At over 377,873 square kilometers, Japan is the 62nd largest country by area. It encompasses over 3,000 islands, the largest of which are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Most of Japan's islands are mountainous, and many are volcanic, including the highest peak, Mount Fuji. It ranks 10th in the world by population, with nearly 128 million people. Greater Tokyo, with over 30 million residents, is the largest metropolitan area in the world.
- 1 Climate
- 2 Getting There
- 3 Cultural Info
- 4 Health and Safety
- 5 Resources
Hokkaido is the northern most major island and has long cold winters and cool summers. The central highlands of Tohoku, Chubu and Chugoku more of an inland winter climate with moderate temperature extremes between day and night. Much of Japan is described as temperate, however most of Japan(except for Hokkaido and northern Honshu) has a more subtropical climate in summer. Central Japan is quite hot and humid in summer(28-35C daytime, 23-26C at night), but cool to cold in winter, with day time maximums at sea level around 0-10 degrees. Temperatures on the northwest facing areas next to the Sea of Japan are colder and usually snowy in winter. Typical snow-lines in mid winter are around 200-400m.
There are around 650 lifted snow "resorts" in Japan. Some are tiny one lift hills, while there are many large areas with modern lift systems. Along the middle of Japan run mountain ranges that span most of the 2000km length of the country. Snow resorts are dotted along the two largest islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. Honshu is higher, while Hokkaido is further north. Between Japan and the Asian continent is the Sea of Japan. When storms move off the Asian mainland and hit the Sea of Japan, they pick up moisture and dump huge amounts of snow on the northwestward facing mountains. Some areas receive in excess of 15m of snow a year.
With detailed descriptions, webcams, and trailmaps for Hakuba, Myoko Kogen, Shiga Kogen, and Nozawa Onsen, http://www.ski-resorts-japan.com is a one stop site for all resort information.
Visas and Documentation
Australians do not require a visa if staying in Japan less than 90 days. Carry your passport at all times. You will be asked for it when leaving and entering the airport and police officers can request it at any time. Passports will also need to be shown when booking into accommodation.
As of November 2007, all foreign visitors are fingerprinted and have their photo taken on entry into Japan.
Most people who fly into Japan come in via Narita (Tokyo) or Kansai (Osaka) airports.
Generally, people fly into Narita Airport on their International flight, and any connecting domestic flights will fly out from Haneda Aiport(Tokyo). However, Narita Airport is around 70km east of Tokyo, while Haneda Airport is about 10km southwest of central Tokyo. There are two main ways to travel between the two airports.
For information on getting to (and around) Japan visit http://www.ski-resorts-japan.com/planning-travel
JR Narita Express to Tokyo Station, then JR Yamanote Line 3 stops to Hamamatsucho Station, then the Monorail to Haneda Airport. Alterantively, the Keisei Skyliner can be caught to Nippori Station, then JR Yamanote Line 10 stops to Hamamatsucho Station. The Narita Express (NEX) also makes stops at Shinjuku, Shinagawa and Yokohama, but make sure you select the correct train for the appropriate destination.
The Airport Limousine Bus connects Narita and Haneda Airports directly: http://www.limousinebus.co.jp/en/timetable/narita/hanedaapt_tokyu_h.html
This is a good alternative if you have a lot of baggage that would be difficult to carry on the trains. Services leave frequently and it's is quite possible to go from sitting on the plane to being on the bus within 20 minutes. The Airport Limousine Buses also connects to many locations, including hotels, around the Tokyo/Yokohama area. Be aware that mobile phones are not allowed to be used on the bus as "it can annoy your neighbours". When purchasing your ticket, or boarding the bus you will be asked which airline you are going to, you bags will be tagged with a colour coded luggage ticket and a copy given to you. On it will be which terminal you will need to get off on as the airlines depart from one of two terminals.
In some cases connecting flights will include an overnight stay at an airport hotel, depending on the airline there may be a free shuttle bus between the airport and the hotel.
Haneda is divided into two main terminals which service different airlines, plus a tiny international terminal with services mainly to Korea and parts of China. They are also further divided into North/South wings. If you have trouble working out which wing to go to, there are information desks for each airline with English speaking staff that will help you out, these are marked on the airport maps. There are currently some flights from Shanghai to Haneda, and this could be an option if you fly into Shanghai from Australia.
Note that if you are carrying a drink bottle that at the security checkpoint it will have to be taken out and placed on a little device that scans it. This is typically done just after everything passes through the x-ray machine.
Customs and Quarantine
Customs and Quarantine procedures are fairly painless and interpreters are available if needed.
Baggage Delivery Services
Travelling with checked-in luggage is becoming increasingly frustrating and means that your journey to and from your ski resort is full of stress and anxiety. Considering you are going on holiday, it is not the best way to start. The normal practice for Japanese people is to use a baggage delivery service called Takkyubin, which will deliver from airport to hotel, hotel to hotel, etc, even convenience stores to anywhere in Japan. A moderate bag will cost around $25 to send. Allow around 2 days for your snow gear, although it will often take less time. Look for the yellow & black "Black Cat" sign.
What is becoming increasingly popular with Australians are luggage delivery services. They will pick-up all that luggage and equipment you would normally check-in, from your home or office or wherever you request and deliver it directly to your accommodation in the resort your staying. Sending a 16kg ski bag to Japan costs as little as AU$290 with Personal Porter  and that is the all-inclusive door-to-door price. Not dissimilar to the Takkyubin service, but provides an international service as opposed to Domestic. Speak with your Travel Agent and they will be able to advise you and provide an instant and all-inclusive quote.
84% observe both Shinto and Buddhist, other 16%
2nd Monday in October is Health and Sports day.
Snow season holidays:
23 Dec Emperor's Birthday
1 & 2 Janaury - New Year (Almost ALL shops closed on 1st January, and many closed on 2nd)
2nd Monday in January - Coming of Age Day
2nd Monday in february - National Foundation Day
20 Mar Spring Equinox
Sapporro Snow Festival
The Sapporro snow festival runs for 7 days in early february. The festival includes snow statues and ice scultures. While an interesting and most likely enjoyable experience (I have not been, although I did see a snow village and several ice bars during this period) a warning is appropriate:
The major airlines in Japan only allow you to book domestic flights 2 months prior to the date of the flight. This festival is very popular and when booking a flight to Sapporo 4 days into this 2 month window I had to resort to expensive first class tickets as the regular tickets were booked out. If you are travelling to the north island (Hokkaido) during the Sapporo Ice festival, please book your flights as soon as you are able to do so or choose other dates.
Japan has an extensive, efficient, fast, frequent, clean, comfortable, including the high speed Shinkansen(Bullet Train). This can often be very expensive though. You can get a Japan Rail Pass, which can only be obtained outside of Japan to be used by foreign tourists only. A one week pass is 28,000 yen, which entitles you to unlimited use of JR trains except for the fastest Nozomi Shinkansens(but the Hikari is almost as fast) You need to work out your travel, as just one return trip to Kyoto from Tokyo will cover that cost. Any travel less than that will not be worth it. Another useful alternative is the JR East 4 day flexipass. Only available to foreign tourists, but available in Japan, you get any 4 days out of 30 days for 20,000 yen. This will cover trips from Tokyo (Narita) airport, and all the way east of Tokyo, including Nagano & Niigata Prefectures, which cover more than 200 snow resorts just on their own. The JR and JR East rail passes can be purchased in Japan (even at the train station at Narita airport) and you will need to produce your passports and flight documents (which will be stamped to prevent a 2nd purchase) and you can purchase one ticket per person per stay in Japan. They are cheaper to buy in Japan than through a travel agent in Australia. It is quite straight forward and you should allow about 10 minutes depending on how good your Japanese is or their English is. Even for those with no Japanese and an operator with little English it is quite straight forward to purchase provided you have your documents ready. The Hyperdia site is good for planning rail trips: http://grace.hyperdia.com/cgi-english/hyperd01.cgi
Flying is a good way to travel from the main islands to any of the small islands, and is often not much more expensive than going by rail. JAL offers some bizarre discounts eg for three or more women travelling together, or for a husband and wife if their combined age totals 88 or more so make some enquiries, you never know! There are some special air deals for foreign tourists: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2364.html Booking online is relatively easy .There are special deals for buying in advance . Also remember that the checked baggage allowance can be lower than International. Sometimes a J class ticket (First in JAL speak) may be worth the extra money . it may only be a 1000 yen more and save the stress.
Train is the way to travel in Japan. The trains are fast, frequent, clean, comfortable and often very expensive. Driving is OK once you get out of Tokyo and major roads have English signage. Most signage and documentation in major cities and areas where tourists are found are in both Kanji ('traditional' characters) and Romaji ('western' characters) making it easy to read place names and directions (with a few minutes practice).
Sending baggage on
If you have a lot of gear, and don't fancy lugging it on trains, often in peak hour crowds, there is a handy courier service that's available across Japan. It's generic name is "Takkyubin". The most popular is Yamato transport, which is often called "Black Cat", because their logo has a yellow background with mother and baby black cats on it. You can get gear sent from many convenience stores, and most hotels. Sometimes the service will be overnight if the destination is close, but longer distances may take two days, so keep that in mind. It's good, for example, if you are staying a couple of nights in Tokyo before skiing/boarding, when you can send it on ready for your arrival. The same applies after skiing/boarding, if you are going to do some sightseeing. It's easier to get it sent if you can arrange for the destination to be written in Japanese.
Many places in Japan only cater for a maximum of 2 or 3 in a room so finding "family" rooms can be a challenge at times.
Some options where you can get family rooms include Asia Centre of Japan - located in the centre of metropolitan Tokyo, between Aoyama and Akasaka Area Blue Wave Inn Asakusa - located in the heart of Asakusa Takanawa Tobu - located 5 minutes' walk away from JR Shinagawa station Holiday Inn Tobu - Narita Radisson Hotel Narita - near Narita airport obviously Jimbocho Sakura Hote - more budget
Food and Drink
Fantastic. Simply fantastic.
In many areas, apart from the occasional western fast food store, almost all restaurants, stores and eateries serve exclusively Japanese cuisine, although there are many western restaurants around Tokyo & Yokohama. Fortunately, there is almost always a wide range to choose from and hence something for every palette. The range and quality of the meals are many times greater than those you will find at your local Japanese restaurant. Serving sizes tend to vary widely. Be prepared to order more/again. Dishes will not necessarily come in the order you expect, they are delivered as they are finished.
More westernised menus are appearing in the ski resorts, but the local food tends to be far more interesting, and is filling without leaving you feeling heavy and bloated. Even some back street restaurants have english(ish) menus.
Many restaurants will have pictures or plastic models of the meals in the windows, so if language is a barrier and the menu is entirely in Japanese, you can always point at the dish you want.
Unfortunately, many Japanese people don't have much idea about the danger of smoking. It is not uncommon for a person to light up in the middle of their meal. So-called "non-smoking" areas are just an area in the room without ashtrays. There is little effort to stop the smoke from neighbouring tables wafting onto your delicious food. Some restaurants are enforcing "no-smoking" in the whole place, a move to be encouraged!
Beer? Asahi. Then Sapporo Draught. Even served from vending machines. And, at realy good prices. These guys have it sorted. Lovely.
Technology and Networks
While big cities in Japan are very tech savvy, with incredibly fast internet, some of the smaller towns in Japan are behind the west in the use of computer technology, and many of these small town businesses still remain paper based. Simple conveniences foreigners take for granted like easily accessable ATM's, ability to use credit cards and internet access can all be far more challenging in Japan, because many of these facilities in Japan cater just to Japanese people (for example, ATMs). If you are stuck for cash, don't bother trying to get some from a Japanese ATM, but you can use Post Offices (9am-5pm weekdays), or even better, 7-Eleven convenience stores(ONLY 7-Eleven) have English language ATMs linked to foreign networks. With or without computer technology, if you ever have to deal with the Japanese bureaucracy then you will really learn what life was like before the computer age with mountains of paperwork for even the smallest things. If bringing a laptop to Japan make sure you have a wireless card and it should not be too difficult to find a free wireless network as many businesses haven't worked out that they can password protect their network.
Japanese do have a love affair with their mobile phones though and the technology in Japan is far advanced. The older networks used in Japan are a 2G network system called PDC(Due to be discontinued in March 2010) which is not compatible with GSM, the system used in Australia and most other places in the world. Newer 3G networks are widely used, and some of these are compatible with 3G WCDMA networks used in Australia and other places. Check with your 3G provider to see if you can use global roaming in Japan. Even if you manage to find a network in Japan, sometimes it's a challenge to figure out how to call overseas. For DoCoMo call "009130010" followed by the country code (61 for Australia) then the area code and number (e.g. for a Melboure number: 009130010 61 3 9123 4567, but don't include the spaces). DoCoMo do NOT support SMS so you will be unable to txt if you join this network. For Softbank Mobile "0041010" followed by the country code. For local calls, just dial as you would with any phone in Japan, including the area code. For voice calls on global roaming DoCoMo is much cheaper than Softbank.
If you're there longer than about 10-11 days, it's cheaper to BUY a Softbank Prepaid phone. If you want to buy a pre-paid while in Japan, it is not allowed, strictly speaking, for foreigners visitors, but it can also be easy to do to do if you know where to go. You need a place of residence (motel) and your passport as ID. Places like the SoftBank shop in Shibuya will sell them to you. http://mb.softbank.jp/mb/en/prepaid/index_2g.html The PDC prepaid phone and 3000 yen prepaid card will cost about $70-$100. You can also get 3G prepaids, which cost around $100 plus the prepaid card. The number will be valid for one year if you don't get another prepaid card, so you could use it the following year. There is an outside chance you can "unlock" these phones, and use them back in Australia!
Alternatively you can rent a phone from somewhere like rentafonejapan.com and they come with English instructions. If you rent, it's about 700yen/day (about $7/day) plus calls.
Australia uses 850MHz, 900MHz, 2100MHz. However, not all of the Australia mobile phone providers use all of these. e.g. Telstra uses 850MHz & 2100MHz. Some NextG phones will only use 850MHz(along with GSM, as most 3G phones will be GSM capable).
Japan only uses 2100MHz at this stage, but after PDC is put to rest, Japan will also use 1600MHz 3G.
What does this mean for you??
It means that your phone will only work in Japan if it supports 2100MHz WCDMA 3G!!! All you need to do is check which bands you phone supports. For example: LG TU500 is a Next G phone: GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900, UMTS 850 ..... Cannot be used in Japan. LG Viewty: GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900, UMTS 2100 ...... OK
Japan has a GST of 5%, so it is often not worth the trouble getting tax free, as discounts in some electronics shops can be 10%.
The rate of income tax is much lower than Australia, provided that you don't earn too much money!! e.g. It is not uncommon to pay less than 15% for income tax, compulsory pension plan, and unemployment insurance.
Credit cards are accepted at some larger places but it is very common for people to carry wads of money and it is relatively safe to do so. Work on the theory that no restaurants, small shops and some tourist attractions will accept Credit Card because that is the reality. Even some ski resorts wont accept credit card for lift tickets - cash only. Larger places usually do (obviously international franchises including Disneyland are the most likely to). Cash is king so be prepared for that.
The majority of ATMs do not accept foreign-issued credit cards. Look out for the Cirrus or Plus logos or check with your card company before departure. Post Offices until recently were the best place to find ATM's that accept foreign cards. These machines will allow withdrawal from credit and debit cards issued outside of Japan, including Visa, Plus, Mastercard, Maestro, Cirrus, American Express and JCB cards and provide an English user menu.
Post Office ATM operating hours decrease proportionally to the size of the post office, from major post offices (typically 7:00 to 23:00, shorter hours on weekends) to medium sized offices (typically 8:00 to 20:00, shorter hours on weekends, possibly closed on Sundays) to minor offices (typically 9:00 and 16:00, closed on weekends).
From July 2007, 7-Eleven convenience stores(ONLY 7-Eleven, not other convenience stores) have English language ATMs linked to foreign networks. However as of December 2009 the 7-Eleven and Mastercard relationship broke down and you can no longer use them to withdraw money from a 7-Eleven ATM. This includes Mastercard, Maestro, Cirrus. 7-11 ATM's currently allow withdrawals from the following cards: VISA, American Express, Diners Club, JCB and Discover. 7-Eleven shops are open 24 hours a day all year round.
Despite stories about Japan being so expensive, there are many goods in Japan that are quite cheap. Couple that with the fact that Japanese people don't necessarily like old models and second hand gear, sales that would attract 10-15% discounts in Australia will often top 50-70% in Japan.
Ski and Snowboard equipment New season Ski and Snowboard equipment, including clothes, are often more expensive than in Australia. However, if you are prepared to spend some time searching or know where to look, you can get the gear for dirt cheap. The ski/snowboard(sports store) area is located between Ogawamachi and Jimbocho subway stations in the Kanda district of Tokyo (about 10min walk west of Akihabara), along Yasakuni Dori(Yasakuni Street) and the small streets just off it. There are a few exits at Ogawamachi subway station, but the best exits are onto Yasakuni Dori exit B5 or B7.
It's also easy to get there via JR (Japan Rail, useful if you have a JR Railpass). Get off at Ochanomizu station at the east end of the station, and head south down Hongo Dori (it runs down the hill away from the river) until it hits Yasakuni Dori just near Ogawamachi subway station. Cross to the south side of Yasakuni Dori, and then walk west along Yasakuni Dori, and within 50-60m you’ll see some ski/snowboard shops. One of the first ones on the left is a surplus store, where you can get some amazing bargains. This is absolutely the cheapest store in the whole area. Keep going and there are numerous shops on both sides and in side street. Make sure you know your prices, because the brand new gear before the season are INCREDIBLY expensive. Once you start seeing book shops and music stores, you know you’ve gone too far. Double back on the other side of the street. There are probably 40-60 shops in all.....
Electronics and Photographics Many Electronics and Photographics goods are much cheaper in Japan than Australia. Some Electronics are not!! For example, Ipods are not much cheaper. However, even in large chain stores like BicCamera, Yodobashi Camera & SofMap, Electronics and photographics are quite a bit cheaper. They also have "point cards" which generally give you 10% off, collected as yen points for future purchases. If you can figure out how to get one as a foreign visitor, it can be worthwhile. In areas such as Akihabara(Electric Town) in Tokyo, you can make even bigger savings. However, it's not a good idea to assume that EVERYTHING is cheaper there. For example, if you go into a duty free store, the price may be similar to Australian prices, so it pays to know your prices. Some of theses stores have genuine export models with international warranties, while others have Japanese domestic models, but will throw in English manuals, etc, but they have only Japanese warranties. You need to know what you're buying in this respect. If you decide to buy Japanese domestic models anyway, because of much cheaper prices, do some research, find out about availability of English manuals/software on the internet, and be prepared to accept that the warranty is only valid in Japan. Generally, digital cameras have Japanese only warranties, but lenses for DSLR cameras have an international warranty. When it comes to prices, you can check the cheapest prices in Japan using www.kakaku.com Some of the stores will be in Akihabara, but they are usually small shops in the back streets that are often difficult to find. Don't worry about getting ripped off though, as these sorts of shops are legit. The sort of savings you can make in these shops can be amazing. For example, an item that might cost $450 in Australia, and $300 in regular stores in Japan may be as little as $220. Make sure that if you intend to buy a domestic digital camera or video camera, that you can change the menu to English. This can be done in any store, as you can try out just about any model you like, by playing with the display model. Sony was previously the only digital camera brand, not to allow a change of language on some of its models, particularly DSLRs, but more recently, Panasonic has similar problems for the Aussie tourist. Almost all domestic video cameras have menus in Japanese, except for Panasonic, which can be changed to English. The best bet is to try the item before you buy.
Musical Instruments These can often be 30-50% cheaper than in Australia.
Although service is generally of a very high quality, tipping and bargaining are not common in Japan and best avoided except in discount electronics houses where you can often get up to 10% off if you ask politely. To show appreciation it is more common to give a small gift.
Leaving a tip can sometimes result in people chasing you down the street to give you your money back. The courtesy of a smile and a sincere "arrigato gozaimous" is greatly appreciated.
Health and Safety
- Tsunami (associated with Earthquakes)
Japan has a relatively very low crime rate. Obviously large cities like Tokyo will have increased incidences of crime but in many rural areas it is almost non existent. Travellers to Japan should be aware that the alchohol limit for driving is 0.0 and that all passengers in the car will be held equally responsible as the driver if caught drink driving. This offence will see you kicked out of the country with little chance to ever return.
- Information source: Wikipedia
- Information source: Template:Source skicomau
- Japan Winter Sports Guide & Community: SnowJapan.Com
- Travel Warnings : Smart Traveller
- Webcams, trailmaps, and general resort information: http://www.ski-resorts-japan.com
This category has the following 4 subcategories, out of 4 total.
Pages in category "Japan"
The following 37 pages are in this category, out of 37 total.