A Beginner's Guide to Visiting Japan
- Do you need a visa?
The first thing many first-time visitors to Japan may wonder is, "Do I need a visa?" If you’re an American tourist, chances are the answer is "No." Most American citizens visiting Japan for less than 90 days don’t require a visa, although you will of course need a valid passport. A visa may be necessary if you’ll be getting a job over there or staying for a longer period of time. For more detailed information, you can check out the Consulate’s Visiting Japan page here (link to http://www.ny.us.emb-japan.go.jp/en/html/visitingjapan.html ).
- Things to Know
Japan is fairly easy to navigate for American tourists. In major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, most train station names will be written in English letters as well as Japanese characters. The shinkansen, or bullet train, will whisk you quickly around the country at speeds of up to 200mph. The rail system is extensive and punctual, and visitors staying for at least a week may consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass. This is a convenient, cost-effective pass that allows unlimited travel over a period of several days. This pass is only available to foreign visitors, and must be purchased before arriving in Japan.
There are plenty of Western-style hotels to choose from in Japan, but if you want a more traditional experience, you may choose to stay in a ryokan. In these inns, guests stay in rooms with tatami rice-straw matting and shoji sliding doors. Guests sleep on futons rolled out in the evening and are served a Japanese-style breakfast in the morning. If you don’t speak Japanese, you may want to get a business card from your hotel or ryokan, so you can show it to a taxi driver if you get lost.
The currency in Japan is the yen, and the exchange rate is about 118 Japanese yen to the dollar as of this writing, which makes Japan relatively affordable for American tourists. Currency exchange is available at major airports, and cash withdrawals can be made at many ATMs found at post offices and convenience stores around the country. Major credit cards are accepted at most hotels and stores in large cities, but it is always good to have some cash on hand. Tipping is not customary in Japan, as it is in America, so it is not necessary to tip at restaurants or elsewhere.
In our increasingly smartphone-reliant society, travelers may be concerned about staying connected during their trip. Most foreign cellphones are not compatible with Japan’s system, but rental phones can be found at Narita and Kansai airports. At Narita Airport travelers are also able to rent pocket wifi devices that they can carry with them, which may be particularly useful for business travelers.
- Don’t miss
Japan has many cultural treasures, and there are some places you will not want to miss. Tokyo is a bustling city with lots to see and do, but it is not the only incredible part of Japan. Make sure to get out and see the rest of the country as well, perhaps even venturing off the beaten path to rural locales.
Mount Fuji is perhaps the most iconic natural feature in Japan, with its dramatic cone shape and snowy peak. Located sixty miles southwest of Tokyo, Mount Fuji was designated a World Heritage site in 2013 for its spiritual and cultural significance. July and August is the ideal time to try hiking up the majestic slopes, or you can simply catch a glimpse on a shinkansen trip from Tokyo down to Kyoto.
The most recently designated World Heritage Site is Tomioka Silk Mill, a silk reeling plant established in 1872 by the Meiji government. Visitors can tour the grounds of the old factory, located in Gunma prefecture to the northwest of Tokyo, and learn about how Japan modernized its traditional silk production techniques at the end of the 19th century. An intriguing example of Japan’s early cooperation with the industrialized Western world, the buildings were designed by a French architect and constructed using local Japanese materials.
Japan is also known for its onsen, or hot spring spas. The mineral waters of Japan’s approximately 1800 hot springs have been enjoyed for hundreds of years, and continue to be a supremely relaxing experience.
Each season in Japan has its own festivals and special events, from Kyoto’s cherry blossom festivals in spring to Sapporo’s winter ice festival. Check out the Japan National Tourism Organization’s website (link to JNTO website) for much more information on all the exciting things to see and do during your stay.
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