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Holidays in Japan

Understanding Japan

The "Land of the Rising Sun" is a country where the past meets the future Japanese culture stretches back millennia, yet has also adopted and created the latest modern fashions and trends

Japan is a study in contrasts and contradictions Many Japanese corporations dominate their industries, yet if you read the financial news it seems like Japan is practically bankrupt Cities are as modern and high tech as anywhere else, but tumbledown wooden shacks can still be spotted next to glass fronted designer condominiums On an average subway ride, you might see childishly cute character toys and incredibly violent pornography - sometimes enjoyed by the same passenger, at the same time! Japan has beautiful temples and gardens which are often surrounded by garish signs and ugly buildings In the middle of a modern skyscraper you might discover a sliding wooden door which leads to a traditional chamber with tatami mats, calligraphy, and tea ceremony These juxtapositions mean you may often be surprised and rarely bored by your travels in Japan

Although Japan has often been seen in the West as a land combining tradition and modernity, and juxtapositions definitely exist, part of this idea is obsolete, and is a product of Japan being the first major Asian power to modernize as well as Western patronization and heavy promotion by the travel industry With time passing, however, it is becoming more apparent that many other Asian states have not only preserved more historical areas but have usurped Japan's position as cutting-edge Continued demolition of Japan's scant historic landmarks goes on apace, as with the famed Kabuki-za Theater demolition, and much of Japan's urban fabric is unsightly, as any random perusal of Google Maps' "Street View" option can show Still, with the proper planning, and with expectations held in check, a trip to Japan can be incredibly enjoyable and definitely worth the trip

History

While geography is not destiny, Japan's location on islands at the outermost edge of Asia has had a profound influence on its history Just close enough to mainland Asia, yet far enough to keep itself separate, much of Japanese history has seen alternating periods of closure and openness Until recently, Japan has been able to turn on or off its connection to the rest of the world, accepting foreign cultural influences in fits and starts It is comparable with the relationship between Britain and the rest of Europe, but with a much wider channel

Recorded Japanese history begins in the 5th century, although archaeological evidence of settlement stretches back 50,000 years and the mythical Emperor Jimmu is said to have founded the current Imperial line in the 7th century BC Archeological evidence, however, has only managed to trace the Imperial line back to the Kofun Period during the 3rd to 7th centuries AD, which was also when the Japanese first had significant contact with China and Korea Japan then gradually became a centralized state during the Asuka Period, during which Japan extensively absorbed many aspects of Chinese culture, and saw the introduction of Mahayana Buddhism and Confucianism The popular board game of Go is also believed to have been introduced to Japan during this period

The first strong Japanese state was centered in Nara, which was built to model the then Chinese capital Chang'an This period, dubbed the Nara Period was the last time the emperor actually held political power, with power eventually falling into the hands of the court nobles during the Heian Period, when the capital was moved to Kyoto, then known as Heian-Kyo, which remained the Japanese imperial residence until the 19th century Chinese influence also reached its peak during the early Heian Period, which saw Buddhism become a popular religion among the masses This was then followed by the Kamakura Period, when the samurai managed to gain political power Minamoto no Yoritomo, the most powerful of them was dubbed shogun by the emperor and ruled from his base in Kamakura The Muromachi Period then saw the Ashikaga shogunate come to power, ruling from their base in Ashikaga Japan then descended into the anarchy of the Warring States period in the 15th century Tokugawa Ieyasu finally reunified the country in 1600 and founded the Tokugawa shogunate, a feudal state ruled from Edo, or modern-day Tokyo A strict caste system was imposed, with the Shogun and his samurai warriors at the top of the heap and no social mobility permitted

During this period, dubbed the Edo Period, Tokugawa rule kept the country stable but stagnant with a policy of almost total isolation with the exception of Dutch and Chinese merchants in certain designated cities while the world around them rushed ahead US Commodore Matthew Perry's Black Ships arrived in Yokohama in 1854, forcing the country to open up to trade with the West, resulting in the signing of unequal treaties and the collapse of the shogunate in the Meiji Restoration of 1867, during which the imperial capital was relocated from Kyoto to Edo, now re-named Tokyo After observing Western colonization in Southeast Asia and the division and weakening of China, which the Japanese had for so long considered to be the world's greatest superpower, Japan vowed not to overtaken by the West, launching itself headlong into a drive to industrialize and modernize at frantic speed Adopting Western technology and culture wholesale, Japan's cities soon sprouted railways, brick buildings and factories, and even the disastrous Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which flattened large parts of Tokyo and killed over 100,000 people, was barely a bump in the road

From day one, resource-poor Japan had looked elsewhere for the supplies it needed, and this soon turned into a drive to expand and colonize its neighbors The Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95 saw Japan take control of Taiwan, Korea and parts of Manchuria, and its victory against Russia in the 1904–5 Russo-Japanese war cemented its position of strength With an increasingly totalitarian government controlled by the military, Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China via Manchuria in 1931 and by 1941 had an empire stretching across much of Asia and the Pacific In 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, destroying a large portion of the US Pacific fleet but drawing America into the war, whose tide soon started to turn against Japan By the time it was forced to surrender in 1945 after the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 186 million Japanese and well over 10 million Chinese and other Asians had died in battle, bombings, starvation and massacres, and Japan was occupied for the first time in its history The Emperor kept his throne but was turned into a constitutional monarch Thus converted to pacifism and democracy, with the US taking care of defense, Japan now directed its prodigious energies into peaceful technology and reemerged from poverty to conquer the world's marketplaces with an endless stream of cars and consumer electronics to attain the second-largest gross national product in the world

But frenzied growth could not last forever, and after the Nikkei stock index hit the giddy heights of 39,000 in 1989, the bubble well and truly burst, leading to Japan's lost decade of the 1990s that saw the real estate bubbles deflate, the stockmarket fall by half and, adding injury to insult, the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 that leveled parts of Kobe and killed over 6,000 people As of 2010, the economy has yet to recover from its doldrums, with deflation driving down prices, an increasingly unsupportable burden of government debt nearing 200% of GDP and an increasing polarization of Japanese society into "haves" with permanent jobs and "have-not" freeters drifting between temporary jobs

People

As an island nation shut off from the rest of the world for a long time with mild exceptions from China and Korea, Japan is very homogeneous Almost 99% of the population is of Japanese ethnicity The largest minority are Koreans, around 1 million strong, many in their 3rd or 4th generations There are also sizable populations of Chinese, Filipinos and Brazilians, although many are of Japanese descent Though largely assimilated, the resident Chinese population maintains a presence in Japan's three Chinatowns in Kobe, Nagasaki and Yokohama Indigenous ethnic minorities include the Ainu on Hokkaido, gradually driven north during the centuries and now numbering around 50,000 although the number varies greatly depending on the exact definition used, and the Ryukyuan people of Okinawa

The Japanese are well known for their politeness Many Japanese are thrilled to have visitors to their country and are incredibly helpful to lost and bewildered-looking foreigners Younger Japanese people are often extremely interested in meeting and becoming friends with foreigners as well Do not be surprised if a Japanese person usually of the opposite gender approaches you in a public place and tries to initiate a conversation with you in somewhat coherent English On the other hand, many are not used to dealing with foreigners 外人 gaijin and are more reserved and reluctant to communicate

Visibly foreign visitors remain a rarity in many parts of Japan outside of major cities, and you will likely encounter moments when entering a shop causes the staff to seemingly panic and scurry off into the back Don't take this as racism: they're just afraid that you'll try to address them in English and they'll be embarrassed because they can't understand or reply A smile and a Konnichiwa "Hello" often helps

Culture

As Japan has undergone periods of openness and isolation throughout its history, Japanese culture is if anything unique While heavy Chinese influences are evident in traditional Japanese culture, it has also retained many native Japanese customs, resulting in a seemingly seamless blend

Holidays

The most important holiday in Japan is New Year お正月 Oshōgatsu, which pretty much shuts down the country from December 30 to January 3 Japanese head home to their families which means massive transport congestion, eat festive foods and head out to the neighborhood temple at the stroke of midnight to wish in the New Year Many Japanese often travel to other countries as well, and prices for airfares are very high

In March or April, Japanese head out en masse for hanami 花見, lit "flower viewing", a festival of outdoors picnics and drunken revelry in parks, cleverly disguised as cherry blossomsakura viewing The exact timing of the famously fleeting blossoms varies from year to year and Japan's TV channels follow the progress of the cherry blossom front from south to north obsessively

The longest holiday is Golden Week April 27 to May 6, when there are four public holidays within a week and everybody goes on extended vacation Trains are crowded and flight and hotel prices are jacked up to multiples of normal prices, making this a bad time to travel in Japan, but the weeks immediately before or after Golden Week are excellent choices The Japanese government is currently debating staggering the dates of Golden Week so that certain areas will be one week prior, and others one week later However, this has not yet been decided and will not affect travel for Golden Week 2010

Summer brings a spate of festivals designed to distract people from the intolerable heat and humidity comparable to the US Midwest There are local festivals 祭 matsuri and impressive fireworks competitions 花火 hanabi throughout the country Tanabata 七夕, on July 7th or early August in some places, commemorates a story of star-crossed lovers who could only meet on this day

The largest summer festival is Obon お盆, held in mid-July in eastern Japan Kanto and mid-August in western Japan Kansai, which honors departed ancestral spirits Everybody heads home to visit village graveyards, and transport is packed

National holidays

Lunar holidays such as equinoxes may vary by a day or two; the list below is accurate for 2010 Holidays that fall on a weekend may be observed with a bank holiday on the following Monday Keep in mind that most Japanese people take additional time off around New Year's, during Golden Week, and during Obon

  • January 1 - New Year's Day ganjitsu 元日 or gantan 元旦
  • January 12 Second Monday of month - Coming-of-Age Day seijin no hi 成人の日
  • February 11 - National Foundation Day kenkoku kinen no hi 建国記念の日
  • March 21 - Vernal Equinox Day shunbun no hi 春分の日
  • March 22 - Vernal Equinox - Observed
  • April 29 - Showa Day showa no hi 昭和の日
  • May 3 - Constitution Day kenpō kinnenbi 憲法記念日
  • May 4 - Greenery Day midori no hi みどりの日
  • May 5 - Children's Day kodomo no hi こどもの日
  • July 19 third Monday of month - Marine Day umi no hi 海の日
  • September 20 third Monday of month - Respect-for-the-Aged Day keirō no hi 敬老の日
  • September 23 - Autumnal Equinox Day shuubun no hi 秋分の日
  • October 11 second Monday of month - Sports Day taiiku no hi 体育の日
  • November 3 - Culture Day bunka no hi 文化の日
  • November 23 - Labor Thanksgiving Day kinrō kansha no hi 勤労感謝の日
  • December 23 - The Emperor's Birthday tennō tanjōbi 天皇誕生日

The Japanese calendar

The Imperial era year, which counts from the year of ascension of the Emperor, is often used for reckoning dates in Japan, including transportation timetables and store receipts The current era is Heisei 平成 and Heisei 22 corresponds to 2010 The year may be written as "H22" or just "22", so "22/1/5" is January 5, 2010 Western years are also well understood and frequently used

Religion

Japan has two dominant religious traditions: Shinto 神道 is the ancient animist religion of traditional Japan At just over twelve hundred years in Japan, Buddhism is the more recent imported faith Christianity, introduced by European missionaries, was widely persecuted during the feudal era but is now accepted, and a small percentage of Japanese are Christian

Generally speaking, the Japanese are not a particularly religious people While they regularly visit shrines and temples to offer coins and make silent prayers, religious faith and doctrine play a small role if any in the life of the average Japanese Thus it would be impossible to try to represent what percentage of the population is Shinto versus Buddhist, or even Christian According to a famous poll, Japan is 80% Shinto and 80% Buddhist, and another oft-quoted dictum states that Japanese are Shinto when they live, as weddings and festivals are typically Shinto, but Buddhist when they die, since funerals usually use Buddhist rites Most Japanese accept a little bit of every religion Christianity is evident almost exclusively in a commercial sense In season, variations of Santa Claus, Christmas trees and other non-religious Christmas symbols are on display in malls and shopping centers throughout metropolitan areas

At the same time, Shinto and Buddhism have had an enormous influence on the country's history and cultural life The Shinto religion focuses on the spirit of the land, and is reflected in the country's exquisite gardens and peaceful shrines deep in ancient forests When you visit a shrine jinja 神社 with its simple torii 鳥居 gate, you are seeing Shinto customs and styles If you see an empty plot of land with some white paper suspended in a square, that's a Shinto ceremony to dedicate the land for a new building Buddhism in Japan has branched out in numerous directions over the centuries Nichiren 日蓮 is currently the largest branch of Buddhist belief Westerners are probably most familiar with Zen 禅 Buddhism, which was introduced to Japan in the 14th and 15th centuries Zen fit the aesthetic and moral sensibilities of medieval Japan, influencing arts such as flower-arranging 生け花 ikebana, tea ceremony 茶道 sadō, ceramics, painting, calligraphy, poetry, and the martial arts Over the years, Shinto and Buddhism have intertwined considerably You will find them side by side in cities, towns, and people's lives It's not at all unusual to find a sparse Shinto torii standing before an elaborate Buddhist temple o-tera お寺

Amusement

Karaoke カラオケ was invented in Japan and can be found in virtually every Japanese city Pronounced karah-okay it is abbreviated from the words "Empty orchestra" in Japanese - many natives won't have any idea what you're talking about if you use the English carry-oh-key Most karaoke places occupy several floors of a building You and your friends have a room to yourself - no strangers involved - and the standard hourly rate often includes all-you-can-drink booze, with refills ordered through a phone on the wall or through the karaoke machine itself The major chains all have good English-language song selections Old folks prefer singing enka ballads at small neighborhood bars

Also ubiquitous are pachinko parlors Pachinko is a joyless form of gambling that involves dropping little steel balls into a machine; prizes are awarded depending on where they land The air inside most pachinko parlors is certifiably toxic from nicotine, sweat and despair - not to mention the ear-splitting noise Give it a miss Video arcades, though sometimes difficult to distinguish from pachinko parlors from outside, have video games rather than gambling, and are often several floors high

Japan's national game is Go 囲碁 igo, a strategy board game that originated in China By no means everyone plays, but the game has newspaper columns, TV, and professional players The game is also played in the West, and there is a large and active English wiki discussing it 2 On a sunny day, the Tennoji ward of Osaka is a good place to join a crowd watching two Go masters go at it Besides Go, another popular board game in Japan is shogi 将棋 or Japanese chess

Mahjong 麻雀 mājan is also relatively popular in Japan, and frequently features on Japanese video and arcade games, although it's associated with illegal gambling and mahjong parlors can be quite seedy While gameplay is similar, scoring is drastically different from the various Chinese versions

Baseball is hugely popular in Japan and the popularity is a historical one baseball was first introduced in Japan around 1870s by an American professor Baseball fans traveling internationally may find Japan to be one of the great examples of baseball popularity outside of United States Baseball isn't only played in many high schools and by professionals, but also referenced in many Japanese pop culture as well In addition, many Japanese players have gone on to become top players in Major League Baseball The official Japanese baseball league is known as Nippon Professional Baseball, or simply known as Puro Yakyū プロ野球, meaning Professional Baseball Travelers who are interested in baseball may watch professional baseball games once in while with a friend or a Japanese local Just make sure you reserve your ticket in advance The rules in Japanese baseball are not much different than baseball in United States, although there are some minor variations The Japanese national baseball team is also considered to be one of the strongest in the world, having won the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, as well as the second edition in 2009

Climate

The Japanese are proud of their four seasons and an astonishing number of them are firmly convinced that the phenomenon is unique to Japan, but the tourist with a flexible travel schedule should aim for spring or autumn

  • Spring is one of the best times of year to be in Japan The temperatures are warm but not hot, there's not too much rain, and March-April brings the justly famous cherry blossoms sakura and is a time of revelry and festivals
  • Summer starts with a dreary rainy season known as tsuyu or baiu in June and turns into a steambath in July-August, with extreme humidity and the temperature heading as high as 40°C Avoid, or head to northern Hokkaido or the mountains of Chubu and Tohoku to escape The upside, though, is a slew of fireworks shows 花火大会 hanabi taikai and festivals big and small
  • Autumn, starting in September, is also an excellent time to be in Japan Temperatures and humidity become more tolerable, fair days are common and fall colors can be just as impressive as cherry blossoms However, in early autumn typhoons often hit the southern parts of Japan and bring everything to a standstill
  • Winter is a good time to go skiing or hot-spring hopping, but as some buildings lack central heating, it's often miserably cold indoors Heading south to Okinawa provides some relief There is usually heavy snow in Hokkaido and northeast Japan due to the cold wind blasts from Siberia Note that the Pacific coast of Honshu where most major cities are located has milder winters than the Sea of Japan coast: it may be snowing in Kyoto while it is cloudy or sprinkling rain in Osaka, an hour away

Further reading

There are multitudes of books written on Japan Some great, some amazingly un-great A good place to begin is one of the many recommended reading lists such as this one on Amazon 3 or sites like The Crazy Japan Times 4, Japan Review 5 or Japan Visitor 6 Some recommended books include:

  • Untangling My Chopsticks ISBN 076790852X, by Victoria Abbott Riccardi Set mainly in Kyoto
  • My Mother is a Tractor ISBN 1412048974, by Nicholas Klar A former English teacher with a witty and informative take on Japanese society Written from the depths of the Japanese countryside
  • Hitching Rides with Buddha ISBN 1841957852, by Will Ferguson is about a Canadian English teacher who hitches rides across the country, following the blooming cherry blossoms At times hilariously funny and deathly serious, it gives a very honest evaluation of all sorts of aspects of Japanese culture
  • Culture Shock: Japan ISBN 1558688528 A part of the 'Culture Shock' series, this is an excellent overview of the culture and lifestyle of the Japanese A good resource for a long or work-related stay in Japan or even for interaction with Japanese people

Talking in Japan

See also: Japanese phrasebook

The language of Japan is Japanese Most Japanese have studied English for at least 6 years starting from junior high school, but the instruction tends to focus on formal grammar and writing rather than actual conversation As a result, beyond the major international hotels and main tourist attractions, it is rare to find locals who are conversant in English Reading and writing comes much better though, and many younger Japanese are able to read and write in English despite not understanding spoken English If lost, one practical tip is to write out a question on paper in simple words and give it to someone young, preferably the high school or college students They may be able to point you in the right direction It can also be helpful to carry a hotel business card or matchbook with you, to show a taxi driver or someone if you lose your way Take comfort in the fact that many Japanese will go to extraordinary lengths to understand what you want and to help you, and try to pick up at least basic greetings and thank yous to put people at ease

Japanese is a language with several distinct dialects, although standard Japanese hyōjungo 標準語, which is based on the Tokyo dialect, is understood everywhere Areas like Kyushu and the Tohoku region have dialects that are nearly incomprehensible to other Japanese The slang-heavy dialect of the Kansai region is particularly famous in Japanese pop culture On the southern islands of Okinawa, many dialects of the the closely related Ryukyuan languages are spoken, mostly by the elderly, while in northern Hokkaido a rare few still speak Ainu

Japanese is written using a convoluted mix of three different scripts: kanji 漢字 or Chinese characters, together with "native" hiragana ひらがな and katakana カタカナ syllabaries, which were in fact derived from Chinese characters more than one thousand years ago However, hiragana and katakana do not carry the meaning of the original Chinese characters they were derived from and are simply phonetic characters There are thousands of kanji in everyday use and even the Japanese spend years learning them, but the kanas have only 50 syllables each and can be learned with a reasonable amount of effort Of the two, katakana are probably more useful for the visitor as they are used to write words of foreign origin other than Chinese, and thus can be used to figure out words like basu バス, bus, kamera カメラ, camera or konpyūtā コンピューター, computer However, some words like terebi テレビ, television, depāto デパート, department store, wāpuro ワープロ, word processor and sūpā スーパー, supermarket may be harder to figure out Knowing Chinese will also be a great head start for tackling kanji, but not all words mean what they seem: 大家 Mandarin Chinese: dàjiā, Japanese: ōya, "everybody" to the Chinese, means "landlord" in Japan!

What to see in Japan

Pilgrimage routes

  • 88 Temple Pilgrimage — an arduous 1,647 km trail around the island of Shikoku
  • Chugoku 33 Kannon Temple Pilgrimage
  • Narrow Road to the Deep North — a route around northern Japan immortalized by Japan's most famous haiku poet
  • Witness the real-life effects of atomic warfare in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • Pray at Ise Shrine, the holiest Shinto shrine in the world
  • Explore the grounds of Himeji Castle in Himeji
  • See the three great views of Japan Nihon Sankei; Matsushima, Amanohashidate and Itsukushima

What to do in Japan

  • Climb the 3776 meter Mount Fuji, an icon of Japan
  • Take a walk amidst thousands of cherry blossoms in Yoshino
  • Ascend Mount Aso to see one of the world's largest calderas
  • Visit the snowy peaks of the country's largest national park, Daisetsuzan
  • Climb the 2446 stone stops of the holy Haguro mountain through an amazing primeval forest
  • Soak in the hot springs of Japan's Onsen Capital, Beppu
  • Go River rafting in some of the last wild rivers in Japan in the Iya Valley
  • Ski the world famous powder of Hokkaido or in the Japan Alps
  • Overnight in one of the holy temples of Mount Koya

Buying stuff in Japan

The Japanese currency is the Japanese yen, abbreviated ¥ or JPY in foreign exchange contexts As of 2009, the yen hovers at around 90 to the dollar The symbol 円 pronounced en is used in the Japanese language itself

  • Coins: 1 silver, 5 gold with a center hole, 10 copper, 50 silver with a center hole, 100 silver, and 500 yen There are two ¥500 coins, distinguishable by their color The new ones are gold, the old ones are silver
  • Bills: 1,000 blue, 2,000 green, 5,000 purple, and 10,000 yen brown ¥2,000 bills are rare New designs for all the bills except ¥2,000 were introduced in November 2004, so there are now two versions in circulation Most merchants will not object to receiving a ¥10,000 bill even for a small purchase

Japan is still fundamentally a cash society Although most stores and hotels serving foreign customers take credit cards, some businesses such as cafés, bars, grocery stores, and even smaller hotels and inns do not Even businesses that do take cards often have a minimum charge as well as a surcharge, although this practice is disappearing One tip: the most popular credit card in Japan is JCB, and you can use Discover cards anywhere with a JCB logo Most merchants are not familiar with this, but it will work if you can convince them to try!

The Japanese usually carry around large quantities of cash - it is quite safe to do so and is almost a necessity, especially in smaller towns and more isolated areas In many cities, the Japanese can also use mobile phones to pay for their purchases where mobile phones function like credit cards and the cost is billed to them with their mobile phone bill However, a Japanese phone and SIM card is required to make use of this service so it's typically not available to foreigners on short visits However, Softbank rental phones includes a prepaid version of this function, but data charges are incurred while initializing the IC chip

Almost any major bank in Japan will provide foreign currency exchange from US dollars cash and traveller's checks Rates are basically the same whichever bank you choose Having to wait 15-30 minutes, depending on how busy the branch gets, is not unusual Other currencies accepted are Euros, Swiss Francs, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars, and British Pound Sterling Among other Asian currencies, Singapore dollars seem to be the most widely accepted

Exchange rates for US dollars and Euros are typically very good about 2% below the official rate Exchange rates for other currencies are very poor up to 15% below the official rate Other Asian currencies are generally not accepted RMB is becoming an exception Japanese post offices also can cash traveller's checks or exchange cash for yen, at a slightly better rate than the banks Traveller's checks also have a better rate of exchange than cash If you are exchanging amounts in excess of US$1,000 whether cash or T/C, you will be required to provide identification that includes your name, address, and date of birth to prevent money laundering and the funding of terrorism 26 Since passports usually do not show your address, bring along another form of ID such as a driver's license that shows your address

Japanese ATMs, known locally as cash corners キャッシュコーナー kyasshu kōnā, generally do not accept foreign cards and the availability of credit card advances, known as cashing キャッシング kyasshingu, is spotty The major exceptions are:

  • Post Offices often have English ATMs that will take foreign cards Many major offices have banks attached, so you can ask for help if you get an error message If other ATMs will not take your card, try a few post office ATMs before getting worried
  • Citibank, which has a limited network see here for a list but does have ATMs at the major airports
  • JP Bank ゆうちょ Yū-cho, formerly the Postal Savings Bank and hence found in almost every post office, which in turn has a branch in almost every village Most postal ATMs provide instructions in English as well as Japanese Plus, Cirrus, Visa Electron, Maestro, and UnionPay are accepted, and you can do credit card advances on Visa, Mastercard, Amex and Diners Club Your PIN must be 6 digits or less
  • Over 12,000 Japanese 7-Eleven stores 27 with ATMs accept foreign cards for cash withdrawals Accepted cards include Visa, American Express, JCB and UnionPay, and ATM cards with the Plus logo These are the most useful as they are everywhere and are accessible 24/7, but Mastercard, Maestro and Cirrus cards are no longer accepted However, they only dispense in multiples of 10000 yen
  • Shinsei Bank 新生銀行 ATMs, which accept Plus and Cirrus, are located at major Tokyo Metro and Keikyu stations, as well as in downtown areas of major cities

One thing to beware: many Japanese ATMs are closed at night and during the weekends, so it's best to get your banking done during office hours! An exception is 7-Eleven, which is open 24 hours

Vending machines in Japan are known for their pervasiveness and the notorious variety of products they sell Most will take ¥1,000 bills, and some types such as train ticket machines will take up to ¥10,000; none accept ¥1 or ¥5 coins, nor ¥2,000 notes And even the most high-tech vending machines do not take credit cards, save for certain ones in train stations Note that the ubiquitous cigarette vending machines require a Taspo age verification card to spit out your cancer sticks, which unfortunately are off limits to non residents, but local smokers are usually happy to lend you theirs

Prepaid electronic cards are quite popular in Japan for small purchases There are cards for train fares, convenience stores purchases, and public telephones, though they aren't interchangeable

There is a 5% consumption tax on all sales in Japan As of April 2004, the tax must now be included in all displayed prices which is why so many prices are awkward amounts like ¥105 or ¥525, but some stores still also display tax-excluded prices, so pay attention The word zeinuki 税抜 means tax-excluded, zeikomi 税込 means tax-included If you cannot find out any words in the price card, most of them are tax-included

Always keep a sizeable stack of reserve money in Japan, as if you run out for any reason wallet stolen, credit card blocked, etc, it can be very difficult to have any wired to you Western Union no longer operates in the country their agreement with Suruga Bank ended in 2009, banks will not allow you to open accounts without local ID, and even international postal money orders require proof of a residential address in Japan

Tipping

Tips are considered to be an insult and would most likely be refused Japanese service is legendary, and you do not need to bribe the waiters/waitresses to do their job properly Besides, the meal is probably expensive enough already Some restaurants will however add a 10% service charge Most family restaurants that are open late or 24 hours will also add a 10% late-night charge Even bellhops in high end hotels usually do not accept tips, and beyond the main tourist areas, tipping can even be offensive as it suggests that the service staff are not doing their job properly and need to be paid extra to do so In Japanese culture, if you are satisfied with the service, you would improve their business by recommending more customers rather than tipping them Pretty much the only exceptions are high-end ryokan see Sleep and English-speaking tour guides

Costs

Japan has a reputation for being extremely expensive — and it can be However, many things have become significantly cheaper in the last decade Japan need not be outrageously expensive if you plan carefully and in fact, is probably cheaper than Australia and most European Union countries for basic expenses For long-distance travel, in particular, the Japan Rail Pass and Visit Japan flights see Get around can save you a bundle

As rough guidelines, you will find it very difficult to travel on less than ¥4,000 per day but if you plan carefully, it's certainly not impossible, and can only expect a degree of comfort if you double the budget to ¥10,000 Staying in posh hotels, eating fancy meals or just traveling long-distance will easily double this yet again Typical prices for moderate budget travel would be ¥5,000 for hotel, ¥2,000 for meals, and ¥2,000 again for entry fees and local transport

However, if you find yourself a little short on cash, you can get your essential items in one of the many ¥100 shops 百円ショップ located in most cities Daiso 28 is the Japan's largest ¥100 shop chain, with 2,500 shops across Japan Other large chains are Can Do キャンドゥ, Seria セリア, and Silk シルク There are also convenience-store-like ¥100 shops such as SHOP99 and Lawson Store 100 where you can buy sandwiches, drinks, and vegetables in addition to selected ¥100 items

Tips for budget shopping

As noted above, Japan can be expensive You might feel every item or meal comes with a high price tag in Japan The main reason for this is that you have chosen an inner-city top-end shopping or eating district If you wish to buy more reasonably priced items, consider carefully whether you are desperately looking for upmarket products, or just want daily commodities and groceries The former should try intown premium department stores, boutiques and restaurants in the well-publicized shopping districts such as Isetan in Shinjuku and Matsuya in Ginza, the latter would be better off turn their steps toward suburban shopping malls or supermarkets such as Aeon or Ito-Yokado

Shopping

The 5% consumption tax imposed is not refundable for purchases of consumable items such as food and beverages However, for non-consumable items like clothing and electronics, the tax may be refunded for purchases of ¥10,000 or more before tax in a single receipt if you are not a resident and intend to bring the items out of Japan when you leave

At many department stores like Isetan, Seibu and Matsuzakaya, you typically pay the full cost at the cashier and go to a tax refund 税金還付 zeikin kanpu or 税金戻し zeikin modoshi counter, usually located at one of the higher floors, and present your receipt and passport to the counter to get reimbursed In some other stores advertising "duty free" 免税 menzei, you just present your passport to the cashier when making payment and the tax is deducted on the spot

When making tax free purchases or tax refund claims, counter staff would staple a piece of paper in your passport which you should keep with you until you leave Japan This piece of paper is to be surrendered to the customs counter at your point of departure just before you pass through immigration and checks may be done to ensure that you are bringing the items out of Japan

Despite the saying that Japanese cities never sleep, retail hours are surprisingly limited Opening hours of most shops are typically 10AM-8PM, though most shops are open on weekends and public holidays except New Year, and close on one day a week Restaurants typically stay open until late at night, though smoking would usually be allowed after 8PM so those who can't stand cigarette smoke should have your meals before then

However you will always find something you could need to buy at any time of day Japan is crawling with 24-hours convenience stores コンビニ konbini, such as 7-eleven, Family Mart, Lawson's or Circle K/Sunkus They often offer a much wider range of products than convenience stores in the US or Europe, sometimes have a small ATM and are often open all day all week! Many convenience stores also offer services such as fax, takkyubin luggage delivery, a limited range of postal services, payment services for bills including topping up international phone cards such as Brastel and some online retailers eg Amazonjp, and ticket sales for events, concerts and cinemas

Of course, establishments related to night life such as karaoke lounges and bars stay open well into the night - even in small towns it is easy to find an izakaya which is open until 5am Pachinko parlours are obliged to close at 11pm


Anime and manga

To many Westerners, anime animation and manga comics are the most popular icons of modern Japan Many visitors come to Japan in search of merchandise relating to their favorite anime and manga titles, which are often released in different versions in Japan and the West; the Western versions edit out taboo references in the Japanese version Most anime fans will even try to find Japanese-language anime DVDs, but there is a catch: not only are there usually no subtitles on domestic releases with the exception of Studio Ghibli releases, which all offer English subtitles, but Japan is in DVD Region 2 and uses NTSC-J video formatting, so if you live outside of Region 2 and/or use PAL or SECAM, you're out of luck except if you have special, often expensive equipment such as multi-system televisions, VCRs, and all-region DVD players However, a computer with region-lock bypassing software installed ie VLC Media Player should allow the more tech-savvy to view such DVDs You may also be surprised by the prices: new DVD releases regularly cost over ¥3,000 and there are usually only 2 episodes per DVD

Blu-Ray releases are more expensive than DVDs starting at ¥4,000 Note, however, that Blu-Ray regions are much less restrictive than DVD regions Japan shares its code Region A with North and South America, Korea, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong but not mainland China Some discs are also released without any region coding at all, and can be used with any NTSC-compatible player

Video and PC games

Video games are a huge business in Japan, but Japan's NTSC-J region code is incompatible with consoles in Europe, North America, Australia and mainland China so you will need to buy a Japanese console to play these games However, if you are from South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau or Southeast Asia, these games should work fine on your console, though the game would just not be in your native language The exception to this is the PlayStation 3, which features numerous games that have no region protection at all despite the fact that some games do advertise a region on the box, 9999% of the time, the game will work on any PS3; although the disadvantage of the language is still present, many games are now multilingual, choosing the language of your console settings The PSP and DS are also region-free, while the Xbox 360 is on a case-by-case basis The Wii is totally isolated by region, as even Korean and Japanese Wii systems fall under different regions and are incompatible

PC games, on the other hand, will usually work fine, as long as you understand enough Japanese to install and play them Only-in-Japan genres include the visual novel ビジュアルノベル, which are interactive games with anime style art, somewhat similar to dating sims, and its subset the erotic game エロゲー eroge, which is just what the name says

Generally the best places for Video Game shopping are Akihabara in Tokyo, and Den Den Town in Osaka in terms of deals, you can purchase video games from almost anywhere in Japan

Electronics and cameras

Battery-powered small electronics and still cameras made for sale in Japan will work anywhere in the world, though you might have to deal with an owner's manual in Japanese Some of the larger stores will provide you with an English manual 英語の説明書 eigo no setsumeisho on request There are no great deals to be found pricewise, but the selection is unparalleled However, if you are buying other electronics to take home, it's best to shop at stores that specialize in "overseas" configurations, many of which can be found in Tokyo's Akihabara You can get PAL/NTSC region-free DVD players, for example Also, keep in mind that Japanese AC runs at 100 volts, so using "native" Japanese electronics outside Japan without a step-down transformer can be dangerous Even the US standard 110V current is too much for some devices

Prices are lowest and shopping is the easiest at giant discount stores like Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera, Sofmap and Yamada Denki They usually have English-speaking staff on duty and accept foreign credit cards For common products the prices at any are virtually identical, so don't waste time comparison shopping Bargaining is possible in smaller shops, and even the larger chains will usually match their competitors' prices

Most of the big chains have a "member's card" that gets you "points" which can be used as a discount on your next purchase, even if it's just a few minutes later Some require you to wait overnight The cards are handed out on the spot and no local address is needed

Fashion

While you may be better off heading for France or Italy for high end fashion, when it comes to casual fashion, Japan is hard to beat Tokyo and Osaka in particular are home to many shopping districts, and there is an abundance of stores selling the latest fashion, particularly those catering to youths Just to name a few, Shibuya in Tokyo and Shinsaibashi in Osaka are known throughout Japan as centers of youth fashion The main problem is that Japanese shops cater to Japanese-sized customers, and finding larger or curvier sizes can be real challenge

Japan is also famous for its beauty products such as facial cream and masks, including many for men While these are available in almost every supermarket, the Ginza district of Tokyo is where many of the most expensive brands have their own shops

Japan's main contribution to jewelry is the cultured pearl, invented by Mikimoto Kōkichi in 1893 The main pearl growing operation to this day is in the small town of Toba near Ise, but the pearls themselves are widely available — although there is little if any price difference to buying them outside Japan For those who insist on getting their hands on the "authentic" stuff, Mikimoto's flagship store is in the Ginza district of Tokyo

Cigarettes

Smoking cigarettes remains popular in Japan, especially among men While cigarettes are sold at some of the many vending machines dotting Japan, visitors to Japan who wish to purchase them must do so at a convenience store or duty-free As a result of the Japanese tobacco industry cracking down on minors the legal age is 20, you now need a special age-verifying IC card, called a TASPO card 29, to purchase cigarettes from a vending machine TASPO cards, unfortunately, are issued only to residents of Japan

Cigarettes generally come in 20-cigarette king-size hard packs and are fairly cheap - around Y300-400 Japan doesn't have many domestic brands - Seven Stars and Mild Seven are the most common local brands American brands such as Marlboro, Camel and Lucky Strike are extremely popular although the Japanese-produced versions have a much lighter taste than their western counterparts Also look out for unusual flavoured cigarettes - these are light cigarettes with flavour-enhancing filter technology although they taste very artificial and don't have much effect - mostly popular with female smokers

Food and eating in Japan

Japanese cuisine, renowned for its emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients, has taken the world by storm The key ingredient of most meals is white rice, usually served steamed, and in fact its Japanese word gohan ご飯 also means "meal" Soybeans are a key source of protein and take many forms, notably the miso 味噌 soup served with almost every meal, but also tōfu 豆腐 bean curd and the ubiquitous soy sauce 醤油 shōyu Seafood features heavily in Japanese cuisine, including not only creatures of the sea but many varieties of seaweed as well, and a complete meal is always rounded out by some pickles 漬物 tsukemono

One of the joys of getting out of Tokyo and traveling within Japan is to discover the local specialties Every region within the country has a number of delightful dishes, based on locally available crops and fish In Hokkaido try the fresh sashimi and crab In Osaka don't miss the okonomiyaki お好み焼き stuffed with green onions and the octopus balls たこ焼き takoyaki

Japanese food is eaten with chopstickshashi Curry rice and fried rice are eaten with spoons Eating with chopsticks is a surprisingly easy skill to pick up, although mastering them takes a while Some chopstick guidelines to be aware of:

  • Never place or leave chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, and never pass something from your chopsticks to another person's chopsticks These are associated with funerary rites If you want to give a piece of food to someone, let them take it from your plate, or place it directly on their plate
  • When you are done using chopsticks, you can rest them across the edge of your bowl or plate Most nicer restaurants put a small wooden or ceramic chopstick rest hashi-oki at each place setting You can also fold the paper wrapper that the chopsticks come in to construct your own hashi-oki
  • Licking the ends of your chopsticks is considered low-class Take a bite of your rice instead
  • Using chopsticks to move plates or bowls is rude
  • Pointing at things with your chopsticks is rude Pointing at people in general is rude; with chopsticks, doubly so
  • Spearing food with your chopsticks is generally rude and should only be used as a last resort

Disposable chopsticks wari-bashi are provided in all restaurants as well as with bentō and other take-out foods It is a myth that you should "whittle" your chopsticks after breaking them apart

Many Japanese dishes come with different sauces and garnishes Japanese never put soy sauce on their rice, though they do dip their sushi in it before eating, and they pour it on grilled fish as well Tonkatsu pork cutlet comes with a thicker sauce, tempura comes with a lighter, thinner sauce made from soy sauce and dashi fish and seaweed soup base, while gyōza potstickers are usually dipped in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and chili oil

Most soups and broths, especially miso, are drunk directly out of the bowl after you've chopsticked out the larger bits For main-dish soups like ramen you will be given a spoon

Restaurants

The number of restaurants in Japan is stupendous, and you will never run out of places to go For cultural and practical reasons, Japanese almost never invite guests to their homes, so socializing nearly always involves eating out

According to the world famous Michelin Guide, which rates restaurants in major cities around the world, Tokyo is the most "delicious" city in the world with over 150 restaurants that received at least one star out of three In comparison, Paris and London received a total of 148 between them

Most Japanese-style restaurants have lunchtime teishoku 定食, or fixed set meals These typically consist of a meat or fish dish, with a bowl of miso soup, pickles, and rice often with free extra helpings These can be as inexpensive as ¥600 yet ample enough even for large appetites Menus will, for most establishments, be in Japanese only; however, many restaurants have models many in exquisite detail of their meals in their front window, and if you can't read the menu it may be better to take the waiter or waitress outside and point at what you would like

Restaurants will present you with the check after the meal, and you are expected to pay at the counter when leaving — do not leave payment on the table and walk out The phrase for "bill" is kanjō or kaikei When it's getting late, a server will usually come to your table to tell you it's time for the "last order" When it's really time to go, Japanese restaurants have a universal signal - they start to play "Auld Lang Syne" This is true across the country, except at the most expensive places That means "pay up and move out"

Many cheap chain eateries have vending machines where you buy a ticket and give it to the server At most of these restaurants, you'll have to be able to read Japanese to use them, though At some of these restaurants, there will be plastic displays or photographs of the food with varying prices in front of them It is often possible to match the price, along with some of the kana characters to the choices at the machine If you're open-minded and flexible, you might get shoyu soy sauce ramen instead of miso fermented soy bean ramen or you might get katsu pork cutlet curry instead of beef curry You'll always know how much you're spending so you'll never overpay If your Japanese language skills are limited or non-existent, these restaurants with vending machines are really quite comfortable places because there is limited or no conversation required at these establishments Most of the customers will be in a hurry, the hired help will usually not be interested in making conversation and will just read your order when they take your ticket and the water/tea, napkins, and eating utensils are either supplied automatically or self-service Some other places have all you can eat meals called tabehōdai 食べ放題 or viking バイキング

Tipping is not customary in Japan and could be considered insulting, and you should never leave it because wait staff will not even understand that the cash you left on the table was intended for them and they will most likely chase you down the street to return it to you, assuming that you forgot your change 24-hour "family restaurants" such as Denny's and Jonathan usually have a 10% late-night surcharge

All-around eateries

While most restaurants in Japanese specialize in a certain type of dish, each neighborhood is guaranteed to have a few shokudō 食堂, serving up simple, popular dishes and teishoku sets at affordable prices ¥500-1000 Try ones in government buildings: often open to the public as well, they are subsidised by taxes and can be very good value, if uninspiring When in doubt, go for the daily special or kyō no teishoku 今日の定食, which nearly always consists of a main course, rice, soup and pickles

A closely related variant is the bentō-ya 弁当屋, which serves takeout boxes known as o-bentō お弁当 While travelling on JR, don't forget to sample the vast array of ekiben 駅弁 or "station bento", many unique to the region - or even the station

A staple of the shokudō is the donburi 丼, literally "rice bowl", meaning a bowl of rice with a topping Popular ones include:

  • oyakodon 親子丼 - lit "parent-and-child bowl", usually chicken and egg but sometimes salmon and roe
  • katsudon カツ丼 - a deep-fried pork cutlet with egg
  • gyūdon 牛丼 - beef and onion
  • chūkadon 中華丼 - lit "Chinese bowl", stir-fried vegetables and meat in a thick sauce

You will also frequently encounter Japan's most popular dish, the ubiquitous curry rice カレーライス karē raisu - a thick, mild, brown paste that most Indians would hardly recognize Often the cheapest dish on the menu, a large portion 大盛り ōmori is guaranteed to leave you stuffed

At the other extreme of the spectrum are super-exclusive ryōtei 料亭, the Michelin three-star restaurants of the Japanese food world, which serve gourmet kaiseki 会席 meals prepared from the very best seasonal ingredients Should they condescend to let you in — and many require introductions — you will be looking at upwards of ¥30,000 per head for an experience which, quite frankly, will go right over the heads of most mere mortals visiting Japan for the first time

Noodles

Even Japanese want something other than rice every now and then, and the obvious alternative is noodlesmen Practically every town and hamlet in Japan boasts its own "famous" noodle dish, and they are often well worth trying

There are two major noodle types native to Japan: thin buckwheat soba そば and thick wheat udon うどん Typically all dishes below can be ordered with either soba or udon depending on your preference and a bowl will only cost a few hundred yen, especially at the standing-room-only noodle joints in and near train stations

  • kake soba かけそば - plain broth and maybe a little spring onion on top
  • tsukimi soba 月見そば - soup with a raw egg dropped in named "moon-viewing" because of the resemblance to a moon behind clouds
  • kitsune soba きつねそば - soup with sweetened thin sheets of deep-fried tofu
  • zaru soba ざるそば - chilled noodles served with a dipping sauce, shallot and wasabi, popular in summer

Chinese egg noodles or rāmen ラーメン are also very popular but more expensive ¥500+ due to the greater effort involved and the condiments, which typically include a slice of grilled pork and a variety of vegetables Ramen can be considered to be the defining dish of each city, and practically every sizable city in Japan will have its own unique style of ramen The four major styles of ramen are:

  • shio rāmen 塩ラーメン - salty pork or chicken broth
  • shoyu rāmen 醤油ラーメン - soy broth, popular in Tokyo
  • miso rāmen 味噌ラーメン - miso soybean paste broth, originally from Hokkaido
  • tonkotsu ramen豚骨ラーメン - thick pork broth, a speciality of Kyushu

Slurping your noodles is not only acceptable, but expected According to the Japanese it both cools them down and makes them taste better Any remaining broth can be drunk directly from the bowl

Sushi and sashimi

Perhaps Japan's most famous culinary exports are sushi 寿司 or 鮨, usually raw fish over vinegared rice, and sashimi 刺身, plain raw fish These seemingly very simple dishes are in fact quite difficult to prepare properly: the fish must be extremely fresh, and apprentices spend years just learning how to make the vinegared rice for sushi correctly, before moving on to the arcane arts of selecting the very best fish at the market and removing every last bone from the fillets

Top from left: salmon shake, squid ika, amberjack hamachi, egg tamago, crab kani, ark shell akagai
Bottom from left: scallop hotate, halfbeak sayori, shrimp amaebi, mackerel saba, sardine iwashi, oyster kaki, ginger gari

There is enough arcane sushi terminology to fill entire books, but the most common types are:

  • nigiri 握り - the canonical sushi form consisting of rice with fish pressed on top
  • maki 巻き - fish and rice rolled up in nori seaweed and cut into bite-size chunks
  • temaki 手巻き - fish and rice rolled up in a big cone of nori
  • gunkan 軍艦 - "battleship" sushi, like nigiri but with nori wrapped around the edge to contain the contents
  • chirashi ちらし - a large bowl of vinegared rice with seafood scattered on top

Nearly anything that swims or lurks in the sea can and has been turned into sushi, and most sushi restaurants keep a handy multilingual decoding key on hand or on the wall A few species more or less guaranteed to feature in every restaurant are maguro tuna, shake salmon, ika squid, tako octopus, and tamago egg More exotic options include uni sea urchin roe, toro fatty tuna belly, very expensive and shirako fish sperm Tuna belly comes in two different grades: ō-toro 大とろ, which is very fatty and very expensive, and chū-toro 中とろ, which is slightly cheaper and less fatty

If you somehow ended up in a sushi restaurant, but can't or don't want to eat raw fish, there are usually several alternatives For instance the above mentioned tamago, various vegetables on rice, or the very tasty inari rice in a sweet wrap of deep fried tofu Or order the kappa maki which is nothing more than sliced cucumber, rolled up in rice and wrapped in nori

Even in Japan, sushi is a bit of a delicacy and the most expensive restaurants, where you order piece by piece from a chef, can run you bills into tens of thousands of yen You can limit the damage by ordering a fixed-price moriawase 盛り合わせ set, where the chef will choose whatever he thinks is good that day Cheaper yet are the ubiquitous kaiten 回転, lit "revolving" sushi shops, where you sit by a conveyor belt and grab whatever strikes your fancy, at prices that can be as low as ¥100 per plate Even in these cheaper places, it's still quite acceptable to order directly from the chef While in some areas like Hokkaido, kaiten sushi is of consistently good quality, in larger cities especially Tokyo and Kyoto the quality varies considerably from place to place with the low end restaurants serving little more than junk-food

When eating sushi, it's perfectly acceptable to use your fingers; just dip the piece in soy and pop it in your mouth In Japan, the pieces typically have a dab of fiery wasabi radish already lurking inside, but you can always add more according to your taste Slices of pickled ginger gari refresh the palate and infinite refills of green tea are always available for free

Despite fish sashimi being the most well known, there is no shortage of other types of sashimi for the adventurous ones Hokkaido crab sashimi and lobster sashimi are considered delicacies and are definitely worth a try Whale is also occasionally available, although it's not very common, and Kumamoto is famous for horse meat sashimi

Fugu

Fuguふぐ or puffer fish is considered a delicacy in Japan despite being highly poisonous It can be rather pricey due to the tremendous skill required to prepare it, which requires complete removal of the internal organs which is where the poison is found Despite the potential danger, it is highly unlikely that you will be poisoned to death by it as chefs are assessed very stringently every year to ensure their preparation skills are up to the mark, and the Japanese government requires new chefs to undergo years of apprenticeship under experienced chefs before they are licensed to prepare the dish Because of the skill required, fugu is typically served only in speciality restaurants known as fugu-ya ふぐ屋 As a side note, the Emperor is banned from eating this dish for obvious reasons

Grilled and fried dishes

The Japanese didn't eat much meat before the Meiji era, but they have picked up the habit and even exported a few new ways to eat it since then Keep an eye on the price though, as meat especially beef can be fiercely expensive and luxury varieties like the famous marbled Kobe beef can cost thousands or even tens of thousands of yen per serving Some options, usually served by specialist restaurants, include:

  • okonomiyaki お好み焼き - Japanese pancake-pizza, based on a wheat-cabbage batter with meat or seafood of your choice, slathered with sauce, mayo, bonito flakes, dried seaweed and pickled ginger
  • teppanyaki 鉄板焼き - meat grilled on a hot iron plate
  • tempura 天ぷら - light-battered shrimp, fish and vegetables deep-fried very quickly, served with a dipping broth
  • tonkatsu 豚カツ - deep-fried breaded pork cutlets elevated into an art form
  • yakiniku 焼肉 - Japanese-style "Korean barbeque", cooked by yourself at your table
  • yakitori 焼き鳥 - grilled skewers of every chicken part imaginable, a classic accompaniment to alcohol

One Japanese specialty worth seeking out is eel うなぎ unagi, reputed to give strength and vitality in the drainingly hot summer months A properly grilled eel simply melts in the mouth when eaten, and takes over ¥1000 from your wallet in the process

A rather more infamous Japanese delicacy is whalekujira, which tastes like fishy steak and is served both raw and cooked However, most Japanese don't hold whale in much esteem; it's associated with school lunches and wartime scarcity, and it's rarely found outside speciality restaurants such as Kujiraya in Shibuya, Tokyo Canned whale can also be found in some grocery stores at a huge price for a small can

Stewed dishes

Particularly in the cold winter months various "hot pot" stewsnabe are popular ways to warm up Common types include:

  • chankonabe ちゃんこ鍋 - a hotchpotch steamboat much favored by sumo wrestlers
  • oden おでん - a variety of skewered fishcakes, daikon radish, tofu, and other ingredients simmered in fish soup for days Primarily a winter dish, often sold in convenience stores and on the street in makeshift blue-tarp yatai tents
  • sukiyaki すき焼き - a hotpot of beef, tofu, noodles and more, often somewhat sweet Well known in the West, but not that common in Japan
  • shabu-shabu しゃぶしゃぶ - a hotpot of clear water or very light broth; very thin slices of meat traditionally beef, but seafood, pork, and other variations exist are briefly swished through the hot water to instantly cook them, then dipped in flavoured sauce

Pseudo-Western dishes

Throughout Japan you can find cafés and restaurants serving Western food 洋食 yōshoku, ranging from molecular-level carbon copies of famous French pastries to hardly recognizable Japanized dishes like corn-and-potato pizza and spaghetti omelettes A few popular only-in-Japan dishes include:

  • hambaagu ハンバーグ - not to be confused with the McDonalds-style hambaagaa, this is a standalone hamburger patty with fixings
  • omuraisu オムライス - rice wrapped in an omelette with a complimentary dollop of ketchup
  • wafū suteeki 和風ステーキ - steak served Japanese-style with soy
  • korokkeコロッケ; croquettes, usually filled with potato, along with some meat and onion
  • kare-カレー; Japanese-style curry, it is not as spicy as Indian curry

Beer gardens

During the summer months when it is not raining many buildings and hotels have restaurants on their rooftops which serve dishes like fried chicken and french fries, as well as light snacks The specialty though is of course draft beer 生ビール nama-biiru, and you can order large mugs of it or pay a fixed price for an all-you-can-drink nomihodai 飲み放題) course lasting for a set period of time usually up to 2 hours Cocktails and other drinks are also often available as part of all-you-can-drink sets

Fast food

Japanese fast food restaurants offer decent quality at reasonable prices Many chains offer interesting seasonal choices that are quite tasty Some chains to look out for:

  • Yoshinoya 吉野家, Matsuya 松屋, and Sukiya すき家 are gyūdon beef bowl specialists While beef was off the menu for a while due to the mad cow scare, it's back now
  • Tenya てんや, the best tempura you'll ever eat for less than ¥500
  • MOS Burger seems like just another fast food chain, but actually has a pretty interesting menu — for hamburgers with a twist, how about grilled eel between two rice buns? Notice also the list of local produce suppliers posted in each shop Made to order, so guaranteed fresh, and unlike some fast-food places, Mosburger products generally look like their advertising photos A bit more expensive than McDonalds, but worth the extra MOS stands for Mountain, Ocean, Sun, by the way
  • Freshness Burger tries to be a bit less fast-foody and more like an "all-American" joint The food's decent, but just be prepared for the tiniest burgers you've ever seen
  • Beckers Operated by JR, these fastfood burger restaurants are often found in and near JR stations in greater Tokyo and Yokohama Beckers offers made to order burgers and Menchi burgers minced black pork Unlike most shops, their buns are fresh and baked inside the stores Unused buns are thrown away if not used 15 hours after baking them Their Pork Teriyaki burger is awesome They also offer Poutine, which is of course a French Canadian snack consisting of french fries, gravy and cheese The chilli topping needs to be tried More often than not, you can pay with the JR Suica pre-paid re-chargeable multi use traincard
  • Ootoya 大戸屋 30 is really too good to call fast food, with a menu and atmosphere that matches any "home-style" Japanese restaurant While there are illustrated menus on signboards, ordering can be confusing: at some stores you order at the counter before taking a seat, while at others servers come to your table
  • Soup Stock Tokyo is a trendy soup kitchen chain that serves delicious soup all-year round, with a selection of cold soups in summer It is a bit more expensive than most other fast food chains but you may consider it a healthier alternative to burgers
  • Lotteria Standard burger-type place
  • First Kitchen This chain offers a few dishes outside of the standard fast-food fare, including pasta, pizza, and fries with a wide assortment of flavorings
  • Coco Ichiban serves Japanese style curry rice with a vast array of ingredient choices English menus available

American fast food chains are also ubiquitous, including McDonald's, Wendy's, and Kentucky Fried Chicken McDonalds restaurants are almost as ubiquitous as vending machines

There are also a number of Japanese "family restaurants", serving a wide variety of dishes, including steak, pasta, Chinese style dishes, sandwiches, and other foods Though their food is relatively uninteresting, these restaurants usually have illustrated menus, so travellers who cannot read Japanese can use the photos to choose and communicate their orders Some chains across the country are:

  • Jonathan's is probably the most ubiquitous local chain Skylark is owned by the same company and has similar fare, including a cheap and unlimited "drink bar" which makes these restaurants good places for reading or resting over extended periods Denny's also has many stores in Japan
  • Royal Host - tries to market itself as a bit up-scale
  • Sunday Sun - reasonable, decent food and menus
  • Volks - specializes in steaks, and offers a large salad bar

Coffee shops

Though Starbucks has planted its flag in Japan almost as well as in the United States, the Japanese kissaten 喫茶店 has a long history If you're really looking for a jolt of caffeine, go to Starbucks or one of its Japanese predecessors such as Doutor But if you're trying to get out of the rain, the heat or the crowds for a while, the kissaten is an oasis in an urban jungle Most coffee shops are one-of-a-kind affairs, and reflect the tastes of their clientele In a Ginza coffee shop, you'll find a soft "European" decor and sweet pastries for upscale shoppers taking a load off their Ferragamos In an Otemachi coffee shop, businessmen in suits huddle over the low tables before meeting their clients In Roppongi's all-night coffee shops, the night owls pause between clubs, or doze until the trains start running again in the morning

A peculiar kind of kissaten is the jazz kissa ジャズ喫茶, or jazz coffee shop These are even darker and more smoke-filled than normal kissaten, and frequented by extremely serious-looking jazz buffs who sit motionless and alone, soaking in the bebop played at high volumes from giant audio speakers You go to a jazz kissa to listen; conversation is a no-no

Another offshoot is the danwashitsu 談話室, or lounge The appearance is indistinguishable from a pricy kissaten, but the purpose is more specific: serious discussions over matters such as business or meeting prospective spouses All tables are in separate booths, reservations are usually required, and the drinks are pricey So don't wander into one if you're just looking for a cup of coffee

Convenience stores

If you're traveling on the cheap, Japan's numerous convenience stores コンビニ konbini can be a great place to grab a bite to eat, and they're almost always open 24-7 Major chains include 7-11, Lawson, and Family Mart You can find instant noodles, sandwiches, meat buns, and even some small prepared meals, which can be heated up in a microwave right in the store An excellent option for food on the go is onigiri or omusubi, which is a large ball of rice stuffed with say fish or pickled plum and wrapped in seaweed, and usually cost around ¥100 each

Most convenience stores in Japan also have a restroom located in the back While most of the stores located in suburban and rural areas will let customers use their bathrooms, many in large cities, especially those in downtown areas and amusement districts of Tokyo and Osaka, will not Therefore, you should ask whether you can use the bathroom at the cashier first, then buy an item later if you want to show your appreciation

Supermarkets

For those really on a budget, most supermarkets have a wide variety of ready-to-eat meals, bentos, sandwiches, snacks and the like, generally cheaper than convenience stores Some supermarkets are even open 24 hours a day

One Japanese institution worth checking out is the depachika デパ地下 or department store basement food court, featuring dozens of tiny specialist stalls dishing up local specialties ranging from exquisitely packed tea ceremony candies to fresh sushi and Chinese takeaway They're often a little upmarket pricewise, but almost all offer free samples and there are always a few reasonably priced ones in the mix In the evenings, many slash prices on unsold food, so look for stickers like hangaku 半額, "half price" or san-wari biki 3割引, "30% off" to get a bargain 割 means "1/10" and 引 means "off"

Eating vegetarian

Despite its image as light and healthy cuisine, everyday Japanese food can be quite heavy in salt and fat, with deep-fried meat or seafood being prominent Vegetarians much less vegans may have serious difficulty finding a meal that does not include animal products to some degree, particularly as the near-ubiquitous Japanese soup stock dashi is usually prepared with fish and often pops up in unexpected places like miso, rice crackers, curry, omelettes including tamago sushi, instant noodles and pretty much anywhere salt would be used in Western cuisine There is a kelp variant called kombudashi, but it's fairly uncommon Soba and udon noodle soups, in particular, virtually always use bonito-based katsuodashi, and typically the only vegetarian-safe item on the menu in a noodle shop is zarusoba, or plain cold noodles — but even for this the dipping sauce typically contains dashi

An excellent option is the kaiten conveyor belt sushi shop Westerners tend to associate sushi with fish, but there are several kinds of rolled sushi available in these shops that does not include fish or other marine creatures: kappa maki cucumber rolls, nattō maki sushi filled with stringy fermented soy beans, an acquired taste for many, kanpyō maki pickled-gourd rolls, and, occasionally, yuba sushi made with the delicate, tasty 'skin' of tofu These types of sushi tend to be less popular than the sushi using marine animal products, so you may not see them revolving in front of your eyes on the conveyor belt Just shout out the name of the type of sushi you want and the sushi chef will prepare it for you right away When you are ready to leave, call the waitress over and she'll count your plates The vegetarian sushi options are always inexpensive

For anyone living in big cities, especially Tokyo, an excellent option is organic or macrobiotic food, known as shizenshoku 自然食 While "vegetarian food" may sound boring or even unappetizing to Japanese ears, shizenshoku is quite in vogue as of late, although meals may cost about ¥3000 and menus may still contain seafood items While considerably harder to find, it's worth looking out for a restaurant often run by temples that offers shōjin ryori 精進料理, the purely vegetarian cuisine developed by Buddhist monks This cuisine is highly regarded and thus often very expensive, but is often available at reasonable prices if you stay at temples

Keep an eye on your protein intake: while soybean products like tofu and miso are ubiquitous, other vegetarian protein sources like legumes and dairy products are virtually unknown in Japanese cooking

Drinking in Japan

The Japanese drink a lot: not only green tea in the office, at meetings and with meals, but also all types of alcoholic beverages in the evening with friends and colleagues Many social scientists have theorized that in a strictly conformist society, drinking provides a much-needed escape valve that can be used to vent off feelings and frustrations without losing face the next morning

In Japan, the drinking age is 20 as is the age of majority and smoking age, for that matter This is notably higher than most of Europe and the Americas excepting the United States However, ID verification is almost never requested at restaurants, bars, convenience stores or other purveyors of liquor, so long as the purchaser does not appear obviously underage The main exception is in the large clubs in Shibuya, Tokyo, which are popular with young Tokyoites and during busy times will ID everyone entering the club However, most clubs will accept any form of ID They will normally ask for a passport, but if you show them a driver's license legitimate or non-legitimate, they will accept it

Where to drink

If you're looking for an evening of food and drink in a relaxed traditional atmosphere, go to an izakaya 居酒屋, Japanese-style pub, easily identified by red lanterns with the character "酒" alcohol hanging out front Many of them have an all-you-can-drink 飲み放題 nomihōdai deals which are about ¥1,000 US$10 for 90 minutes on average, although you'll be limited to certain types of drinks Very convenient An izakaya will usually have a lively, convivial atmosphere, as it often acts as a living room of sorts for office workers, students and seniors Food is invariably good and reasonably priced, and in all, they are an experience not to be missed

While Western-style bars can also be found here and there, typically charging ¥500-1,000 for drinks, a more common Japanese institution is the snack スナック sunakku These are slightly dodgy operations where paid hostesses pour drinks, sing karaoke, massage egos and sometimes a bit more and charge upwards of ¥3,000/hour for the service Tourists will probably feel out of place and many do not even admit non-Japanese patrons

Dedicated gay bars are comparatively rare in Japan, but the districts of Shinjuku ni-chome in Tokyo and Doyama-cho in Osaka have busy gay scenes Most gay/lesbian bars serve a small niche muscular men, etc and will not permit those who do not fit the mold, including the opposite sex, to enter While a few are Japanese only, foreigners are welcome at most bars

Note that izakaya, bars and snacks typically have cover charges カバーチャージ kabā chāji, usually around ¥500 but on rare occasions more, so ask if the place looks really swish In izakayas this often takes the form of being served some little nibble お通し otōshi as you sit down, and no, you can't refuse it and not pay Some bars also charge a cover charge and an additional fee for any peanuts you're served with your beer

Vending machines 自動販売機 jidōhanbaiki are omnipresent in Japan and serve up drinks 24 hours a day at the price of ¥120-150 a can/bottle, although some places with captive customers, including the top of Mount Fuji, will charge more In addition to cans of soft drinks, tea and coffee, you can find vending machines that sell beer, sake and even hard liquor In winter, some machines will also dispense hot drinks — look for a red label with the writing あたたかい atatakai instead of the usual blue つめたい tsumetai Vending machines that sell alcoholic beverages are usually switched off at 11PM Also, more and more of these machines, especially those near a school, require the use of a special "Sake Pass" obtainable at the city hall of the city the machine is located in The pass is available to anyone of 20 years of age or over Many vending machines at stations in the Tokyo metropolitan area accept payment using the JR Suica or PASMO cards

Sake

Sake is a fermented alcoholic beverage which is brewed from rice Though often called rice wine, in fact the sake making process completely different from wine or beer making The fermentation process uses both a mold to break down the starches and yeast to create the alcohol The Japanese word sake 酒 can in fact mean any kind of alcoholic drink, and in Japan the word nihonshu 日本酒 is used to refer to what Westerners call "sake"

Sake is around 15% alcohol, and can be served at a range of temperatures from hot 熱燗 atsukan, to room temperature 常温jo-on, down to chilled 冷や hiya Contrary to popular belief most sake is not served hot, but often chilled Each sake is brewed for a preferred serving temperature, but defaulting to room temperature is in most cases safe If you are inclined to have one hot or chilled in a restaurant, asking your waiter or bartender for recommendation would be a good idea In restaurants, one serving can start around ¥500, and go up from there

Sake has its own measures and utensils The little ceramic cups are called choko ちょこ and the small ceramic jug used to pour it is a tokkuri 徳利 Sometimes sake will be poured into a small glass set in a wooden box to collect the overflow as the server pours all the way to the top and keeps pouring Just drink from the glass, then pour the extra out of the box and back into your glass as you go Occasionally, particularly when drinking it cold, you can sip your sake from the corner of a cedar box called a masu 枡, sometimes with a dab of salt on the edge Sake is typically measured in 合, 180 mL, roughly the size of a tokkuri, ten of which make up the standard 18L isshōbin 一升瓶 bottle

The fine art of sake tasting is at least as complex as wine, but the one indicator worth looking out for is nihonshudo 日本酒度, a number often printed on bottles and menus Simply put, this "sake level" measures the sweetness of the brew, with positive values indicating drier sake and negative values being sweeter, the average being around +2

Sake is brewed in several grades and styles which depend upon how much the rice is milled to prevent off flavors, if any water is added, or if additional alcohol is added Ginjō 吟醸 and daiginjō 大吟醸 are measures of how much the rice has been milled, with the daiginjo more highly milled and correspondingly more expensive These two may have alcohol added primarily to improve the flavor and aromaHonjōzō 本醸造 is less milled, with alcohol added, and may be less expensive; think of it as an everyday kind of sake Junmai 純米 meaning pure rice, is an additional term which specifies that only rice was used When making a purchase, price is often a fair indicator of quality

A few special brews may be worth a try if you feel like experimenting Nigorizake 濁り酒 is lightly filtered and looks cloudy, with white sediment at the bottom of the bottle Turn the bottle gently once or twice to mix this sediment back into the drink Though most sake doesn't age well, some brewers are able to create aged sake with a much stronger flavor and deep colors These aged sake or koshu 古酒 may be an acquired taste, but worthwhile for the adventurous after a meal

Worth a special mention is amazake 甘酒, similar to the the lumpy homebrewed doburoku どぶろく version of sake, drunk hot in the winter often given away free at shrines on New Year's night Amazake has very little alcohol and it tastes pretty much like fermented rice glop which is to say, not that bad at all, but at least it's cheap And, as the name implies, sweet

If you're curious about sake, the Japan Sake Brewers Association has an online version of its English brochure You can also visit the Sake Plaza in Shinbashi, Tokyo and taste a flight of different sakes for just a few hundred yen

Shochu

Shōchū 焼酎 is the big brother of sake, a stronger tasting distilled type of alcohol There are largely two types of shōchū; traditional shōchū are most commonly made of rice, yam, or grain, but it can be made of other materials like potatoes, too The other is rather industrially made out of sugar through multiple consecutive distillation, often used and served as a kind of cooler mixed with juice or soda known as a chū-hai Note however that canned chū-hai sold on store shelves do not even use shōchū but even cheaper alcoholic material Shōchū is typically around 25% alcohol although some varieties can be much stronger and can be served straight, on the rocks, mixed with hot or cold water at your choice Once solely a working-class drink, and still the cheapest tipple around at less than ¥1000 for a big 1L bottle, traditional shōchū has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years and the finest shōchū now fetch prices as high as the finest sakes

Liquor

Umeshu 梅酒 is prepared by soaking Japanese ume plums actually a type of apricot in white liquor so it absorbs the flavor, and the distinctive, penetrating nose of sour dark plum and sweet brown sugar is a hit with many visitors Typically about 10-15% alcohol, it can be taken straight, on the rocks rokku or mixed with soda soda-wari

Beer

There are several large brands of Japanese beer ビール biiru, including Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo, and Suntory A bit harder to find is an Okinawan brand, Orion which is excellent Yebisu is also a popular beer brewed by Sapporo Microbrewed beers are also starting to appear in Japan, with a few restaurants offering their own micros or ji-biiru 地ビール but these are still few in number Most varieties are lagers, with strengths averaging 5%

You can buy beer in cans of all sizes, but in Japanese restaurants beer is typically served in bottles 瓶 bin, or draft 生 nama meaning "fresh" Bottles come in three sizes, 大瓶 ōbin large, 066L, 中瓶 chūbin medium, 05L and 小瓶 kobin small, 033L, of which medium is the most common Larger bottles give you the opportunity to engage in the custom of constantly refilling your companions' glasses and having yours topped off as well If you order draft beer, you each receive your own mug jokki In many establishments, a dai-jokki "big mug" holds a full liter of brew

Some Japanese bartenders have an annoying habit of filling half of your mug with head so that you only have half a glass of actual beer Though the Japanese like their draft beer poured that way, you may find it irritating - especially when you're paying ¥600 for a glass of beer as in many restaurants and bars If you have the gumption to ask for less head, say awa wa sukoshi dake ni shite kudasai "please, just a little foam" You will baffle your server, but you may get a full glass of beer

Guinness pubs have started appearing all over the country recently, which is nice for those who like Irish drinks

For those with a more humourous tastes in beer, try kodomo biiru こどもビール, literally Children’s Beer, a product that looks just like the real thing but was actually invented with children in mind there is 0% alcohol content

Happōshu and third beer

Thanks to Japan's convoluted alcohol licensing laws, there are also two almost-beers on the market: happōshu 発泡酒, or low-malt beer, and the so-called third beer 第3のビール dai-san no biiru, which uses ingredients like soybean peptides or corn instead of malt Priced as low as ¥120, both are considerably cheaper than "real" beer, but lighter and more watery in taste Confusingly, they are packaged very similarly to the real thing with brands like Sapporo's "Draft One" and Asahi's "Hon-Nama", so pay attention to the bottom of the can when buying: by law, it may not say ビール beer, but will instead say 発泡酒 happoshu or, for third beers, the unwieldy moniker その他の雑酒2 sono ta no zasshu2, lit "other mixed alcohol, type 2" Try to drink moderately as both drinks can lead to nightmare hangovers

Western wine

Japanese wine is actually quite nice although it costs about twice as much as comparable wine from other countries Several varieties exist, and imported wine at various prices is available nationwide Selection can be excellent in the larger cities, with specialized stores and large department stores offering the most extensive offerings One of Japan's largest domestic wine areas is Yamanashi Prefecture, and one of Japan's largest producers, Suntory, has a winery and tours there Most wine, red and white, is served chilled and you may find it hard obtaining room-temperature 常温 jō-on wine when dining out

Tea

The most popular beverage by far is tea お茶 o-cha, provided free of charge with almost every meal, hot in winter and cold in summer There is a huge variety of tea in bottles and cans in convenience-store fridges and vending machines Western-style black tea is called kōcha 紅茶; if you don't ask for it specifically you're likely to get Japanese brown or green tea Chinese oolong tea is also very popular

The major types of Japanese tea are:

  • sencha 煎茶, the common green tea
  • matcha 抹茶, soupy powdered ceremonial green tea The less expensive varieties are bitter and the more expensive varieties are slightly sweet
  • hōjicha ほうじ茶, roasted green tea
  • genmaicha 玄米茶, tea with roasted rice, tastes popcorn-y
  • mugicha 麦茶, a drink of roasted barley, served iced in summer

Coffee

Coffee コーヒー kōhī is quite popular in Japan, though it's not part of the typical Japanese breakfast It's usually brewed to the same strength as European coffee; weaker, watered down coffee is called American Canned coffee hot and cold is a bit of a curiosity, and widely available in vending machines like other beverages for about ¥120 per can Most canned coffee is sweet, so look for brands with the English word "Black" or the kanji 無糖 "no sugar" if you want it unsweetened Decaffeinated coffee is very rare in Japan, even at Starbucks, but is available in some locations

There are many coffee shops in Japan, including Starbucks Major local chains include Doutor known for its low prices and Excelsior A few restaurants, such as Mister Donut, Jonathan's and Skylark, offer unlimited refills on coffee for those who are particularly addicted to caffeine or want to get some late-night work done

Soft drinks

There are many uniquely Japanese soft drinks and trying random drinks on vending machines is one of the little joys of Japan A few of note include Calpis カルピス, a kind of yogurt-based soft drink which tastes better than it sounds and the famous Pocari Sweat a Gatorade-style isotonic drink A more traditional Japanese soft drink is Ramune ラムネ which is nearly the same as Sprite or 7-Up but is noteworthy for its unusual bottle, where one pushes down a marble into an open space below the spout instead of using a bottle opener

Most American soft drink brands Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew are widely available The only choices for diet soda will be Diet Coke, Coke Zero, or Diet Pepsi Root Beer is nearly impossible to find outside of speciality import food shops or Okinawa Ginger ale is very popular however, and a common find in vending machines Caffeinated energy drinks are available in many local brands usually infused with ginseng

In Japan, the term "juice" ジュース jūsu is catch-all term for any kind of fruity soft drink - sometimes even Coca-Cola and the like - and extremely few are 100% juice So if it's fruit squeezings you want, ask for kajū 果汁 Drinks in Japan are required to display the percentage of fruit content on the label; this can be very helpful to ensure you get the 100% orange juice you were wanting, rather than the much more common 20% varieties

Accommodation in Japan

In addition to the usual youth hostels and business hotels, you can find several kinds of uniquely Japanese accommodation, ranging from rarefied ryokan inns to strictly functional capsule hotels and utterly over-the-top love hotels

When reserving any Japanese accommodations, bear in mind that many smaller operations may hesitate to accept foreigners, fearing language difficulties or other cultural misunderstandings This is to some extent institutionalized: large travel agency databases note which few hotels are prepared to handle foreigners, and they may tell you that all lodgings are booked if only these are full! Instead of calling up in English, you may find it better to get a Japanese acquaintance or local tourist office to make the booking for you Alternatively, for cheap Internet rates, Rakuten's English search tool 32 is an invaluable utility Note that prices are almost always given per person not per room Otherwise you may have a rather unpleasant shock when your party of five tries to check out

When checking in to any type of accommodation, the hotel is, by law, required to make a copy of your passport unless you are a resident of Japan It is a good idea, especially if you are travelling in groups, to present the clerk a photo copy of your passport to speed up check-in Aside from this, remember that Japan is mostly a cash only country, and credit cards are usually not accepted in smaller forms of accommodation, including, but not limited to, small business hotels Bring enough cash to be able to pay in advance

One thing to beware in wintertime: traditional Japanese houses are designed to be cool in summer, which all too often means that they are freezing cold inside in winter Bulk up on clothing and make good use of the bathing facilities to stay warm; fortunately, futon bedding is usually quite warm and getting a good night's sleep is rarely a problem

While accommodation in Japan is expensive, you may find that you can comfortably use a lower standard of hotel than you would in other countries Shared baths will usually be spotless, and theft is very unusual in Japan Just don't expect to sleep in late: check-out time is invariably 10 AM, and any extensions to this will have to be paid for

You may have difficulty finding rooms at the busiest holiday times, such as "Golden Week" at the beginning of May; and prices are commonly higher on Saturday nights But Toyoko-inn business hotels in towns not listed in your guidebook often have vacancies, and their website 33 is excellent

Hotels

Western-branded hotels are rare outside Tokyo and Osaka; elsewhere, it's Japanese brands like JAL/Nikko 34, Rihga Royal 35 and Prince 36 that rule the roost Full-service five-star hotels can turn pampering into an artform, but tend to be rather bland and generic in appearance, despite steep prices starting from ¥20,000 per person not per room However, there are several types of uniquely Japanese and far more affordable hotels:

Capsule hotels

Capsule hotels are the ultimate in space-efficient sleeping: for a small fee normally between ¥3,000 and ¥4,000, the guest rents himself a capsule, sized about 2x1x1 meters and stacked in two rows inside a hall containing tens if not hundreds of capsules Capsule hotels are invariably segregated by sex and only a few cater to women

On entry to a capsule hotel, take off your shoes, place them in a locker and put on a pair of slippers You will often have to surrender your locker key at check-in to insure that you do not slip out without paying! On checking in you will be given a second locker for placing your belongings, as there is no space for them in the capsule and little security as most capsules have simply a curtain, not a door Beware though if there is a curtain, since probing hands may enter it

Many if not most capsule hotels are attached to a spa of varying degrees of luxury and/or dubiosity, often so that entry to the spa costs say ¥2,000 but the capsule is only an additional ¥1,000 Other, cheaper capsule hotels will require feeding in ¥100 coins even to get the shower to work This being Japan, there are always vending machines on hand to dispense toothpaste, underwear and such sundries

Once you retire into your capsule, you will usually find a simple control panel for operating the lights, the alarm clock and the inevitable built-in TV Sweet dreams! But don't oversleep or you may be hit with another day's charge

In Tokyo's Shinjuku and Shibuya districts the capsule hotels run at least ¥3,500, but have excellent free massage chairs, saunas, public baths, disposable razors and shampoo, magazines, and coffee in the morning Despite all that, keep in mind that your capsule "door" is just a curtain that keeps light out You will likely hear a steady stream of drunk and sleepy business men crawling into their capsules above and across from you before falling into a mild snore

Love hotels

Love hotel is a bit of a euphemism; a more accurate term would be sex hotel They can be found in and near red light districts, but most are not in those areas Many of them are often clustered around highway interchanges or main train stations out of the city and back to the suburbs The entrance is usually quite discreet, and the exit is separated from the entrance to avoid running into someone one might know Basically you can rent a room by the night listed as "Stay" or 宿泊 shukuhaku on the rate card, usually ¥6000-10000, a couple of hours "Rest" or 休憩 kyūkei, around ¥3000, or off hours "No Time Service" which are usually weekday afternoons Beware of service charges, peak hour surcharges and taxes, which can push your bill up by 25% Some will accept single guests, but most will not allow same sex couples or obviously underaged guests

They are generally clean, safe, and very private Some have exotic themes eg, aquatics, sports, or Hello Kitty As a traveller, rather than a a typical client, you usually cannot check in, drop your bags, and go out exploring Once you leave, that is it, so they are not as convenient as proper hotels "Stay" rates also tend to start only after 10 PM, and overstaying may incur hefty additional "Rest" charges Many rooms have simple food and drinks in a refrigerator, and often have somewhat high charges Before entering a love hotel, it would be wise to take some food and drinks with you The rooms often feature amenities such as jacuzzis, wild theme decoration, costumes, karaoke machines, vibrating beds, sex-toy vending machines, and in some cases, video games Most often, all toiletries including condoms are included Sometimes the rooms have a book that acts as a log, where people record their tales and adventures for posterity Popular love hotels may be entirely booked up in the cities on weekends

Why are they everywhere? Consider the housing shortage that plagued post-war Japan for years, and the way people still live in extended families If you are 28 years old and still live at home, do you really want to bring your mate back to your folks' house? Or, if you are a married couple in a 40 square meter apartment with two grade school children, do you really want to get down to it at home? Thus, the love hotel They can be seedy, but mainly they are just practical and fulfill a social need

One word of caution: There has been an increase in hidden cameras being planted in public and private spaces, including love hotels, either by other guests or even occasionally the hotel management Videos of these supposed tousatsu hidden camera are popular in adult video stores, although many such videos are actually staged

Business hotels

They are usually around ¥10,000 per night and have a convenient location often near major train stations as their major selling point, but rooms are usually unbelievably cramped On the upside, you'll get a tiny ensuite bathroom and, quite often, free Internet Some major chains of cheaper business hotels include Tokyu Inn 37, known for its generously sized rooms, and Toyoko Inn 38 The latter have a club card which at ¥1500 can pay for itself on a single Sunday night

Local, "unadvertised" business hotels, further from major stations, can be significantly cheaper from ¥5000/double room/night and can be found in the phonebook which also tells prices!, but you will need a Japanese-speaking assistant to help, or better yet, pre-book online For two or more, the price can often compete with youth hostels if you share a twin or double room Note that full payment is often expected on check-in, and check-out times are early usually 10 AM and not negotiable unless you're willing to pay extra At the very bottom end are dirt-cheap hotels in the labourers' districts of the major cities, such as Kamagasaki in Osaka, or Senju in Tokyo, where prices start from as little as ¥1500 for a tiny three-mat room that literally has only enough room to sleep Walls and futons can be thin as well

Inns

Ryokan

Ryokan 旅館 are traditional Japanese inns, and a visit to one is the highlight of many a trip to Japan There are two types: the small traditional-style one with wooden buildings, long verandahs, and gardens, and the more modern high-rise sort that are like luxury hotels with fancy public baths

Since some knowledge of Japanese mores and etiquette is required to visit one, many will hesitate to take non-Japanese guests especially those who do not speak Japanese, but some cater specially to this group A night at a ryokan for one with two meals starts at about ¥8000 and goes up into the stratosphere ¥50,000 a night per person is not uncommon for some of the posher ones, such as the famous Kagaya near Kanazawa

Ryokan usually operate on a fairly strict schedule and you will be expected to arrive by 5 PM On entry take off your shoes and put on the slippers you will wear inside the house After checking in you will be led to your room, which is invariably simply but elegantly decorated and covered in tatami matting Be sure to take off your slippers before stepping on tatami

Before dinner you will be encouraged to take a bath — see Bathe for the full scoop You will probably wish to change into your yukata bathrobe before bathing and it's a simple enough garment: just place the left lapel atop the right when closing it If the yukata provided are not big enough, simply ask the maid or the reception for 'tokudai' 特大, outsize Many ryokan also have colour-coded yukata depending on sex: pinkish tones for women and blue for men, for example

Once you have bathed, dinner will be served in your room In most ryokan dinner is very elaborately prepared and presented from carefully chosen seasonal ingredients; by all means ask if you are not sure how to eat a given item The food in a good ryokan is a substantial part of the experience and the bill, and is an excellent way to try some high-class Japanese cuisine

After you have finished you are free to head out into town; in hot spring towns it is perfectly normal to head out dressed only in yukata and geta clogs, although doing so as a foreigner may attract even more attention than usual Hint: wear underwear underneath Many ryokan have curfews, so make sure you don't end up locked out

When you return you will find that futon bedding has been rolled out for you on the tatami a real Japanese futon is simply a mattress, not the low, flat bed often sold under the name in the West While slightly harder than a Western bed, most people find sleeping on a futon very pleasant Pillows may be remarkably hard, filled with buckwheat chaff

Breakfast in the morning is usually served communally in a dining hall at a fixed time, though the high-class places will again serve it in your room after the maid tidies away the bedding It's invariably Japanese style, meaning rice, miso soup and cold fish, although staff may agree to cook your raw egg on request

High-end ryokan are one of the few places in Japan that accept tips, but the kokorozuke system is the reverse of the usual: around ¥3000 is placed in an envelope and handed to the maid bringing you to your room at the very beginning of your stay, not the end While never expected you'll get great service anyway, the money serves both as a token of appreciation and an apology of sorts for any difficulty caused by special requests eg food allergies or your inability to speak Japanese

And a last word of warning: some establishments with the word "ryokan" in their name are not the luxurious variety at all, but just minshuku see below in disguise The price will tell you which type of lodging it is

Minshuku

Minshuku 民宿 are the budget version of ryokan: the overall experience is much the same but the food is simpler, dining is communal, bathrooms are shared, and guests are expected to lay out their own futon although an exception is often made for foreigners Consequently minshuku rates are lower, hovering around ¥5000 with two meals 一泊二食 ippaku-nishoku Cheaper yet is a stay with no meals 素泊まり sudomari, which can go as low as ¥3000

Minshuku are more often found in the countryside, where virtually every hamlet or island, no matter how small or obscure, will have one The hardest part is often finding them, as they rarely advertise or show up in online booking engines, so asking the local tourist office is often the best way

Kokuminshukusha

Kokuminshukusha 国民宿舎, a mouthful that translates quite literally into "people's lodges", are government-run guest houses They primarily provide subsidized holidays for government employees in remote scenic spots, but are usually happy to accept paying guests Both facilities and prices are usually more comparable to ryokan than minshuku standards; however, they are almost invariably large in size and can be rather impersonal Popular ones need to be booked well in advance for peak seasons - sometimes almost a year in advance for New Years and the like

Shukubō

See also: Meditation in Japan

Shukubō 宿坊 are lodgings for pilgrims, usually but not always located within a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine Again, the experience is broadly similar to a ryokan, but the food will be vegetarian and you may be offered a chance to participate in the temple's activities Some Zen temples offer meditation lessons and courses Shukubo can be reluctant to accept foreign guests, but one place where this won't be a problem is the major Buddhist center of Mt Koya near Osaka

Hostels and camping

Youth hostels

Youth hostels ユースホステル yūsu hosuteru, often just called yūsu or abbreviated "YH" are another cheap option in Japan Hostels can be found throughout the country, so they are popular among budget travelers, especially students Hostels typically range in price from ¥2000 to ¥4000 It can become more expensive if you opt for dinner and breakfast and are not an HI member, in which case the price for a single night may be over ¥5000 For HI members, a simple stay can cost as little as ¥1500 depending on location and season As elsewhere, some are concrete cellblocks run like reform schools, while others are wonderful cottages in scenic spots There are even a number of temples that run hostels as a sideline Do some groundwork before choosing where to go, the Japan Youth Hostel 39 page is a good place to start Many have curfews and dorms and some are sex-segregated

Camping

Camping is after nojuku, see below the cheapest way to get a night's sleep in Japan There is an extensive network of camping grounds throughout the country; naturally, most are away from the big cities Transportation to them can also be problematic, as few buses may go there Prices may vary from nominal fees ¥500 to large bungalows that cost more than many hotel rooms ¥13000 or more

Camping wild is illegal in most of Japan, although you can always try asking for permission, or simply pitch your tent late and leave early Many larger city parks may in fact have large numbers of blue tarp tents with homeless in them

Campsites in Japan are known as kyanpu-jo キャンプ場, while sites designed for cars are known as ōto-kyanpu-jo The latter tend to be far more expensive than the former ¥5000 or so and should be avoided by those setting out on foot unless they also have lower-key accommodations available Campsites are often located near onsen, which can be quite convenient

The National Camping Association of Japan 40 helps maintain Campjocom 41, a Japanese-only database of nearly all campsites in Japan The JNTO 42 website has a fairly extensive list in PDF format of campgrounds in English, and local tourist offices are often well informed

Nojuku

See also Urban camping in Japan article

For the real budget traveller wanting to get by on the cheap in Japan is the option of nojuku 野宿 This is Japanese for "sleeping outside", and although it may seem quite strange to Westerners, a lot of young Japanese do this when they travel Thanks to a low crime rate and relatively stable climate, nojuku is a genuinely viable option if you're travelling in a group or feel confident doing it on your own Common nojuku places include train stations, michi no eki road service stations, or basically anywhere that has some kind of shelter and public toilets nearby

Those worrying about shower facilities will be delighted to know that Japan is blessed with cheap public facilities pretty much everywhere - notably onsen, or hot springs Even if you can't find an onsen, sento public baths, or sauna are also an option

Bear in mind nojuku is only really viable in the summer months, although in the northern island of Hokkaido even in summer the temperature may dip during the night On the other hand, there's much more scope for nojuku on Okinawa although public facilities on the smaller islands are lacking

Nojuku is not really recommended for first-time travellers to Japan, but for those with some experience, it can be a great way to get into the 'onsen' culture, meet other fellow nojuku travellers, and most of all travel very cheaply when coupled with hitchhiking

Long-term

Gaijin houses

If you're staying for a longer period, say a month and longer, you might be able to drastically reduce your living costs by staying in a "gaijin house" These establishments cater specifically towards foreigners and offer at least minimally furnished and usually shared apartments at reasonable prices, and without the hefty deposits and commissions of apartments often up to 6-8 months rent paid before moving in It will almost certainly be cheaper than staying in a hotel for a month, and for those coming to Japan for the first time they are also great for networking and getting to know a few locals The downside is that facilities are often shared and the transient population can mean poor maintenance and dodgy neighbors

Gaijin houses are concentrated in Tokyo, but any larger city will have a few They can be anything from ugly cramped apartment complexes with new tenants every week, to nice family run businesses in private houses, so try to get a look at the place before you decide to move in Two of the biggest letting agencies for gaijin houses in Tokyo are Sakura House 43 and Oak House 44, while Gaijin House Japan 45 has listings and classified ads covering the entire country

Apartments

Traditionally, renting an apartment in Japan is a ridiculously complex and expensive process, involving getting a Japanese resident to act as your guarantor literally — trash up the place and run away, and they'll get stuck with the bill! and paying half a year's rent or more in advance This is thus essentially impossible for anyone who isn't familiar with the culture and there to live and work for a few years at least

In recent years, though, weekly mansions short-term apartments have become popular for residents typically businessmen on long-term assignment or young singles and are accessible even to visitors Most are 1 or 2 person rooms, though larger ones for 3 or 4 are sometimes available Apartments fees are around ¥5000 for a single, around ¥6000-7000 for a two person room per day Most of these apartment rental agencies will offer all apartments with shower, toilet and bath They usually have air-conditioning, microwave and cooking amenities A great company that also accepts and replies to English E-Mail is Weekly Mansion Tokyo 46 Please allow some days for a reply, as only a few employees are fluent in English WMT has more than 50 apartment buildings in Tokyo and Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka Sometimes a deposit is required for some of the apartments You can usually forfeit this deposit if you have stayed with them a few times without any trouble Without exception the apartments are kept clean and often have much more space and flexibility than a hotel and are priced in the Youth hostel range

Last resorts

Even in Tokyo, the trains completely stop running around 1AM, so if you're out after then and don't want to pay for a cab or even a capsule hotel, there are a few options for killing the hours until the first morning train If you need to find one of these options fast, station attendants will typically be able to point you in the right direction Conveniently, many of these facilities are usually clustered around train stations, and they are used to accepting people who have missed the last train home

Internet & Manga cafés

In bigger cities, especially around the major stations you can find Internet or Manga cafés Here you can also watch TV, play video games, read comics and enjoy the free drink bar Price varies but usually around ¥400/hour They often have a special night fare for the period when no trains are running from around 12AM until 5AM for ¥1500 Customers are typically given the choice between a computer-equipped or tv-equipped cubicle, while others offer amenities such as a massage chair, a mat to sleep on or even a shower

It isn't an especially comfortable option, but it is perfect for checking the next day's train schedule, downloading pictures from your digital camera, writing home and resting a bit Don't be surprised if you find yourself surrounded by snoring locals who have missed the last train home

Karaoke bar

This is only an emergency option in case you can't find anything else and you are freezing outside Karaoke bars offer entertainment rooms until 5AM "free time" for ¥1500-2500 Only works with at least 3-4 people

Public baths

Some onsen or sento stay open all night These are usually known as "super" sentos Usually there is a 'relaxing area' with tatami mats, TV, vending machines, etc Though occasionally they are multi story bath and play houses Often for a reasonable fee on top of the bathing cost you will be allowed to crash the night on the tatami, or in a room with large reclining chairs

Outside

In the warmer months, people sleeping or napping on streetsides outside the bigger train stations is a common sight Many of them just missed their last trains and prefer spending three or four hours waiting for the first train on the asphalt rather than three or four thousand yen for a short-term stay in a hotel or public bath While this is definitely the least comfortable way to sleep through the night, it is especially popular with college students who have no money, and absolutely tolerated by police and station staff; even drunkards sleeping next to their own puke will not be disturbed in their booze-induced sleep

On trains

Similarly, no need to sweat if you fall asleep on a local train after a long party night Compared to sleeping outside, the train sleep is more of a gaijin thing There are no time limits on how long you can stay on a train as long as you have a ticket; many long-term residents have had the pleasure of going back and forth on the same train for two or three cycles before waking up and getting off at the initial destination with the ticket bought three hours ago If the train is not likely to get crowded, you may even consider stretching out on the bench - don't forget to take off your shoes though

Of course, you have to obey the orders of the train staff, who tend to gently wake up people at the terminus, especially if the train is not going back Too bad, if that station turns out to be two hours away from the city

Working in Japan

The Tokyo region generally offers the widest array of jobs for foreigners, including positions for lawyers, accountants, engineers and other professionals To work in Japan, a foreigner must receive a job offer from a guarantor in Japan, and then apply for a working visa at an embassy or consulate outside the country Working visas are valid for a period of 1 to 3 years, and may be used to secure employment at any employer within the scope of activities designated on the visa including employers other than the guarantor Expect strict penalties if you overstay on any visa Spouses of Japanese nationals can obtain spousal visas, which carry no restrictions on employment

The Working Holiday 47 program is open to young citizens between 18 and 30 from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, France, Germany, Ireland and the UK: those eligible may apply for working holiday visas without having a job offer

The most common form of employment among foreigners is teaching English, especially in after-hours English conversation schools known as eikaiwa 英会話 Pay is fairly good for young adults, but rather poor compared to a qualified educator already at work in most Western countries Working conditions can also be quite strict compared to Western standards, and some companies have very bad reputations An undergraduate degree or ESL creditation is essential for most desirable positions For the larger chain English schools most teachers would have been interviewed in their home countries before coming to work in Japan Learning English is no longer quite as fashionable as it once was and the boom years are long since over Recently there has been greater emphasis on children's education Besides English, other foreign languages that are popular include Portuguese, French, Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese

The JET 48 Program Japan Exchange and Teaching offers young university graduates a chance to teach in Japan The program is run by the Japanese government but your employer would typically be a local Board of Education who assigns you to one or more public schools, often deep in the countryside No Japanese skills or formal teaching qualifications are required and your airfare is provided Pay is slightly better than the language schools and, unlike at such a school, if you have a serious problem with your employer you can appeal to the JET program people for help The JET program also has a small number of positions for international relations or sports co-ordinators, although these require some Japanese ability

Foreigners with postgraduate education may be able to find jobs teaching English or even other subjects at Japanese universities, which offers better pay and working conditions than the eikaiwa industry

Quite a few young women choose to work in the hostess industry, where they entertain Japanese men over drinks in tiny bars known as sunakku スナック and are paid for their time While pay can be good, visas for this line of work are difficult if not impossible to obtain and most work illegally The nature of the work also carries its own risks, notably poor career prospects, alcoholism, smoking, potential problems from clients such as groping and lewd questions, and even harassment or worse, exemplified by the abduction and murder of hostess Lucie Blackman in 2000

Cities in Japan

abashiri  abiko  ageo  aioi  akabira  akashi  aki  akita  ako  akune  amagasaki  amagi  ami  anan  anjo  annaka  aomori  arai  asahi  asahikawa  asaka  ashibetsu  ashikaga  ashiya  atami  atsugi  ayabe  beppu  bibai  bihoro  chatan  chiba  chichibu  chigasaki  chino  chiryu  chitose  chofu  choshi  daigo  daito  date  ebetsu  edosaki  enzan  fuchu  fuchu  fujieda  fuji  fujinomiya  fujioka  fujisawa  fujishiro  fukagawa  fukaya  fukiage  fukuchiyama  fukue  fukui  fukuma  fukumitsu  fukuoka  fukuroi  fukushima  fukuyama  funabashi  funehiki  furukawa  fussa  futtsu  gamagori  gifu  ginowan  gobo  godo  gojo  gose  gosen  goshogawara  gotemba  gotsu  gushikawa  gyoda  hachinohe  hachioji  hadano  haebaru  hagi  haibara  hakodate  hakone  hakui  hamada  hamakita  hamamatsu  hanamaki  handa  hanno  hanyu  hasaki  hashimoto  hasuda  hatogaya  hatsukaichi  hayama  hayato  hekinan  higashine  hiji  hikari  hikone  himeji  himi  hino  hino  hirado  hirakata  hirara  hirata  hiratsuka  hirosaki  hiroshima  hisai  hitachi  hita  hitoyoshi  hobara  hofu  hojo  hokota  hondo  honjo  honjo  hotaka  ibara  ibaraki  ibusuki  ichihara  ichikawa  ichinohe  ichinomiya  ichinoseki  iida  iiyama  iizuka  ijuin  ikeda  ikeda  ikoma  imabari  imaichi  imari  ina  inawashiro  inazawa  innoshima  ino  inuyama  isahaya  isawa  isehara  ise  isesaki  ishigaki  ishige  ishii  ishikari  ishikawa  ishikawa  ishinomaki  ishioka  isshiki  itako  itami  itoigawa  ito  itoman  itsukaichi  iwade  iwai  iwaki  iwakuni  iwakura  iwamizawa  iwanai  iwanuma  iwase  iwata  iwatsuki  iyo  izumi  izumi  izumiotsu  izumo  kadoma  kagoshima  kainan  kaita  kaizuka  kajiki  kakamigahara  kakegawa  kakogawa  kakuda  kamaishi  kamakura  kameda  kameoka  kameyama  kamifukuoka  kamiichi  kamiiso  kaminokawa  kaminoyama  kamogata  kamogawa  kamojima  kamo  kanaya  kanazawa  kanda  kanie  kannabe  kanonji  kanoya  kanuma  kanzaki  karasuyama  karatsu  kariya  kasama  kasamatsu  kasaoka  kaseda  kashihara  kashima  kashima  kashiwa  kashiwara  kashiwazaki  kasugai  kasukabe  katsuura  katsuyama  kawagoe  kawaguchi  kawai  kawanishi  kawanoe  kawasaki  kawasaki  kazo  kazuno  kesennuma  kikuchi  kimitsu  kiryu  kisai  kisarazu  kishiwada  kisogawa  kitaibaraki  kitakami  kitakata  kitakyushu  kitami  kitsuki  kizu  kizukuri  kobayashi  kobe  kochi  kodaira  kodama  kofu  koga  koga  koganei  kogota  kokubu  kokubunji  komae  komaki  komatsu  komatsushima  komono  komoro  konan  konosu  koriyama  koshigaya  kosugi  kozakai  kudamatsu  kuji  kuki  kumagaya  kumamoto  kunitachi  kurashiki  kurayoshi  kure  kurihashi  kuroishi  kuroiso  kurume  kusatsu  kushikino  kushima  kushiro  kusu  kuwana  kyoto  machida  maebaru  maebashi  maizuru  makabe  maki  makubetsu  makurazaki  marugame  maruko  marumori  maruoka  masaki  mashiko  masuda  matsubara  matsubase  matsudo  matsue  matsumoto  matsusaka  matsuyama  matto  menuma  mibu  mihara  miharu  miki  mikuni  minakuchi  minamata  mino  misawa  mishima  mitaka  mitake  mito  mitsukaido  mitsuke  miura  miyako  miyakonojo  miyata  miyazaki  miyazu  miyoshi  miyoshi  mizunami  mizusawa  mobara  moka  mombetsu  moriguchi  mori  morioka  moriyama  moriya  moroyama  motegi  motomiya  muika  muko  murakami  muramatsu  muroran  muroto  musashino  mutsu  nabari  nagahama  nagai  nagano  nagaoka  nagareyama  nagasaki  nagato  nagayo  nago  nagoya  naha  nakajo  nakama  nakamura  naka  nakanojo  nakano  nakatsugawa  nakatsu  namerikawa  namie  namioka  nanae  nanao  nara  narashino  narita  naruto  naruto  nayoro  naze  nemuro  nichinan  nihommatsu  niigata  niihama  niimi  niitsu  nikko  ninomiya  nirasaki  nishihara  nishinomiya  nishinoomote  nishio  nishiwaki  nobeoka  noboribetsu  noda  nogata  nonoichi  noshiro  numata  numazu  nyuzen  oarai  obama  obanazawa  obihiro  obu  oda  odate  odawara  ofunato  ogaki  ogawa  ogawara  ogori  ohara  oi  oiso  oita  ojiya  okawa  okayama  okaya  okazaki  okegawa  okinawa  okuchi  omachi  omagari  omama  ome  omigawa  omura  omuta  onoda  onomichi  ono  ono  ono  osaka  otake  ota  otaru  otawara  otofuke  otsuchi  otsuki  otsu  owase  oyama  oyama  ozu  ozu  rifu  rumoi  ryotsu  ryugasaki  ryuo  sabae  sadowara  sagae  sagamihara  sagara  saga  saijo  saiki  sakado  sakaide  sakaiminato  sakai  sakai  sakai  sakata  sakurai  sakura  saku  sanda  sanjo  sano  sapporo  sasaguri  sasayama  sasebo  satte  sawara  sayama  seki  sekiyado  sendai  sendai  setaka  seto  shibata  shibetsu  shibukawa  shibushi  shido  shiki  shimabara  shimada  shimizu  shimminato  shimoda  shimodate  shimonoseki  shingu  shingu  shinichi  shinjo  shinshiro  shiogama  shiojiri  shiozawa  shiraoi  shiraoka  shiroi  shiroishi  shirone  shisui  shizukuishi  shizunai  shizuoka  shobara  shobu  sobue  soja  soka  sueyoshi  sugito  suibara  suita  sukagawa  sukumo  sumoto  sunagawa  susaki  suwa  suzaka  suzuka  tachikawa  tadotsu  tagawa  tahara  tajimi  takahagi  takahama  takahashi  takahata  takaishi  takamatsu  takanabe  takanosu  takaoka  takarazuka  takasaki  takatsuki  takayama  takefu  takehara  takeo  taketa  taketoyo  takikawa  tamamura  tamana  tamano  tanabe  tanashi  tanuma  tanushimaru  tarui  tarumizu  tatebayashi  tateyama  tatsuno  tatsuno  tawaramoto  tendo  tenno  tenri  toba  tobe  tobetsu  tochigi  tochio  toda  togane  togitsu  tokamachi  toki  tokoname  tokorozawa  tokushima  tokuyama  tokyo  tomakomai  tomigusuku  tomioka  tomiya  tomobe  tondabayashi  tonosho  tono  toride  tosu  tottori  toyama  toyohashi  toyokawa  toyonaka  toyooka  toyoshina  toyota  toyo  tsubame  tsubata  tsukuba  tsukumi  tsuruga  tsurugi  tsuruoka  tsushima  tsu  tsuyama  ube  ueda  ueki  uenohara  ueno  ujiie  uji  umi  uozu  urayasu  ureshino  ushibuka  ushiku  usuki  utashinai  uto  utsunomiya  uwajima  wajima  wakayama  waki  wakkanai  wako  wakuya  warabi  watari  yachimata  yaita  yaizu  yamada  yamagata  yamaga  yamaguchi  yamasaki  yamoto  yanagawa  yanagawa  yanai  yao  yashiro  yasugi  yasu  yatsuo  yatsushiro  yawatahama  yawata  yoichi  yokaichiba  yokaichi  yokkaichi  yokohama  yokosuka  yokote  yonago  yonezawa  yorii  yoshida  yoshii  yoshikawa  yotsukaido  yubari  yugawara  yuki  yukuhashi  yuzawa  yuza  zama  zushi  

What do you think about Japan?

How expensive is Japan?
(1 JPY = 0.01 USD)
Meal in inexpensive restaurant884 JPY
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)3.96 JPY
McDonalds meal630.5 JPY
Local beer (0.5 draft)420.28 JPY
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 455 JPY
Cappuccino400.04 JPY
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)128.44 JPY
Water (0.33 bottle)105.86 JPY
Milk (1l)177.16 JPY
Fresh bread (500g)169.88 JPY
White Rice (1kg)498.61 JPY
Eggs (12) 243.37 JPY
Local Cheese (1kg) 1.1 JPY
Chicken Breast (1kg) 913.15 JPY
Apples (1kg) 554.41 JPY
Oranges (1kg) 494.16 JPY
Tomato (1kg) 583.04 JPY
Potato (1kg) 282.87 JPY
Lettuce (1 head) 162.04 JPY
Water (1.5l)152.09 JPY
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 1.1 JPY
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)264.31 JPY
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 380.34 JPY
Cigarettes426.8 JPY
One way local bus ticket221.2 JPY
Monthly pass for bus9.9 JPY
Taxi start736.16 JPY
Taxi 1km355.2 JPY
Taxi 1hour waiting2.82 JPY
Gasoline (1 liter) 141.35 JPY
Utilities for a "normal" apartment23.29 JPY
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) 1.1 JPY
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre 94.27 JPY
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 56.25 JPY
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre 169.1 JPY
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre 117 JPY
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