Japan is known as the “land of the rising sun”, is an island country off Asia’s east coast. It is made up of a large string of islands arranged in a northeast-southwest arc that runs for around 1,500 miles (2,400 km) across the western North Pacific Ocean. The country’s four main islands cover nearly the whole geographical area; from north to south, they are Hokkaido (Hokkaido), Honshu (Honsh), Shikoku, and Kyushu (Kysh).
LANGUAGE: Japanese, or Nihongo is the official language used in the country and is also the primary language with over 125 million speakers. They have three writing systems which consists of of Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana. Some Japanese people can speak English but they tend to shy away and often, they’re afraid of committing mistakes.
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VISA POLICY: Travelers must obtain a visa from one of the Japanese diplomatic missions unless they come from one of the visa-exempt countries. Currently, the government allows citizens of 68 countries to travel to Japan for tourism or business without getting a visa for up to 90 days.
CURRENCY: The Yen (JPY) is is the official currency of Japan. It is the third most traded currency in the world, and the most heavily traded currency in Asia. Bills come in 1,000 yen, 2,000 yen (very rare), 5,000 yen and 10,000 yen denominations. Coins come in 1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen and 500 yen denominations.
Most establishments only accept Yen as payment especially tourists spots like shrines & temples, small restaurants and small shops. They also have a reputation of being a cash-based society. It is advisable to carry coins especially when riding buses or trams. You may still use your credit/debit cards in hotels, mid to high end restaurants, outlet malls, convenience stores, and supermarkets. They also have prepaid cards called, IC cards (Suica and Icoca) as a convenient payment of train and bus fares.
Currency exchange is usually handled by banks, post offices, some larger hotels and a handful of licensed money changers found especially at international airports.
BANKS AND ATMS: Most banks in Japan are open on weekdays from 9:00 AM to 03:00 PM. They are closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays. Many ATMs do not accept cards that are issued outside of the country. But ATMs found at post offices and 7-Eleven convenience stores accepts them. Exchange rates offered at ATMs tend to be competitive, but service fees vary widely depending on the card. It is best to check with your card issuer in advance.
SOCKETS AND ADAPTERS: The power plugs and sockets in Japan are of type A and B. The standard voltage is 100 V and the standard frequency is 50 / 60 Hz. Plug type A is the plug which has two flat parallel pins and plug type B is the plug which has two flat parallel pins and a grounding pin.
CONNECTIVITY: The three biggest carriers in Japan are NTT Docomo, AU and SoftBank. NTT Docomo is the largest mobile network, covering more of the country than either AU or SoftBank. To use the mobile network in Japan, you must have an unlocked phone that can access 3G or 4G networks. Depending on where you are from, your phone might be unlocked already.
Both paid and free wireless (Wi-Fi) hotspots are available across Japan that laptops, smartphones and other mobile devices can use to connect to the internet, especially around airports, train stations, convenience stores, restaurants, coffee shops and bars. It best to carry a WiFi router and they are available to rent on a daily basis at major Japanese airports or via the internet for delivery to your home or hotel.
TRANSPORTATION: The three most common modes of transportation in Japan are trains, subways and buses.
WEATHER: Japan has four distinct seasons: March to May is spring – temperatures are warm but not too hot, plus there isn’t too much rain. The famous cherry blossoms are out during this time; June to August is summer – it is hot and humid during this time and temperatures are often in the high 30’s; September to November is autumn – characterized by light breezes and cooler temperatures of around 8-10oC; and December to February is winter.
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