Useful information : When to go, Getting around...
When to go
Let’s start by the beginning: if you want to see the cherry blossom (Hanami), you will have to go in the spring, more precisely in March-April. This season also enjoys mild, constant temperatures, as does autumn, when the forests and gardens are decked in gold and purple shades.
The sky is generally blue during the hot, humid summers. This season, ideal for beach activities, hiking to Hokkaido or in the mountains in the centre of Honshu, is the time for many festivals and firework displays.
In winter you can either go skiing to Hokkaido and the Japanese Alps (although snow can hamper travel at times), unless you wouldn’t rather go swimming and diving at Okinawa, which enjoys a tropical climate.
Throughout the country, the Japanese peak season concerns three weeks: New Year (29 December-3 January), Golden Week (29 April-5 May) and the Bon festival (towards August 15). If you plan on travelling during this period, make sure you book your accommodation and travel arrangements well in advance.
Formalities and useful addresses
A temporary visa, valid for 90 days is automatically issued when in arriving in Japan.
Passport should be valid for length of stay.
Embassy of Japan – 101-104 Piccadilly - London W1J 7JT - [TEL] (0207) 465 6500 - http://www.uk.emb-japan.go.jp/itprtop_en
Embassy of Japan – 2520 Massachusetts Ave NW - Washington, DC 20008 - [TEL] (202) 238 6700 - www.us.emb-japan.go.jp/itprtop_en
Japan National Tourism Organisation – http://www.seejapan.co.uk
British Embassy – 1 Ichibancho - Chiyoda - Tokyo 102-0082 - [TEL] (03) 5211 1100- www.gov.uk/government/world/organisations/british-embassy-tokyo
U.S. Embassy – 1-10-5 Akasaka - Minato-ku - Tokyo 107-8420 - [TEL] (03) 3224 5000 - http://japan.usembassy.gov
Money and budget
Bank are generally open on weekdays from 9am to 3pm. The ATMs of banks and post offices are often shut down in the evenings and weekends.
Most hotels, restaurants and shops take credit cards except for the really small places and in the country.
With an international credit card, it is possible to withdraw cash nearly everywhere on the archipelago thanks to the 24 000 post offices equipped with ATMs.
Health and safety
Police: [TEL] 110
Fire Brigade: [TEL] 119
Japan Helpline: [TEL] 0570 000 911. Free assistance, in English, 24/7.
Current is 100 V and 50 or 60 Hz. Plugs feature 2 flat pins, similar to American plugs. British travellers will probably need an adaptor.
When a public holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is a bank holiday.
2nd Monday of January - Coming-of-age-Day
February 11 - National Foundation Day
March 20 or 21 - Vernal equinox Day
April 29 - Showa Day
May 3 - Constitution Memorial Day
May 4 - Greenery Day
May 5 - Children's Day
Third Monday of July - Marine Day
August 11 - Mountain Day
3rd Monday of September - Respect for the Aged Day
Around September 23 - Autumnal Equinox Day
2nd Monday of October - Health/Sports Day
November 3 - Culture Day
November 23 - Labour Day
December 23 - Emperor's Birthday.
Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns (from the most unassuming to the most luxurious). They feature tatamis in every room and serve traditional Japanese food. A few select Buddhist temples also double as inns, called shukubo, they offer bed and board to passing pilgrims. For tourists, it is a wondrous opportunity to observe monastic life in Japan. Dotted all over the archipelago but especially in the country, minshukus are family-run Bed&Breakfasts. Other typical Japanese inventions include capsule hotels with narrow compartments/rooms stacked upon one another, and love hotels for couples with often theme-decorated rooms.
Post offices are open Mon-Fri from 9am until 5pm, ( sometimes 7pm, and until 3pm on Saturday for the main offices). The big cities' central post offices often contain a desk that is open on Sundays.