American Express -- There are no American Express customer-service offices in Japan.
Business Hours -- Government offices and private companies are generally open Monday through Friday 9am to 5pm. Banks are open Monday through Friday 9am to 3pm (but usually will not exchange money until 10:30 or 11am, after that day's currency exchange rates come in). Neighborhood post offices are open Monday through Friday 9am to 5pm. Major post offices, however (usually located near major train stations), have longer hours and may be open weekends as well (Some central post offices, such as those in Tokyo and Osaka, are open 24 hr. for mail.)
Department stores are open from about 10 or 11am to 8pm; they sometimes close irregularly (but always the same day of the week). Smaller stores are generally open from 10am to 8pm, closed 1 day a week. Convenience stores such as 7-Eleven are open 24 hours.
Keep in mind that museums, gardens, and attractions stop selling admission tickets at least 30 minutes before the actual closing time. Similarly, restaurants take their last orders at least 30 minutes before the posted closing time (even earlier for kaiseki restaurants).
Drugstores -- Drugstores, called kusuri-ya, are found readily in Japan. Note, however, that you cannot have a foreign prescription filled in Japan without first consulting a doctor in Japan, so it's best to bring an adequate supply of important medicines with you. No drugstores in Japan stay open 24 hours. However, convenience stores, open day and night throughout Japan, carry such nonprescription items as aspirin.
Earthquakes -- Kobe's tragic 1995 earthquake brought attention to the fact that Japan is earthquake-prone, but in reality, most earthquakes are too small to detect. However, in case of an earthquake you can feel, there are a few precautions you should take. If you're indoors, take cover under a doorway or against a wall and do not go outdoors. If you're outdoors, stay away from trees, power lines, and the sides of buildings; if you're surrounded by tall buildings, seek cover in a doorway. Never use elevators during a quake. Other precautions include noting emergency exits wherever you stay; all hotels supply flashlights, usually found attached to your bedside table.
Electricity -- The electricity throughout Japan is 100 volts AC, but there are two different cycles in use: In Tokyo and in regions northeast of the capital, it's 50 cycles, while in Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and all points to the southwest, it's 60 cycles. Leading hotels in Tokyo often have two outlets, one for 110 volts and one for 220 volts; almost all have hair dryers in the rooms. You can use many American appliances in Japan because the American standard is 110 volts and 60 cycles, but they may run a little slowly. Note, too, that the flat, two-legged prongs used in Japan are the same size and fit as in North America, but three-pronged appliances are not accepted.
Embassies & Consulates -- Most embassies are located in Tokyo. There are, however, U.S., British, and Australian consulates in Osaka. For the location of other consulates, inquire at the respective embassies.
Emergencies -- The national emergency numbers are tel. 110 for police and tel. 119 for ambulance and fire. You do not need to insert money into public telephones to call these numbers. However, if using a green public telephone, you must push a red button before dialing. If calling from a gray public telephone or one that accepts only prepaid cards, simply lift the receiver and dial. Be sure to speak slowly and precisely.
Internet Access -- Most upper-range hotels in major cities offer in-room high-speed dataports for laptop modems and adapters (few offer wireless connections); some even have TVs that double as computers. Although some hotels provide Internet access free of charge, the majority charge anywhere from ¥500 to ¥1,500 ($4.75-$14) a day. Many hotels offer business centers as well (though hefty fees are charged for Internet use), but more and more business hotels have lobby computers you can use for free or a small fee. Otherwise, most major cities in Japan have Internet cafes where you can check e-mail either by paying a fee or by purchasing a drink or a meal. Check individual city and regional chapters for information on Internet cafes and hotels with Internet access. Finally, Nippon Telegraph & Telephone (NTT) operates public telephones equipped with a modular jack for portable computer hookups, making it possible to scan websites and receive e-mail. Look for gray ISDN telephones -- readily available in lobbies of major hotels, airports, and train stations -- which have English-language explanations on how to use them and which accept prepaid telephone cards.
Laundry & Dry Cleaning -- All upper- and most medium-range hotels offer laundry and dry-cleaning services (but it's expensive, with a laundered shirt costing about ¥400/$3.80). For same-day service, it's usually necessary to turn in your laundry by 10am; many hotels do not offer laundry service on Sundays and holidays. Budget accommodations sometimes have coin-operated washers and dryers. Otherwise, launderettes are abundant, and many hotel guest rooms have a pull-out laundry line over the tub for hand washables.
Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen, and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Visa's U.S. emergency number is tel. 800/847-2911 or 410/581-9994; in Japan it's 00531-11-155. For lost American Express cards or traveler's checks, call tel. 800/221-7282 in the U.S. or 0120/020-120 in Japan. MasterCard holders should call tel. 800/307-7309 or 636/722-7111 in the U.S., or 00531/11-3886 in Japan.
Luggage & Lockers -- Because storage space on Shinkansen bullet trains is limited, travel with the smallest bag you can get away with. Coin-operated lockers are located at all major train stations as well as at most subway stations, but most lockers are generally not large enough to store huge pieces of luggage (and those that are large enough are often taken). Lockers generally cost ¥300 to ¥800 ($2.85-$7.60) depending on the size. Some major stations also have check-in rooms for luggage, though these tend to be rare. If your bag becomes too much to handle, you can have it sent ahead via takkyubin, a wonderful and efficient luggage/parcel forwarding service available at upper-range hotels and all convenience stores in Japan. At Narita and Kansai international airports, delivery service counters will send luggage to your hotel the next day (or vice versa) for about ¥1,700 ($16) for bags up to 20 kilograms (44 lb.).
Mail -- If your hotel cannot mail letters for you, ask the concierge where the nearest post office is. Post offices are easily recognizable by the red logo of a capital T with a horizontal line over it. Mailboxes are bright orange-red. It costs ¥110 ($1.05) to airmail letters weighing up to 25 grams and ¥70 (65¢) to mail postcards to North America and Europe. Domestic mail costs ¥80 (75¢) for letters weighing up to 25 grams and ¥50 (50¢) for postcards. Post offices throughout Japan are also convenient for their ATMs, which accept international bank cards operating on the PLUS and Cirrus systems, as well as MasterCard and Visa.
Although all post offices are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, international post offices (often located close to the central train station) have longer hours, often until 7pm or later on weekdays and with open hours also on weekends (in Tokyo and Osaka, counters are open 24 hr.). If your hotel does not have a shipping service, it is only at these larger post offices that you can mail packages abroad. Conveniently, they sell cardboard boxes in several sizes with the necessary tape. Packages sent via surface mail cannot weigh more than 20 kilograms (about 44 lb.) and take about a month to reach North America, with a package weighing 10 kilograms (about 22 lb.) costing ¥6,750 ($65) to North America. Express packages, which take 3 days to North America and can weigh up to 30 kilograms (66 lb.), cost ¥12,900 ($123) for 10 kilograms (22 lb.). For more information, check the website www.post.japanpost.jp.
Maps -- The Japan National Tourist Organization publishes a free Tourist Map of Japan showing the four main islands and the major highway and railway lines, with maps of major cities on the reverse side. Free city maps are available at local tourist offices throughout Japan.
Measurement -- Before the metric system came into use in Japan, the country had its own standards for measuring length and weight. One of these old standards is still common -- rooms are still measured by the number of tatami straw mats that will fit in them. A six-tatami room, for example, is the size of six tatami mats, with a tatami roughly 3 feet wide and 6 feet long.
Newspapers & Magazines -- Three English-language newspapers are published daily in Japan: the Japan Times and the Daily Yomiuri (both with weekly supplements from the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and London's The Times), as well as the International Herald Tribune/Asahi Shimbun. Hotels and major bookstores carry the international editions of such newsmagazines as Time and Newsweek. You can also read the Japan Times online at www.japantimes.co.jp.
Passports -- For Residents of the United States: Whether you're applying in person or by mail, you can download passport applications from the U.S. State Department website at http://travel.state.gov. To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. State Department website or call the National Passport Information Center toll-free number (tel. 877/487-2778) for automated information.
For Residents of Canada: Passport applications are available at travel agencies or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).
For Residents of the United Kingdom: Pick up an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-year passport for children under 16) at your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency, or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service (tel. 0870/521-0410; www.ukpa.gov.uk).
For Residents of Ireland: You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh). Those under age 18 and over 65 must apply for a €12 3-year passport. You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 021/272-525) or at most main post offices.
For Residents of Australia: Pick up an application from your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.
For Residents of New Zealand: Pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from their website (tel. 0800/225-050 or 04/474-8100; www.passports.govt.nz ).
Police -- The national emergency number for police is tel. 110.
Restrooms -- If you need a restroom, your best bets are at train and subway stations (though these tend to be dirty), big hotels, department stores, and fast-food restaurants. Use of restrooms is free in Japan, but since public facilities often do not supply toilet paper, it's a good idea to carry a packet of tissues.
To find out whether a stall is empty, knock on the door. If it's occupied, someone will knock back. Similarly, if you're inside a stall and someone knocks, answer with a knock back or else the person will just keep on knocking persistently and try to get in. And don't be surprised if you go into some restrooms and find men's urinals and individual private stalls in the same room. Women are supposed to simply walk right past the urinals without noticing them.
Many toilets in Japan, especially those at train stations and in rural areas, are Japanese-style: They're holes in the ground over which you squat facing the end that has a raised hood. Men stand and aim for the hole. Although Japanese lavatories may seem uncomfortable at first, they're quite sanitary because no part of your body touches anything.
Everywhere you go in Japan nowadays you'll encounter Washlet toilets, combination toilet/bidets with heated toilet seats and buttons and knobs directing sprays of water of various intensities and temperatures to different body parts. Alas, instructions may be in Japanese only. The voice of experience: Don't stand up until you've figured how to turn the darn spray off.
Smoking -- You must be 20 years old to smoke in Japan. Smoking is banned in most public areas, including train and subway stations and office buildings. In many cities, there are also nonsmoking ordinances that ban smoking on sidewalks but allow it in marked areas, usually near train stations. Many restaurants nowadays have nonsmoking sections, though bars do not. Most hotels have designated nonsmoking floors, except for some business hotels and Japanese-style inns. If you want to sit in the nonsmoking car of the Shinkansen bullet train, ask for the kinensha. During peak travel times, be sure to reserve a seat in the nonsmoking car in advance.
Taxes -- A 5% consumption tax, imposed on goods and services in Japan including hotel rates and restaurant meals, is included in all prices. However, even though hotels and restaurants are required to include the tax in their published rates, you might come across some establishments that have not yet done so (especially on English-language menus that may be several years old). In Tokyo, hotels also levy a separate accommodation tax of ¥100 (95¢) per person per night on rooms costing ¥10,000 to ¥14,999 ($95-$142); rates ¥15,000 and up are taxed at ¥200 ($1.90) per night per person. Some hotels include the local tax in their published rack rates, while others do not. In hot-spring resort areas, a ¥150 ($1.45) onsen tax is added for every night of your stay.
In addition to these taxes, a 10% to 15% service charge will be added to your bill in lieu of tipping at most of the fancier restaurants and at moderately priced and upper-end hotels. Business hotels, minshuku, youth hostels, and inexpensive restaurants do not impose a service charge.
As for shopping, a 5% consumption tax is also included in the price of most goods. (Some of the smaller vendors are not required to levy tax.) Travelers from abroad, however, are eligible for an exemption on goods taken out of the country, although only the larger department stores and specialty shops seem equipped to deal with the procedures. In any case, most department stores grant a refund on the consumption tax only when the total amount of purchases for the day exceeds ¥10,000 ($95). You can obtain a refund immediately by having a sales clerk fill out a list of your purchases and then presenting the list to the tax-exemption counter of the department store; you will need to show your passport. Note that no refunds for consumption tax are given for food, drinks, tobacco, cosmetics, film, and batteries.
Telephones -- To call Japan: For dialing Japan, the country code is 81. In addition, all telephone area codes for all of Japan's cities begin with a zero; Tokyo's area code, for example, is 03, while Osaka's is 06. For other area codes, check the listings for each city in this guide. Use the entire area code only when dialing from outside the area but from within Japan. When calling Japan from abroad, drop the zero in the area code. When calling from the United States, for example, dial 011 for the international access code, 81 for Japan, followed by only 3 for Tokyo (not 03) and 6 (not 06) for Osaka. If you have questions, call the international operator in the country from which you are placing your call.
Domestic calls: You can make local, domestic, and international calls from your room in all but the cheapest hotels. It's more economical, however, to use a public telephone. Despite the proliferation of cellphones, public telephones are readily available -- in telephone booths on the sidewalk, on train platforms, in restaurants and coffee shops, even on bullet trains (but these require a prepaid telephone card; see below). A local call costs ¥10 (10¢) for each minute; a warning chime will ring to tell you to insert more coins or you'll be disconnected. I usually insert two or three coins at the start so I won't have to worry about being disconnected; ¥10 coins that aren't used are always returned at the end of the call. Some older models available for public use outside ma-and-pa shops accept only ¥10 coins, but most public phones accept both ¥10 and ¥100 coins. The latter is convenient for long-distance calls but no change is given for unused minutes. All gray, ISDN telephones are equipped for international calls and have dataports for Internet access.
Toll-free numbers: in Japan begin with 0120 or 0088. However, calling a 1-800 number in the U.S. from Japan is not toll-free but costs the same as an international call.
If you think you'll be making a lot of domestic calls from public telephones and don't want to deal with coins, purchase a magnetic prepaid telephone card. These are available in values of ¥1,000 ($9.50) and are sold at vending machines (many of which are located right beside telephones), station kiosks, and convenience stores. Green and gray telephones accept telephone cards. In fact, many nowadays accept only telephone cards; insert the card into the slot. On the gray ISDN telephones, there's a second slot for a second telephone card, which is convenient if the first one is almost used up or if you think you'll be talking a long time. Domestic long-distance calls are 20% to 40% cheaper at night, on weekends, and on national holidays for calls of distances more than 60km (37 miles).
In addition to the common green and gray public phones, NTT also has its own silver and orange IC Card Payphones (found mostly in hotel lobbies) with its own card (sold in adjacent vending machines) which you insert into the phone.
Mobile Phones: Of course, you can also avoid public telephones altogether by joining what seems like the rest of the population and using a mobile phone (keitai denwa). Unfortunately, Japan uses a system that is incompatible with GSM or the U.S. system. Your best bet may be to rent a cellphone before leaving home, though there are also many options for phone rental in Japan.
To make international calls: There are several ways to make international calls. For a collect call, or to place an operator-assisted call through KDDI, dial the international telephone operator at tel. 0051. From a public telephone, look for a specially marked INTERNATIONAL AND DOMESTIC CARD/COIN TELEPHONE. Although many of the specially marked green or gray telephones, the most common public telephone, accept both coins and magnetic telephone cards for domestic calls, most do not accept magnetic cards for international calls (due to illegal usage of telephone cards), especially in big cities. You'll therefore either have to use coins, or purchase a special prepaid international telephone card that works like telephone cards issued by U.S. telephone companies. An access number must first be dialed, followed by a secret telephone number and then the number you wish to dial. Such cards are often sold from a vending machine next to telephone booths in hotels or in convenience stores like 7-Eleven or Lawson. There are numerous such cards (with instructions in English), such as the Brastel Smart Phonecard (tel. 0120/659-543; www.brastel.com), Primus' Phonebank (tel. 03/5846-3754; www.primustel.co.jp); and the KDDI Super World Card (tel. 0057; www.kddi.com). Some hotels also have special phones equipped to accept credit cards.
International rates vary according to when you call, which telephone company you use, and what type of service you use. Direct-dial service is cheaper than operator-assisted calls and is offered by both international public telephones and by hotels that advertise the service (though remember to ask about the surcharge). The cheapest time to call is between 11pm and 8am Japan time, while the most expensive time is weekdays from 8am to 7pm. From a pay phone, a ¥1,000 ($9.50) call to the United States will allow you to talk 7 minutes and 25 seconds during prime time and 9 minutes and 45 seconds after 11pm.
If you're not using a prepaid card (which has its own set of instructions and access numbers), to make a direct-dial international call you must first dial one of the international access codes -- 001 (KDDI), 0041 (Japan Telecom), 0033 (NTT-Com), or 0061 (Japan Telecom IDC) -- followed by 010 and then the country code. The country code for the United States and Canada is 1; for the United Kingdom, it's 44; for Australia, it's 61; and for New Zealand, it's 64. To call the United States, for example, dial an access code such as 001, followed by 010, the country code 1, the area code, and the telephone number. If you're dialing from your hotel room, you must first dial for an outside line, usually 0.
If you wish to be connected with an operator in your home country, you can do so from green international telephones by dialing tel. 0039 followed by a three-digit country code. (For the United States, dial 0039-111.) These calls can be used for collect calls or credit card calls. Some hotels and other public places are equipped with special phones that will link you to your home operator with the push of a button, and there are instructions in English.
If you have a U.S. calling card, ask your phone company for the direct access number from Japan that will link you directly to the United States. If you have AT&T, for example, dial 00539-111 (you can also pay by credit card at this number for calls made to the United States); if you're using MCI, however, it depends on which Japanese company you're using (for KDD, it's 0053-121).
Television -- If you enjoy watching television, you've come to the wrong country. Almost nothing is broadcast in English; even foreign films are dubbed in Japanese. However, if your hotel room has what's called a bilingual television, you can switch from Japanese to the original language to hear programs and movies in English. Most upper-range hotels offer bilingual TVs, though note that there are very few English-language movies and sitcoms broadcast each week (and most of these are fairly old). In my opinion, a major plus of bilingual TVs is that they allow you to listen to the nightly national news broadcast by NHK at 7 and 10pm. Otherwise, major hotels in larger cities also have cable TV with English-language programs like CNN broadcasts and BBC World as well as in-house pay movies. Note, however, that CNN is sometimes broadcast in Japanese only, particularly in outlying areas. On the other hand, even if you don't understand Japanese, I suggest that you watch TV at least once; maybe you'll catch a samurai series. Commercials are also worth watching.
A word on those pay video programs offered by hotels and many resort ryokan: Upper-range hotels usually have a few choices in English, and these are charged automatically to your bill. Most business hotels usually offer only one kind of pay movie -- generally "adult entertainment" programs. If you're traveling with children, you'll want to be extremely careful about selecting your TV programs. Many adult video pay channels appear with a simple push of the channel-selector button, and they can be difficult to get rid of. In budget accommodations, you may come across televisions with coin boxes attached to their sides, or, more common nowadays, vending machines offering prepaid cards. These are also for special adult entertainment videos. Now you know.
Time Zone -- Japan is 9 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, 14 hours ahead of New York, 15 hours ahead of Chicago, and 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Since Japan does not go on daylight saving time, subtract 1 hour from the above times in the summer when calling from countries that have daylight saving time such as the United States.
Because Japan is on the other side of the international date line, you lose a day when traveling from the United States to Asia. (If you depart the United States on Tues, you'll arrive on Wed.) Returning to North America, however, you gain a day, which means that you arrive on the same day you left. (In fact, it often happens that you arrive in the states at an earlier hour than you departed from Japan.)
Tipping -- One of the delights of being in Japan is that there's no tipping -- not even to waitresses, taxi drivers, or bellhops. If you try to tip them, they'll probably be confused or embarrassed. Instead, you'll have a 10% to 15% service charge added to your bill at higher-priced hotels and restaurants.
Water -- The water is safe to drink anywhere in Japan, although some people claim it's too highly chlorinated. Bottled water is also readily available.
Source: Frommers on Japan