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Japan travel guide

About Japan

From kimono-clad geishas singing traditional songs in Kyoto to manga-crazed teenagers whizzing around Akihabara 'Electric Town' in Tokyo, 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 and fashion. 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. Ancient castle ruins, atmospheric Shinto shrines and fascinating festivals are never far away, with cultural highlights including the striking Osaka 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 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 charcoal-fired meats and sizzling sauces; Japan is a joy for gastronomes.

It is also a land of wild eccentricities, where you can watch men strip at the festival of Hadaka Matsuri or 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 exciting destinations on the planet.

Key facts


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


126,476,461 (UN estimate 2020).

Population density:

334.62 per sq km (129.2 sq miles).




Constitutional monarchy.

Head of state:

Emperor Naruhito since 2019.

Head of government:

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida since 2021.

Travel Advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and any specific travel advice that applies to you:

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated. 

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Japan set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Japanese Embassy in the UK.

COVID-19 rules

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Japan.

Travel in Japan

There are no official COVID-19 restrictions on travel, dining out or other activities. However, the Japanese government still recommends social distancing, mask wearing and other basic precautions. Public compliance with these recommendations is high.

Passport validity requirements   

If you’re visiting Japan, your passport must be valid for the length of your stay. No additional period of validity is required.

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen. 

Visa requirements

If you have a ‘British citizen’ passport, you can travel to Japan for tourism or business for up to 90 days. You will get a visa in your passport on arrival, and you do not need to apply before you travel. The Japanese immigration authorities may extend your visa by another 90 days at their discretion. You will need to apply for an extension.

If you have another type of British passport, you must get a visa.

To stay longer (to work or study, for or for other reasons), you must meet the Japanese government’s entry requirements. Check which type of visa or work permit you need with the Japanese Embassy in the UK.

It is illegal to work in Japan without the correct visa however informal or temporary the work.

If you overstay your permission to remain in Japan, you risk arrest, detention and a heavy fine.

For residency information, see the Japanese Immigration Services Agency website and living in Japan.

Vaccination requirements

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Japan guide.

Customs rules

There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Japan. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.

It is illegal to bring meat products (including sausages, bacon and ham) to Japan without permission from the Japanese Animal Quarantine Service. Penalties include a heavy fine and prison sentence.

Whale meat is available in Japan but importing it into the UK and EU is illegal. If you import whale meat to the UK, you can get a fine of up to £5,000 and a prison sentence. Customs officers will seize the meat.

Taking money into Japan  

People mainly use cash in Japan.

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 that will accept some foreign cards during business hours.

Check with your bank before travelling and take alternative sources of money.

This guide also has safety advice for regions of Japan.


There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in Japan

Terrorist attacks in Japan cannot be ruled out.   

Political situation

Japan is a stable democracy. Civil disturbance and violent demonstrations are rare. Occasionally, pro-nationalist demonstrations take place involving hostility towards foreign countries. If you become aware of protests, leave the area immediately.

Japan and the Korean Peninsula

The level of tension and security situation in the Korean Peninsula can change with little notice. Tensions may affect Japan following missile tests by North Korea (DPRK) and during South Korean-US military exercises, which take place throughout the year.

DPRK frequently launches missiles towards Japan and is likely to continue doing so. Follow any instructions given by local authorities and check NHK World for the latest information. See advice on missile alerts from the Japanese government.

See also travel advice for South Korea.


Crime levels are low across Japan. It is generally safe to walk at night and travel on public transport. You should take the same precautions you would at home, be aware of your surroundings and take local advice on where higher risk areas are. Tokyo entertainment districts are considered higher risk, particularly at night. Foreign nationals have been targeted for extortion, robbery, assault and sexual assault in clubs and bars.

Protecting your belongings

Be aware of your surroundings and never leave your belongings unattended. Use hotel safes where possible. If your passport is lost or stolen, get a police report at a police station.

Drink spiking and credit card fraud

There is a risk of drink spiking and credit card fraud. Victims have described waking up with no memory of what happened and discovering large amounts of money billed to their credit card. Make sure your drinks cannot be tampered with by:

  • not accepting drinks from strangers
  • asking a trusted friend to keep an eye your unfinished drink

It can be difficult to get a police report if you’re a victim of this crime. You may need a report before your credit card company will consider processing a claim.

Rape and sexual assault

Rape and sexual assault are rare but can happen. Japanese law places a high burden of proof on victims to demonstrate sexual relations were not consensual and committed through assault, intimidation or force.

Female passengers on commuter trains have experienced inappropriate touching. Police advise you should shout at the perpetrator to attract attention and ask a fellow passenger to call train staff.

See advice for women travelling abroad.

Disputes over bar bills

British nationals have been arrested following disputes with bar staff and doormen, including refusing to pay excessive bar bills. This can occur in the late-night areas. Ensure you are shown a menu before you enter a bar or restaurant. Do not follow street touts as this is illegal. Keep a track of what you order at bars and restaurants and confirm the price of admission to clubs on entry.

Prostitution and street touts

Prostitution and street touts are illegal but commonplace. Do not accompany street touts to bars or clubs. Street touts try to encourage people into an establishment by misrepresenting the services on offer or wrongly suggesting you can leave if you want to.

Laws and cultural differences

Personal ID

You must always carry your passport or residence card with you. The police can arrest you if you cannot show your legal status in Japan – whether you are a tourist or resident.

Alcohol laws

In general, alcohol consumption in public places is not illegal. However, there are legal restrictions on alcohol consumption in specific areas on certain days, for example New Year’s Eve.

Smoking in public places    

Smoking is illegal on the streets of Tokyo and some other cities. Smoke only in designated areas.

Illegal drugs and prison sentences

There is zero tolerance towards drug crime and severe penalties. British nationals have been arrested and detained for receiving small quantities through the post or when testing positive during police intervention on bars. British nationals have received sentences ranging from 6 to 17 years and fines of 3 to 4 million yen for drug trafficking. Prisoners in Japan are expected to work as part of their sentences and are assigned labour or factory work.

LGBT+ travellers   

Same-sex relationships are not illegal, although Japanese law does not guarantee 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. These can be used for civil issues, such as hospital visitation rights. Nichome in Tokyo and Doyamacho in Osaka are well known LGBT+ areas. It is generally safe for LGBT+ travellers in Japan.

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Medication bans

It is illegal to possess or use some common prescription and over-the-counter medicines under Japan’s strictly enforced law on anti-stimulant drugs. Ignorance of the law may not be considered a defence.

Family law

Japanese family law is very different from UK law. Joint custody of a child after divorce is not a legal option, and access for a non-custodial parent can be challenging. Legal custody disputes can also be lengthy, and enforcement of rulings returning a child has proven difficult. Read about child abduction, custody and parental rights in Japan.

Behaviour in public

Most Japanese people are welcoming and friendly but can be reserved. Loud boisterous behaviour is not acceptable. Showing affection in public is less common than in the UK.


Tattoos have a historical association with organised crime in Japan. While attitudes towards them are increasingly accepting, some public facilities do not admit anyone with tattoos – for example, public swimming pools, hot springs, beaches and some gyms. Other establishments request you cover tattoos while using the facilities.

Transport risks

Road travel

If you are planning to drive a hire car or a UK vehicle, see information on driving abroad and the Japan Automobile Federation driving guide.

You’ll need to have the 1949 version of the international driving permit (IDP), your UK driving licence and insurance documents with you in the car. You cannot buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel. You can only use an IDP for one year, regardless of its expiry date. See information on driving and the IDP from the Tokyo police.

If you plan to stay longer than one year, you should apply for a Japanese driving licence. See living in Japan.

There are 2 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.

There are penalties for driving without the correct documents. You could be arrested and receive a fine or a request to provide the documents to the police later.  

Drink-driving is a serious offence in Japan, and the legal limit of alcohol in your system is much lower than in UK. If you are found to be over the limit, you may get a fine and possible imprisonment. There are also penalties for allowing someone to drink and drive (for example, if you’re a passenger in a vehicle being driven by a drunk driver). The passenger could face arrest if the police suspect they were aware of the driver’s alcohol consumption.

Hire car companies often have stricter requirements for their customers, such as a year of driving experience and a minimum age.

Driving standards

Roads are well maintained, and driving is on the left. 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
  • taxi drivers stopping suddenly

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Find out what you can do to prepare for and respond to extreme weather and natural hazards

Tropical cyclones

In Japan the tropical cyclone (typhoon) season is between June and December with most activity between July and September. The highest risk is in southern parts of the country. Monitor approaching storms with Japan Meteorological Agency forecasts. Follow the advice of the local authorities and emergency services, including any evacuation orders.

Tropical cyclones in Japan often come with damaging high tides, increasing the risk of landslides and flooding. The dangers increase when an earthquake occurs shortly after a tropical cyclone has saturated an area.

See weather safety tips from the Japan National Tourism Agency.

Earthquakes and tsunamis

Japan is in a major earthquake zone. Familiarise yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake or tsunami. Take note of instructions in hotel rooms, at train stations and on your local prefectural website.

Check tsunami warnings and earthquake information from the Japan Meteorological Agency.

See earthquake safety tips from the Japan National Tourism Agency. 

Volcanic eruptions

There are several active volcanoes in Japan. You should monitor local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities. Check for volcano warnings from the Japanese Meteorological Agency.

This section has safety advice for regions of Japan. It only covers regions where FCDO has specific advice.

You should also read FCDO’s overall travel advice and safety and security advice.


There are exclusion zones around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which is designated a restricted area. These exclusion zones are kept under review and have reduced in size. Areas where evacuation orders are ready to be lifted are still subject to some restrictions – for example, visitors are not allowed to stay overnight. Follow local guidance.

The Japanese authorities carry out comprehensive checks to monitor radiation in the area around Fukushima Daiichi and to monitor possible contamination of water and food and produce. They impose strict controls where necessary.

Although the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi site and full clean-up of the surrounding area will take many years, the risks are gradually declining.


A series of earthquakes hit the Noto Peninsula on 1 January 2024, causing minor tsunami and fires in various parts of Ishikawa Prefecture. Infrastructure damage was extensive, and some transport links remain disrupted. Please exercise caution and follow local guidance if travelling to affected areas.

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Dial 119 and ask for an ambulance.

Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccinations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip check:

Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of Japan. Read more about altitude sickness on TravelHealthPro.


The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro.

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.

It is illegal to use or possess some common prescription and over-the-counter medicines under Japan’s strictly enforced law on anti-stimulant drugs. This includes:

  • Vick’s inhalers
  • medicines for allergies and sinus problems
  • cold and flu medication containing pseudoephedrine
  • some over-the-counter painkillers containing codeine

Foreign nationals have been detained and deported for the offence. If you’re travelling with medication, check its status with the Japanese Embassy in the UK.

Healthcare facilities in Japan

Medical facilities in Japan are of a high quality, but treatment is expensive. You should expect to pay the whole cost of any treatment you receive. Delays may occur while medical facilities check your insurance.

Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance to cover treatment of new or existing medical conditions and accessible funds to cover the cost of treatment and repatriation.

FCDO has a list of English-speaking doctors in Japan.

There is also guidance on healthcare if you’re living in Japan.

COVID-19 healthcare in Japan

The Japan National Tourism Organisation has information on COVID-19 for travellers in Japan and a guide to accessing medical facilities in Japan.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in Japan

Ambulance: 119

Fire: 119

Police: 110

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

You can also contact FCDO online.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you’re in Japan and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Tokyo.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges

Risk information for British companies

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

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