinzō Abe since 2012.

Electricity

100 volts AC, 60Hz in the west (Osaka); 100 volts AC, 50Hz in eastern Japan and Tokyo. Plugs are flat two-pin plugs.

Japan is swathed in natural beauty, from the snow festivals and lavender farms of the northern isle of Hokkaido to the sun-drenched beaches and turquoise waters of the subtropical islands of Okinawa. Whether climbing volcanic Mount Fuji, wandering the pine forests of Mount Koya, taking in the springtime beauty of the sakura cherry blossoms or the spectacular maple leaves in the autumn, a journey to Japan is a wealth of unforgettable natural landscapes. In recent years, the powdery snow of Japan’s ski fields has also been attracting international visitors.

Culturally, Japan offers a unique and exciting fusion of the traditional and the modern. The speed at which new technological developments are realised in Japan is as impressive as the longevity of traditional art forms and customs. Whilst it is no longer the economic powerhouse it was for the greater part of the 20th century, Japan is still a world leader in innovative design and fashion, and continues to offer superb customer service, clean and punctual trains and meticulously prepared and presented cuisine.

Japanese culture embraces the new while celebrating the past. It’s not unusual to see kimono-clad geisha singing karaoke in downtown Kyoto, or fully-robed Buddhist monks whizz by on motorbikes in central Tokyo. ‘Cool Japan’ has become an internationally-recognised byword for Japan’s popular culture, and Japanese manga, anime and video games have never been more popular. Modern architecture in Tokyo, and other major Japanese cities, is well-regarded for forging radical new styles and using clever combinations of glass and concrete, which hint at traditional architectural forms yet offer minimalist sophistication. However, ancient castles, atmospheric Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and fascinating festivals are never far away.

Despite never having been colonised, the country’s own imperialist ambitions in Asia during the first part of the 20th century had devastating consequences, culminating in the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Japan has also had to deal with a vulnerability to earthquakes and tsunamis that has caused widespread natural disasters throughout its history. The most recent include the powerful earthquake that hit Kobe, a port city in Western Japan in 1995, and in March 2011, when a massive earthquake and tsunami off the coast of North-eastern Japan caused the country’s biggest loss of life since WWII, and resulted in one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

With great challenges of rebuilding and revitalisation ahead, the resilience of the Japanese people is proving to be essential to recovery. Greater emphasis is being placed on disaster preparedness and environmental issues. Renewed efforts to attract international visitors mean there has never been a better time to visit beautiful and fascinating Japan.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 04 March 2015

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.


Crime

Crime levels are low. It is generally safe to walk about at night and to travel on public transport, but you should maintain the same level of vigilance as you would at home and take sensible precautions.

Reports of inappropriate touching or ‘chikan’ of female passengers on commuter trains are fairly common. The police advise that you shout at the perpetrator to attract attention and ask a fellow passenger to call the train staff.

The Roppongi entertainment district of Tokyo is considered a higher risk area for crime. British nationals have been arrested following disputes with bar staff and doormen. There have also been reports of drink spiking with drugs like Rohypnol. Victims have described loss of consciousness for several hours, during which time large amounts have been fraudulently billed to their credit card.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you should report this at a police station and get a police report.

Emergency services

In cases of emergency, dial 110 for the police and 119 for the fire or ambulance services.  Calls are free of charge from any phone, including pay phones.

Fukushima

Based on guidance from UK Government scientists, the FCO advise against all travel to the exclusion zones around the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant identified by the Japanese authorities. These exclusion zones are kept under review. Even areas where evacuation orders are ready to be lifted (marked green on the map) are still subject to some restrictions - for instance visitors are not allowed to stay overnight.

The exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has been designated a restricted area. Anyone entering this area illegally is liable to a fine of up to 100,000 yen (£589) or detention.

The Japanese authorities are carrying out comprehensive checks to monitor radiation in the area surrounding Fukushima and to monitor possible contamination of water, and food and produce. They impose strict controls where necessary. There continue to be reports about leaks of contaminated water. These reports are being monitored by UK government scientists. Any significant change in the current situation will be reported on this page.

Although the situation at Fukushima will remain of concern for some time, the risks are gradually declining.

Road travel

To drive in Japan, you must hold an International Driving Permit (IDP), a current UK licence and insurance. An IDP is only valid for use in Japan for one year regardless of its date of expiry. Check the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department website for further details. You must carry your driving license with you at all times. Penalties for driving in Japan without the correct documents are severe.

If you intend to stay in Japan for longer than one year, you should apply for a Japanese driving licence. For more information and details of offices where you can apply for a Japanese licence, visit the Japanese Automobile Federation website

There are two types of driving insurance available in Japan:

compulsory insurance (jibaisekihoken) and voluntary insurance (nin’i no jidoshahoken). The compulsory insurance on its own may be insufficient in cases of personal liability.

Roads are well maintained. Driving is on the left, as in the UK. Road rules are mostly the same as in the UK, but drivers should pay particular attention to: pedestrians crossing roads at green lights, especially at junctions; cyclists travelling on the pavements or on the wrong side of the road and without lights at night; and taxi drivers stopping suddenly.

There are severe penalties to deter drink driving, including allowing someone else to drink and drive (for example if you are a passenger in a vehicle being driven by a drunk driver). Offences can attract a heavy fine or imprisonment. 

In 2013 there were 4,373 road deaths in Japan. This equates to 3.42 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK road deaths of 1,713 (source Dft). An average of 2.71 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2013.

Political situation

Japan is a stable democracy. Civil disturbances and violent demonstrations are rare. Occasionally, demonstrations of a pro-nationalist kind can involve hostility to foreign countries. Keep yourself informed of developments and if you become aware of any protests, leave the area immediately.

Mobile phone networks

Only 3G and 4G capable UK handsets will work in Japan. GSM-only UK phones don’t work, as there’s no GSM network. If you plan to make lots of calls or use mobile data in Japan, SIM cards are available to hire online or in-store. WiFi zones are also increasingly available in coffee shops, hotels and other public spaces.

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