Japan travel guide
From kimono-clad geishas singing karaoke in Kyoto to Buddhist monks whizzing around Tokyo on motorbikes, Japan is a fascinating land of contrasts, a heady mix of tradition and modernity that often bewilders but never bores.
Nowhere in the world blends the old and new quite like Japan. The speed of new technological developments here is matched only by the longevity of its ancient customs and traditions. The country is a pioneer in the fields of design, technology, fashion and cuisine. You can set your watch by the trains, eat meals that look like works of contemporary art and relieve yourself in the most technologically advanced toilets on the planet (some even talk to you).
Paradoxically, Japan’s embrace of the cutting edge is offset by its revered cultural traditions and celebrated historic achievements. Crumbling castles, atmospheric Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and fascinating festivals are never far away, with historic highlights including the striking Himeji Castle and Kyoto’s iconic Temple of the Golden Pavilion. There's also evidence of Japan’s dramatic recent history in cities like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the earliest nuclear bombs were dropped with devastating consequences during WWII.
If you love nature, you will adore Japan. This is a country swathed in natural beauty. Ski the powdery slopes of Hokkaido, revel in the springtime beauty of the sakura cherry blossoms, frolic in the sun-drenched beaches and turquoise waters of subtropical Okinawa, or climb up the iconic Mount Fuji. Wherever you go, good food is guaranteed – from fresh sushi and sashimi to robata-fired meats and sizzling sauces, Japan is a joy for gastronomes.
It is also a land of wild eccentricities, where you can buy used underwear from vending machines, watch men strip at the festival of Hadaka Matsuri and get amorous in one of the country’s many short-stay love hotels. These facets might jar somewhat with Japan’s polished image, but they help make it one of the most singular destinations on the planet.
377,915 sq km (145,913 sq miles).
126,323,715 (UN estimate 2016).
335.8 per sq km.
Emperor Akihito since 1989.
Prime Minister Shinzō Abe since 2012.
Last updated: 23 February 2018
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.
Mount Kusatsu-Shirane, near Kusatsu ski resort, in Gunma Prefecture erupted on Tuesday 23 January with reports of people injured. (Japan’s Meteorological Agency) has issued a level-3 volcanic alert on a scale of 5, telling people not to approach and a warning about the danger of falling volcanic rocks. If you’re in the area you should monitor local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities.
Tensions remain high on the Korean peninsula due to a series of DPRK (North Korea) nuclear and missile tests. There remains a risk of further missile and nuclear tests, which could lead to a further increase in regional tensions, and may affect Japan. Closely monitor developments, and follow instructions from the local authorities (Cabinet Secretariat Civil Protection Portal Site).
For updates on political events on the Korean Peninsula which could affect travellers to Japan you should read the South Korea Travel Advice
The Japanese authorities continue to maintain some exclusion zones around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility. Travel through these zones on some designated trunk roads is allowed. Follow local signs and instructions while travelling in this area.
The tropical cyclone (typhoon) season runs from June to December with most activity between July and September. You should monitor the progress of approaching storms and follow instructions issued by the local authorities, including any evacuation orders.
There’s a continuous risk of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis throughout Japan. Latest warnings and advisories are published on the Japan Meteorological Agency website.
271,600 British nationals visited Japan in 2016. Most visits are trouble free.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Japan, attacks can’t be ruled out.
To contact the emergency services call 110 (police) or 119 (fire and ambulance). Calls are free of charge from any phone, including pay phones.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
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.
Personal attacks, including sexual assault and rape, are rare, but do happen. Japanese law places a high burden of proof on the victim to demonstrate that the sexual relations were not consensual and committed through assault, intimidation or force. 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.
If your passport is lost or stolen, you should report this at a police station and get a police report.
Tokyo’s entertainment districts, like Roppongi and Kabuki-cho (near Shinjuku station), are considered higher risk areas for crime, in particular at night. There are reports of foreign nationals being targeted for drink-spiking, credit card fraud, extortion, robbery, assault and sexual assault in clubs and bars.
There have also been reports of drink spiking or deliberately giving customers drinks with much higher levels of alcohol than would be expected. Victims have described waking up, often in an unknown location, with no memory of the preceding hours and finding out that large amounts have been billed to their credit card.
Getting a police report, which may be required by credit card companies in order for any claim to be processed, can be very difficult in these circumstances. Make sure anything you drink can’t be tampered with. Be wary of accepting drinks from strangers and always have a trusted friend to keep an eye on any unfinished drink if you need to leave it for a period of time.
British nationals have been arrested following disputes with bar staff and doormen. including for refusing to pay exorbitant bar bills.
Prostitution and street touts are illegal but commonplace. Don’t accompany touts to bars and clubs under any circumstances. To encourage people into establishments, touts commonly misrepresent the services on offer, and/or wrongly suggest clients are free to walk away on arrival if they don’t wish to proceed.
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.
There are some exclusion zones around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which are clearly identified by the Japanese authorities. These exclusion zones are kept under review and have reduced in area over the past 5 years. Areas where evacuation orders are ready to be lifted (marked green on the map) are still subject to some restrictions - for instance visitors aren’t allowed to stay overnight. Follow local guidance.
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 (£715) 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.
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 licence 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). Legal limits are lower than they are in the UK and offences can attract a heavy fine or imprisonment.
In 2013 there were 5,152 road deaths in Japan. This equates to 4 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2013 (source: Department for Transport).
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.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Japan, attacks can’t be ruled out. You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including those frequented by foreigners.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Penalties for most offences tend to be more severe than in the UK. Detention, including for minor offences, is generally longer than in the UK and prison regimes in Japan are very strict.
Most Japanese people are very friendly and welcoming but can be reserved. Loud, boisterous behaviour is not as acceptable as it is in the UK.
In regard to sexual conduct in private, Japan is a tolerant society. However, public displays of affection are less common than in the UK.
Homosexuality is not illegal, although currently there are no provisions in Japanese legislation guaranteeing freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. While same-sex marriages are not recognised in Japan, some areas of the country have begun issuing equivalent certificates that can be used in civil issues, such as hospital visitation rights. Nichome in Tokyo and Doyamacho in Osaka are the most well-known LGBT areas. The Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade has been held without incident since 2012, with around 5,000 participants in 2017. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Drinks and meals are paid for at the end of your visit to a Japanese bar. Tipping is not necessary. In some places, prices can be high. Disputes over bills can lead to arrest.
Whale meat is available in Japan but importing it into the UK/EU is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Any importation of whale meat into the UK will result in seizure of the goods, possibly a fine of up to £5,000 and a custodial sentence.
You must carry your passport or residence card at all times. A new residence card system was introduced in July 2012. Information can be found on the Japanese immigration website
Japanese family law is very different from UK law. Take particular care if child abduction becomes an issue. Japan is a signatory of the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the Hague Convention), which entered into force in Japan on 1 April 2014.
Prescription and over-the-counter medicines
Some common prescription and over-the-counter medicines are banned and ignorance may not be considered a defence. Foreign nationals have been detained and deported for offences. If you need prescription medication for long term use, you may need to provide extra paperwork, such as an import licence. You should check with the nearest Japanese Embassy or Consulate for advice.
The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare also provides information about bringing medication for personal use.
Japan has a zero tolerance towards drug crime and there are severe penalties for all drug offences. Detection facilities at airports and post offices are effective. British nationals have been arrested and detained for receiving small quantities of cannabis through the mail, and for returning positive results in tests carried out by Japanese Police on customers in bars. British nationals have received sentences for drug trafficking ranging from 6 to 17 years with work, or even longer, as well as receiving large fines. Prisoners in Japan are expected to work as part of their sentence.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
If you have a ‘British Citizen’ or ‘British National (Overseas)’ passport, you can enter Japan as a visitor for up to 90 days without a visa. You may need to provide evidence of a return or onward ticket.
If you have a different type of British nationality, or you wish to enter Japan for other purposes (long-term stay, study, settlement, employment); if you have any doubts about whether you’re eligible to enter Japan (eg, if you have a criminal record or have been arrested even if it did not result in a conviction) or about visa matters generally, contact a Japanese Embassy or Consulate. Visas aren’t issued after arrival in Japan.
It’s illegal to work in Japan without the correct visa, however informal or temporary the work. Don’t overstay your permission to remain in the country, otherwise you risk arrest, detention and a heavy fine.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.
The use or possession of some common prescription and over-the-counter medicines are banned under Japan’s strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law. This includes Vicks inhalers, medicines for allergies and sinus problems and even some mild painkillers like those containing codeine. Customs officials may not be sympathetic if you claim ignorance. If in any doubt, check with the nearest Japanese Embassy or Consulate before you travel.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Japan.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Medical facilities are good, but the cost of treatment is high. Hospitals and clinics are well equipped and staff highly trained. There are very few British doctors practising in Japan, but some Japanese doctors may speak English. You will be expected to pay the whole cost of any treatment you receive and there have been cases where treatment has been delayed whilst medical facilities check the legitimacy of the insurance. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance that covers pre-existing conditions and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
Residents in Japan will be required to enrol in either Employee or National Health Insurance.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 119 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Earthquakes and tsunamis
As Japan is in a major earthquake zone you should familiarise yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake or tsunami, and take note of instructions in hotel rooms, at train stations and on your local prefectural website. Information on earthquakes and any impact on towns and cities in Japan, including tsunami warnings, are published by the Japan Meteorological Agency.
To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see the website of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
There are several active volcanoes in Japan. You should monitor local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities. Check latest volcano warnings on the website of the Japanese Meteorological Agency.
The tropical cyclone (typhoon) season runs from June to December with most activity between July and September. Southern parts of the country are particularly at risk. You should monitor the progress of approaching storms on the website of the Japan Meteorological Agency.
Typhoons that hit Japan are often accompanied by damaging high tides. People living in coastal areas are particularly at risk. Landslides and flooding can occur anywhere. The dangers increase when an earthquake occurs shortly after a typhoon has saturated an area.
See our tropical cyclones page for information and advice about what to do if you’re caught up in a storm.
Japan is mainly a cash society. The Japanese currency is the Yen. You may have difficulty using credit and debit cards issued outside Japan. Cirrus, Maestro, Link and Delta cash cards are not widely accepted. Japanese post offices, 7-Eleven stores and JP Post Bank have cash machines, which will accept some foreign cards during business hours. Cash machines at banks and post offices generally close at 9pm or earlier and may not operate at the weekends or on national holidays, however, ATMs in convenience stores and some shopping centres are available 24 hours a day. Check with your bank before travelling and take sufficient alternative sources of money for the duration of your stay.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.