Population: 128 billion
Language: Japanese. Hotels and tourist spots may speak English, but don’t count on it
Religion: Shinto and Buddhism
Emergency number: 119
Countries with visa exemptions include the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and most of Europe. Stays are generally allowed for three months at a time. South Africans need to apply for a visa. A complete list of exempted countries is available here.
Apply for visas in person at the Embassy of Japan, 16 Nassim Road. Applications can be dropped off between 8.30am and 12 noon and collected from 1.30 to 4pm. Call 6235 8855 for requirements, or see the website above.
● There is an ongoing risk of earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan, so it’s best to familiarise yourself with the safety procedures of where you are staying, just in case. Check www.jma.go.jp to keep updated.
● Steer clear of the exclusion zones around Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Learn the Lingo: JAPANESE
Good evening: Konbanwa
Sorry: Gomen nasai
I am lost: Michi ni mayotte shimaimashita
Wait a minute! Chottomate kudasai!
“One must learn, if one is to see the beauty in Japan, to like an extraordinarily restrained and delicate loveliness.” – Miriam Beard, author
“Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun.” – Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte in Lost in Translation
“No one will understand a Japanese garden until you’ve walked through one, and you hear the crunch underfoot, and you smell it, and you experience it over time. Now there’s no photograph or any movie that can give you that experience.” – J. Carter Brown
Tokyo, Kyoto, Sapporo, Yokohama, Nagasaki, Osaka, Okinawa, Fukuoka, Niseko
● Honshu: Tokyo – Osaka – Kyoyo
● Kyushu: Fukuoka – Nagasaki – Aso – Beppu – Yufuin
● Hokkaido: Sapporo – Ashahikawa – Furano – Tomakomai
Times & Dates
Flying time: 7 hours
Time difference with Singapore: An hour ahead
When to go: Late March to April is cherry blossom season, a very popular yet crowded time to visit.
June tends to be wet, and heat and powerful storms can strike throughout July and August, with the exception of Hokkaido, mountaintop resorts like Hakone and the Japanese Alps. The autumn months of September to November are cooler and aesthetically beautiful. December typically kicks off the ski seasons in the north. Snow-covered landscapes in Japan are lovely, yet obviously very cold.
Key dates: 1 January: The most important holiday in Japan. “Year forgetting” parties are held to leave the old year’s troubles behind, houses are cleaned, and relatives visit.
11 February: National Foundation Day (kenkoku kinenbi). Celebrating the crowning of the first Japanese emperor in 660 BC.
Before you go, watch… Godzilla (1954). Conceived as a monstrous metaphor for nuclear weapons, the film has Godzilla leave a trail of destruction in his wake on the streets of Tokyo. And Babel (2006). Four interlocking stories connected by a gun, including one part focusing on a deaf girl dealing with the death of her mother while living in the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo.
Before you go, read… Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Follows the struggles and successes of a geisha working in pre- and post-Second World War Kyoto
While you’re there, please don’t… use the term “chin chin” when making a toast; in Japanese, this expression refers to the male genitals. And don’t forget to learn the characters for “male” and “female” unless you want to end up walking into the wrong room full of naked people in a hot spring (onsen). (This one is from the personal experience of an Expat Living editor…)
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