What you need to know before traveling to Japan

Japan, located off of the Pacific coast of Asia, is made up of more than 6,000 islands. The nation, home to 126 million inhabitants, is best known for its historic and modern capital, Tokyo; its many Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples; the iconic and lovely Mount Fuji; its wide range of consumer goods and its artistic and delicious cuisine. Japan tourism is a major industry and more than 30 million people visit Japan each year.

  • Key facts
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    Tokyo, the capital city of Japan, is the most popular tourist destination in the country. Tokyo offers an intriguing mixture of old and new. Here you'll find the Imperial Palace, the Tokyo Skytree, Shinjuku Garden and Disneyland Tokyo. However, this bustling metropolis isn't all there is to see in Japan. Just a few of the other places you'll want to consider when you travel to Japan include:

    • Kyoto -- The former Imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is home to more than 2,000 temples and shrines, including 20 percent of the country's national treasures. Among the must-see attractions here are the Kinkaku-ji Temple, Nijo Castle and Ryoan-ji.

    • Hiroshima Peace Memorial -- This memorial, located in a park that surrounds the only building left standing after the atomic bomb explosion, is a sobering reminder of the cost of war.

    • The Great Buddha of Kamakura -- This revered symbol stands more than 40 feet tall and dates from the 13th century.

    • Nara -- Home to the oldest wooden building in the world, the ornate Tadaiji Temple.

    • Universal Studios Japan -- Located in Osaka, Universal Studios is one of the most popular attractions in Japan.

    Japanese is the national language of Japan, although English is also widely spoken and understood, particularly in the tourist areas and by Japanese under 40.
    The official currency in Japan in the yen.
  • Weather & when to go
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    There is really no bad time to travel to Japan. The winters are mild here and the summer rarely get too hot. However, July through September is the rainy season and August and September are when typhoons (Asian hurricanes) hit if they are going to.
    Cherry blossom season, a lovely time to visit Japan, extends from mid-March through mid-May, depending on the region. The two weeks surrounding New Year's Day are some of the busiest travel days in Japan, since many Japaneses take these weeks off for vacation.
  • Getting around
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    It's relatively easy to get around Japan. In Tokyo and other major cities, the subway is the easiest and most affordable way to travel. For travel between cities, Japan Railways operates clean and efficient high-speed trains. Japan also has a well-developed and well-maintained network of highways. However, keep in mind that most road signs are in Japanese and that, in Japan, traffic flows on the left side of the road.
    Toyko's Narita International Airport is the main entry point for most travelers arriving in Japan. Located 35 miles east of downtown Tokyo, Narita Airport serves more than 39 million passengers each year. Airport express trains connect the lower level of the airport terminals with downtown Tokyo and other points in the city,
  • Know before you go
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    It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the public holidays before your finalize your plans to visit Japan. Most government buildings and offices as well as most retailers and attractions are closed on these holidays. Public holidays in Japan include:

    • January 1 -- New Year's Day

    • The second Monday in January -- Coming of Age Day

    • February 11 -- Foundation Day

    • Around March 20 -- Vernal Equinox Day

    • April 29 -- Showa Day

    • May 3 -- Constitution Memorial Day

    • May 4 -- Greenery Day

    • May 5 -- Children's Day

    • The third Monday of July -- Marine Day

    • August 11 -- Mountain Day

    • The third Monday in September -- Respect for the Aged Day

    • Around September 23 -- Autumnal Equinox Day

    • Second Monday in October -- Health and Sports Day

    • November 3 -- Culture Day

    • November 23 -- Labour Thanksgiving Day

    •December 23 -- The Emperor's Birthday

    To reach the fire department and emergency medical services while traveling in Japan, dial 119. For police emergencies, dial 110. There are a limited number of English-speaking operators at emergency switchboards in Japan.
    You need to carry a valid passport to visit Japan. U.S, Canadian and citizens of 59 other countries do not need to obtain a visa before entering the country. Citizens of countries not on the exempt list must get a visa from a Japanese consulate or embassy before arriving in Japan.
  • Travel tips & recommendations
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    • Lunch is generally eaten between 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM in Japan, dinner around 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM. However, 24-hour eateries are also popular in Japan.

    • Restaurants often have plastic models of the food they serve displayed in the window, which helps non-Japanese speakers to decipher the menu.

    • Japanese cuisine favors seafood and rice. Meat is used sparingly, as flavor in a stir-fry or complex dish, rather than as the main entree. Popular dishes include sushi, broth-based soups, soba noodles and tempura. Drinks include rice wine, sake and Japanese beer.

    • Japanese stores are typically open from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM, seven days a week.

    • Many smaller stores and restaurants do not accept credit cards.

    • Many museums in Japan are closed on Mondays.

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