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King David Society Mission to Japan

Japan is a country where the past meets the future; with ancient temples and kimono-clad geisha girls hurrying between traditional tea houses in Kyoto, to lightning-fast bullet trains connecting the high-tech cities of Osaka and Tokyo. Although it is the tenth most densely populated nation in the world with a population of 127 million – and 30 million in the greater metropolitan Tokyo area alone – Japan possesses stunning areas of vast, unpopulated wilderness. A common misconception is that Japan’s position as one of the world’s richest nations makes it an expensive holiday destination. In reality, it can be cheaper to travel in Japan than in most Western countries. The “Land of the Rising Sun” is a destination like no other, offering heritage and history one day and hi-tech city living the next.

Click the sections below to learn more.

Travel Essentials

Airports:

Tokyo is one of Asia’s largest air hubs with connections to all major global destinations. The capital is home to two international airports; Narita and Haneda. Other airports in Japan serviced by international flights include Osaka’s Kansai Airport and Nagoya’s Chubu Centrair Airport.

Arrival / Departure Information:

Nationals of many countries, including the United States, are eligible to enter Japan for short-term stays (usually 90 days) with a visa on entry for holiday and business trips.

  • All visitors arriving in Japan are fingerprinted and photographed.
  • All visitors must complete an entry/exit form, including a customs declaration. It is important that this form is kept safe and presented to immigration officials on departure.
  • All airport taxes are included in the price of flight tickets.

The above information may change without prior notice. It remains the traveler’s responsibility to check visa requirements before traveling.

Business Hours:

Normal business hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Post offices are open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Museums, temples, and other tourist attractions are usually open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Department stores and major shops are open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 7:30 or 8 p.m.

Most banks are open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, but closed on weekends and national holidays. Money can also be exchanged at the following outlets: Narita and Kansai international airports; banks and post offices that display the “Authorized Foreign Exchange” sign; hotels (for hotel guests only); and major department stores in large cities (at customer service or money exchange windows.)

Bear in mind that exchanging money at banks and post offices can be a very lengthy procedure. Foreign credit, debit, and cash cards are convenient for obtaining cash – however, bank ATM machines are restricted to cards issued in Japan. The best option is to use the International ATMs on arrival at the airport and also those at 7-11 convenience stores. For further information about the location of ATMs at 7-11 stores, please access this page and press the “International ATM” icon at the bottom right-hand side of the page.

Currency:

The currency in Japan is the yen, symbolized by the ¥ figure. Coins come in denominations of ¥1, ¥5, ¥10, ¥50, ¥100, and ¥500. Bills come in denominations of ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥5,000, and ¥10,000.

1 USD = 149.46499023 JPY

Japan is very much a cash society and credit cards are not as widely used as in Western countries. However, they are accepted in restaurants, shops, and hotels.

*It is advisable to carry cash when paying bills in more inexpensive restaurants, small shops, and some Japanese inns in rural areas.*

Clothing:

Since you are visiting in the spring we recommend that you bring some warmer clothes as the temperature drops considerably at night. As a rule, Japanese people dress meticulously, and you will be judged and sometimes treated based on how you dress.

*While Japan is less strict than other Asian countries about dress codes when visiting temples, it is always polite to cover shoulders and be dressed conservatively. Easy to slip on/slip off shoes are more practical when visiting temples, or staying in ryokans etc.*

Customs allowances:

Traveler’s aged 20 and older can bring the following duty-free items into Japan:

  • 400 non-Japanese cigarettes
  • Three bottles (760cc each) of alcohol
  • Two ounces of perfume
  • Tourists can also bring in goods for personal use – purchased abroad – whose total market value is less than ¥200,000

Cultural Insights

Etiquette:

Japanese people are well known for their politeness and helpfulness to strangers and few people return from a trip to Japan without stories of extraordinary kindnesses extended by their hosts. With almost 99% of its population consisting of ethnic Japanese, Japan is one of the most homogeneous nations in the world, which has led to a feeling among the Japanese that they belong to a single huge tribe different from any other nation on earth.

*For the best experience, reciprocate their politeness, learn a few basic Japanese phrases, and return the polite bow when greeting people.*

For the majority of non-Japanese people, there is a greater likelihood of making etiquette mistakes than getting it right, but the Japanese are renowned for being generous and forgiving to foreigners who don’t know the rules. The following gives a guideline to accepted and unacceptable behavior:

DO’s

  • Do bow when greeting someone. Bowing is the customary greeting in Japan, but handshaking is becoming more common during business meetings with Westerners. Bowing is a very important custom as it can express many meanings, including respect, gratitude, apology, etc.
  • Do learn a few common Japanese phrases before you travel as English is not widely spoken.
  • Do enjoy sharing several dishes at a meal instead of just having your own individual dish.
  • Give and receive gifts with both hands, and do not open a wrapped gift until later.

DO NOT’s

  • Never leave your chopsticks sticking up out of a bowl of rice, or other dish. This positioning is associated with Buddhist funerals in Japan. When you are not using the chopsticks, place them neatly on the small chopstick rest provided.
  • Similar to the previous advice, never pass food from your chopsticks to someone else’s chopsticks. The only acceptable time to pass something between two people using chopsticks is at a funeral. After a cremation, the remaining bones of the deceased are picked up by a relative with special chopsticks and passed to chopsticks held by another relative who then places the bones into the urn.
  • Do not start drinking until everyone at the table is served and glasses are raised to make a toast. The Japanese drinking salute is “Kampai!”
  • As in most Asian countries, the giving of business cards is a hugely symbolic gesture in Japan. Therefore, always give the card the respect it deserves. It is protocol to receive the card with both hands.
  • Japanese people do not show affection in public – kissing and hugging in the street are not usual scenes. Even patting on the back is not considered polite.

Language:

Although a greater number of young people speak English, as the language is increasingly taught in schools, it is advisable to carry names and directions of destinations such as hotels, restaurants, and attractions written in Japanese so that they can be shown to taxi drivers and people on the street. It is also good practice to carry a phrase book as English signage might not be so prevalent in rural areas.

Religion:

Japan has a melting pot of two dominant religions: Shinto and Buddhism, but most Japanese people do not exclusively identify themselves as followers of a single religion. Instead, they tend to take a practical view of religion and use each religion to suit the occasion.

A popular Japanese saying states that you are Shinto at birth (marked with a Shinto ceremony); Christian when you get married (through a Western-style wedding); and Buddhist when you die (honored with a Buddhist funeral).

Entertainment & Nightlife:

Cocktails in slick bars, jazz with a swing, or thumping techno beats — you will find all of these under urban Japan’s neonsoaked night sky. Be careful to enter places that suit your budget as some more upscale establishments may have extra service charges ranging from a few hundred yen to a few thousand. Japan created the karaoke club scene that has been replicated across the world and these bars, along with izakaya – traditional watering holes – are in abundance and are great places to mix with the locals. All-night revelers might want to head for the nightlife districts of Roppongi in Tokyo or Dotombori in Osaka, while those more culturally inclined will find theaters and cinemas in every major city.

Food and Dining:

For information about eating kosher and/or vegetarian in Japan, click here and here, respectively.

Tap water throughout Japan is safe to drink.

Japanese cuisine is renowned for three qualities: the seasonality of the food; the quality of the ingredients; and the exquisite presentation. The country’s cuisine is based on combining staple foods, typically rice or noodles, with a soup and okazu — dishes made from fish, meat or vegetables to add flavor to the staple food. These are typically flavored with dashi, miso and soy sauce. The most famous Japanese food is sushi, which is cooked vinegared rice (shari) combined with other ingredients (neta). Other prominent cooking styles are: Sashimi, very fresh raw meat, most commonly fish, sliced into thin pieces; Tempura, a Japanese dish of seafood or vegetables that have been covered in batter and deep fried; Sukiyaki, a popular dish of thinly sliced beef, served with vegetables, tofu, and vermicelli and usually cooked on a sizzling iron skillet at the table side; Nabemono, a variety of one-pot dishes, usually chicken, fish, tofu, or vegetables, simmered in a light, fish-based broth; Shabushabu, similar to sukiyaki that is  prepared at the table with a combination of vegetables, but cooked in boiling water; Teppanyaki, a style that utilizes an iron griddle to cook dishes such as steak and shrimp; and Yakitori, small pieces of chicken meat, liver and vegetables skewered on a bamboo stick and cooked over hot coals.

*Eating at hotels and famous restaurants can be costly; however, you can eat well for less at standard restaurants. Many less expensive restaurants have plastic replicas of the dishes they serve displayed in their front windows, so you can always point to what you want to eat. Western fast food outlets, as well as Japanese versions of these foreign chains, are widely available.*

Tipping:

Tipping is generally not practiced in Japan, not even to waitresses, taxi drivers, or hotel porters. A 10 – 15% service charge is added to bills at higher-priced hotels and restaurants. At higher-end Japanese inns with individualized maid service, a 10 – 20% service charge is added. No service charge is added to bills at business hotels, youth hostels, and other inexpensive lodgings.

*If you feel that you want to give a tip to a service provider, you are free to do so. However, depending on the person and your relationship with them, they may refuse the tip or not even understand its significance.*

Practical Tips

Health:

No vaccinations are required except for yellow fever if you are traveling from an area where the disease is present.

Insurance:

It is essential to take out a good travel (“Cancel for Any Reason”) and medical  insurance policy prior to your trip. The policy should have full medical coverage as the country’s excellent hospitals come at a premium price if the policy holder needs emergency treatment.

Safety:

Japan is one of the most crime-free countries in the world. Even large cities like Tokyo and Osaka are remarkably safe. Crimes against visitors are virtually unheard of. However, never let your guard down and leave expensive items in hotel safes as pickpockets may take advantage in airports, subways and tourist sites.

Public Transportation:

Taxis in Tokyo are comfortable and taxi drivers don’t try to overcharge, but this means of transport has two drawbacks: it’s expensive, and it can be difficult to communicate with the driver. Every taxi displays its company logo on the roof, as well as several illuminated signs – red (unoccupied), yellow (occupied), and green (night tariff). At certain times of day or for short journeys, taxis may be a good option. However, Japanese taxis are among the most expensive in the world. Each company decides its own prices, but in the end, they tend to be quite similar.

The average taxi prices are:

  • First two kilometers: ¥ 730 (US$ 4.90)
  • Price per additional kilometer: ¥ 320 (US$ 2.10)
  • Each hour of wait time: ¥ 3,085 (US$ 20.60)

A normal journey in the center of Tokyo will cost between $7.70 (€ 7) and $16.40 (€ 15).When the night tariff is in effect, these prices go up by 20%.

Shopping:

Japan is a shopping paradise with a wealth of stores selling everything from traditional souvenirs and local food to the latest electronic gadgets and the most cutting edge fashion brands. Large cities offer several shopping districts, each with their own unique character, usually grouped around major train stations.

Japanese department stores are famous for their unparalleled customer service; the constant greeting by the staff is a distinguishable feature and at the time of opening, employees line up neatly to welcome customers.

*At major department stores, foreign tourists are often able to get a refund on sales tax for purchases of over 10,000 yen if they show their passport.*

*The “100 yen shop” is a unique outlet that sells a wide range of products for 105 yen per item (100 yen, plus five percent consumption tax).*

Time Zone:

Japan is GMT +9 and does not operate a daylight-saving system. (14 Hours ahead of New York until March 10 and then 13 hours afterward).

Weather:

Japan has a mild climate, but as it is an archipelago stretching over 3,000 km from north to south, there are major local variations in the weather, as well as variations in fauna and flora and scenery. Pleasant temperatures arrive with spring, which along with autumn is one of the best times to visit. Sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom in Kyushu in March, reaching Tokyo by early April. Early summer is rainy, but July and August are hot and humid, except in Hokkaido. The autumn is cool and typhoons may occur. Winter is chilly, but heavy snowfalls are limited to the mountainous regions.

Communication & Connectivity

Internet:

Most mid-range and higher-end hotels have business centers with PCs connected to the Internet. Almost all hotels have free LAN cable access in rooms for use with private laptops. Cybercafes are very rare outside the major cities due to the prevalence of internet access on mobile phones and widespread hand-held device and domestic computer ownership.

Phones:

Most phones purchased as unlocked in the USA (or any other country) will work in Japan, but you may need to purchase (in advance) an international package. For example, AT&T and Verizon offer a daily rate for international roaming. Check with your provider for more information.

*You can also use WhatsApp for calls when you are in an area with Wi-Fi.*

Electrical Appliances:

The electric current used throughout Japan is 100 volts, A.C. However, there are two kinds of frequencies (or cycles): 50 Hertz in eastern Japan (including Tokyo and regions northeast of the capital); and 60 Hertz in western Japan (including Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and other points southwest). At major hotels, two outlets for both 110 and 220 volts are installed for electric razors, hair dryers and other small appliances. Japan uses two-flat-pin plugs and cannot accommodate three-pin plugs,  so it is best to bring a universal plug adaptor.

You might be able to get away with using a U.S. two-prong plug and not using an adaptor, but it is still best to have at least one or two just in case. This is because there can be differences in prong length between different Type-A plugs, so there is no guarantee that your electrical plugs will work with Japanese sockets just because they are both the same type.

Also, if your electrical devices have a Type-B plug, which looks like a Type-A plug with a grounding pin (the round pin below the two flat parallel pins), you will not be able to plug it into a Japanese socket without an adapter.

Emergency & Important Contacts

  • Police dial 110
  • Emergency Medical Services dial 119
  • Fire service dial 119.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Health and Medical Information Center offers an emergency interpretation service with English-speaking doctors at: (03) 5285-8185.


Sharon Cheeseman +1 (856) 498 – 8502

Yehuda Gershonawitz +1 (646) 630 – 0774

The Ritz Carlton, Kyoto

604-0902 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Hokodencho, 543
KAMOGAWA NIJO-OHASHI HOTORI
Phone: +81 75-746-5555

Grand Hyatt Tokyo
6 Chome-10-3 Roppongi, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0032
Phone: +81 3-4333-1234