Japan

Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 islands. The four largest islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku, which together account for 97 percent of Japan’s land area.

The flag of Japan is white with a red circular disc symbolizing the rising sun. The flag was first adopted on 27 January 1870 (after it had been used by merchant ships as early as 1854), when it had proportions of 7:10. The appearance was established in 1999 by Decree No. 127 when the proportions were changed to 2:3.

The flag’s official name is the nisshōki (日章旗) or “sun flag”. However, most people use the name hinomaru (日の丸), “disk of the sun”, which actually refers to the red solar disk.

The origin of the symbol is unknown, but it is known that the warrior class often painted similar symbols on fans as early as the 13th century. The earliest confirmed occurrence of the flag itself was at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, where it was a command symbol of the troops fighting for the shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty.

The white background of the flag stands for purity and honesty, and the red color can be interpreted as a symbol of enlightenment, integrity,Use of payment cards and warmth.

Use of payment cards

Cash is king in Japan. Workers are usually paid in cash and most businesses and services, including restaurants and shops, only accept cash. Hotels and some large department stores usually accept cards, but always check first. Make sure to always have plenty of yen in your wallet to avoid awkward conversations that can easily get lost in translation. Tip: If you feel strapped for cash, go to a 7-Eleven to use the ATM. Not only is your debit card guaranteed to work every time, but it’s also open 24/7.

Go to Japan

Most international airports have departures to some of Japan’s major cities.

Healthcare

Japan’s hospitals are very well equipped and of a high standard, but the language barrier can be a problem during consultations – so you may need to bring an interpreter with you. There is no such thing as a family doctor in Japan And some expats may find that doctors are few and far between.

Medical fees are strictly regulated by the government to keep them affordable. To access public health care, you must belong to either the national health insurance, for which you need a national social insurance card, or the workers’ health insurance. Both schemes will pay for most healthcare services, but you can choose to take out health insurance to cover any extra costs.

Pharmacies (yakkyoku) are usually well stocked and are open from 09:00 to 17:00. Not everyone handles prescriptions or has the medications you are used to – and foreign prescriptions are not accepted.

In emergencies call 119 for an ambulance. Outside of Tokyo, operators do not always speak English, so you may need to have someone translate for you. There is no charge for an ambulance, and you will be taken to the nearest hospital.

Crime

One of the best things about Japan is that it is safe. Japan, which repeatedly shines in top ten lists of the world’s safest countries, is also a great place for solo female travelers. That doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind. As with any destination, you need to be vigilant as a foreigner, stay away from shady areas, avoid flaunting your money and don’t provoke anyone.

Religion

According to estimates, as many as 80% of the population follow Shinto rituals to some extent, worshiping ancestors and spirits at domestic altars and public shrines.

Local culture in Japan

Most Japanese people treat foreigners (known as gaijin) as guests of honor, but it is your duty to learn their customs and strict codes of conduct. There are plenty of cultural faux pas you can make, but expats get a lot of excuses.

Japanese society has hundreds of rigid procedures for everything from where you sit at a table to how you use a toilet. When you enter someone’s home (and some restaurants), you are expected to take off your shoes and put on a pair of slippers. Even the slippers must be removed before stepping onto a Tatami mat. If you do your best to keep learning, you will be excused for any indiscretions.

The same goes for speaking Japanese. Although very difficult to learn, it is useful to master the basics – and the locals will be happy if you can speak a few words of their language.

Do and avoid

Learn some Japanese words

We always recommend learning a few basic phrases in the local language when traveling, but this is especially important in Japan where etiquette is highly regarded. Make sure you’re familiar with how to say “thank you,” “please,” and “excuse me,” even if you have to write them down phonetically. You may also want to write down some translations for your own reference, including the words for bathroom, exit (trust us), and certain toiletries.

Tattoos are considered taboo

Although your tattoos can be an artistic way of expressing yourself, in Japan they tend to be associated with criminals – namely members of the Yakuza gang. This is an especially important thing to consider if you are interested in visiting a traditional Japanese onsen (hot spring). They will likely ask if you have any tattoos before you are allowed inside. And don’t think about bluffing – most onsen require bathers to be tattoo-free.

Take off your shoes

Leaving your shoes on when you enter someone’s house is a huge sign of disrespect. Like many other parts of Asia, removing your shoes when entering a home is an absolute must. This is also the norm for several restaurants. Check around if you have to take your shoes off or not, you have to take your shoes off before entering most changing rooms too.

Don’t tip

You don’t have to tip in Japan. In fact, if you do, there’s a good chance they’ll come running after you to give you the money you accidentally left behind. Waiters are paid a “living wage” in Japan, so don’t feel guilty. This rule also applies to hotel staff and other service personnel you will encounter during your trip.

Don’t wave at your waiter – there’s a buzzer for that

When you’re in Japan, you don’t have to impatiently wave at your waiter. Many restaurant tables have a small black box with a black button so customers can call the waiter without calling themselves or making disturbing noises. Some places don’t even have waiters. Instead, guests order from a screen in their stand and the food arrives in a small slot.

Skip the animal cafes in Japan

We’ve all seen the adorable videos of the cat, owl and other animal cafes found all over Japan. However, these places are hardly more than zoos for animals that would otherwise receive no attention. If you must go, try to research the place first and make sure they are pet friendly.

Go on nomihodai

What if we told you there’s a way to save big on drinks in Japan? Enter nomihodai – the Japanese all-you-can-drink special that you should experience at least once while in the country. The price of a beer or two in New York City will get you drinking for an hour or two. This offer is often found at izakayas, and they may even offer a food-related all-you-can-eat special as well. However, there are some rules. You must finish your first drink before ordering your next, and sometimes there is an entrance fee. When the time runs out, you have to leave everything that you haven’t eaten.

Speak quietly in public in Japan

Mind the volume of your voice – and the content of your conversation – this is extremely important in Japan. Everyone in Japan is aware of the fact that they are sharing space with others, so keeping conversations to a minimum and low volume voice levels in public is always appreciated.

Giving a gift is appreciated

Although you can’t tip in Japan, you can still offer a small token of appreciation if you want to thank someone for their help or service. This can be in the form of a trinket, such as a key ring or souvenir from your hometown. Whatever it is, be sure to say thank you and bow when you hand it over. But don’t make too big a deal out of it, or they might be embarrassed that they have nothing to offer you in return.

Pointing at people and things in Japan is considered rude

Pointing at people or things with your finger, greeting strangers on the street with a friendly “hello”, eating or drinking in public, and taking pictures of people without their permission are all big no-nos in Japan. It’s also impolite to raise your voice or lose your temper in Japan, so be careful how you handle situations that don’t go as planned.

Also, Japanese people are constantly worried about offending people, so take this into account when asking for favors. Many times they will say “yes” to something when they really mean “no”. This indirect form of communication requires you to read between the lines a bit. Look for context clues, like if they’re going to talk to a manager or if they’re not fully committed to “yes.” It’s a big deal for them to say no, so if they do, don’t.

Getting around Japan

Public transport in Japan is fast and efficient. The daily commute in cities can be daunting, with suffocating crowds during rush hour, but you can avoid these by cycling or riding a scooter to work.

The country’s four main islands, Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku, are covered by an efficient rail network operated by Japan Railways. Dozens of private rail companies operate in metropolitan areas – and you can get a travelcard that covers almost all of them. In addition to an extensive rail network, Japan has a large number of subway systems in densely populated areas and large cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.

Although buses are not as popular as trains in Japan, commuter and long-distance routes cover the length and breadth of the country, serving city centers, tourist attractions and national parks. Most bus, train and subway lines stop running around midnight, so a taxi may be your only option if you’re out late. Licensed taxis are much more expensive than public transport. Not all taxi drivers speak English – so it’s best to know your destination in Japanese or have the address written down. Direction services are also available.

For long-distance travel, Japan’s bullet trains (Shinkansen) are legendary. Domestic airlines also serve many airports across Japan. Prices are competitive, but flying is usually more expensive than traveling by bus or train.

Cycling is also popular for commuting and traveling in Japan. You will see bicycles everywhere, especially the mamachari (mother’s bicycle) with its basket, child seat and support.

If you choose to drive in Japan, you can drive with an international driver’s license when you arrive, but you must convert to a local driver’s license within one year. Cars are cheap to buy but expensive to run – and you’re unlikely to need one if you’re based in a city.

Places to visit

Tokyo – A nonstop city with exciting contrasts

With its futuristic skyscrapers, unparalleled food scene and wild nightlife, Tokyo is a flow of pure adrenaline. This large and multi-faceted city is famous at the forefront, but its ancient Buddhist temples, vintage teahouses and serene gardens offer a peaceful escape – and a poignant reminder of the city’s long history and, for those who know where to look, Tokyo’s lesser pleasures (secret ramen places, shopping alleys, chilly slice bars) often in sight.

Senso-ji Temple

According to legend, two brothers tried to return a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, to the Sumida River only to have it returned to the next day. Located in Tokyo’s Asakusa district, this temple was built to honor the goddess.

Ueno Park

A favorite destination for Tokyoites, this large park is home to many of the city’s top attractions, including the Tokyo National Museum, Ueno Zoo and the National Museum of Western Art.

Akihabara

Every imaginable electronic gadget can be found in the shops of this high-tech, neon-lit district. Sony Plaza is one of the most popular shopping destinations in the district.

Kyoto

A passage to Japan’s past, full of world heritage and traditional arts

Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine

This shrine is one of many in Japan built to honor Inari, the Shinto god of rice.

GEAR Theatre

“GEAR” is the first non-verbal performance that originated in Japan. The world’s leading mime, breakin’, magic trick and young artists present a delightful story about a toy called “Doll” that transforms a human girl through various communications with an android called “Roboroid.

Osaka

Osaka is home to nearly nine million and powers an economy that surpasses both Hong Kong and Thailand. The confident, elegant city is a shopping hub with great restaurants and nightlife. It is an ideal base for exploring the Kansai region; The world heritage sites of Kyoto, Nara Temple and the eerie tombs of Koya-san are within 90 minutes by train. Popular attractions in the city include the aquarium, Osaka Castle, Universal Studios Japan and the futuristic Floating Garden Observatory.

Kobe

The port of Kobe is famous for its delicious beef and crisp, pure sake. It is a thriving metropolis with an international feel. Sake brewing season runs from October to April, and it’s the best time to take a tour of a kura (the Japanese word for brewery). Visit the Hakutsure Sake Brewery Museum all year round. Of course, the nightlife here is perfect.

Kobe Animal Kingdom

In the park you can see cute animals up close like capybaras. In the otuside park, you can experience activities such as riding a camel or feeding penguins. The animal shows are very beautiful and the bird shows are amazing. The exhibition area reproduces the animals’ habitat and you can see the animals up close. The all-weather environment means you can have fun even on rainy days.