|Still current at: 15 March 2011
Updated: 14 March 2011
This advice has been updated with an amendment to the Travel Summary (applying for an Emergency Travel Document). The overall level of the advice has not changed; we advise against all but essential travel to north eastern Japan and Tokyo.
(see travel advice legal disclaimer)
"Lessons learned from more significant incidents, such as Chernobyl, is that an exclusion zone (currently 20km) will be effective - even in the event of a more substantial release - in minimising the health effects from direct radiation exposure."
Any emissions are being monitored in real time by the Japanese authorities which enabled appropriate advice to be issued. This also directly informs our travel advice.
- A completed application form. Available to download from our website or in paper copy at the Embassy or Consulate-General.
- Proof of identity. Japanese alien registration card, Japanese drivers' licence, UK drivers' licence etc.
- Two passport photos.
- A flight itinerary if travel plans are already known.
- A fee of Y12360
- Japan Rail trains from Tokyo station are not operating or are subject to severe delays.
- Narita Express services are not running. The Tokyo metro is operating a reduced service.
- The Bullet trains and the Tokyo monorail remain in full service.
Advice from the Japanese Government
Japanese Government statements on developments: http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/topics/2011/earthquake2011tohoku.html
Earthquake and tsunami information: http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/en/menu.html
Safety and Security - Terrorism
There is a low threat from terrorism, but you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
See our terrorism abroad page.
Safety and Security - Crime
Japan is generally trouble-free and has relatively low levels of common crime such as theft, mugging, burglary etc. It is generally safe to walk about at night and to travel on public transport. Nevertheless, you should maintain the same level of vigilance as you would at home, and take sensible precautions. This is particularly the case if visiting bars and restaurants in the Roppongi entertainment district of Tokyo, which is considered a higher risk area for crime. There have been instances of British citizens arrested following disputes with bar staff and doormen, which can lead to up to 23 days in police detention while the case is investigated (see the Local Laws and Customs section of this Travel Advice). There have also been reports of drink spiking with drugs such as Rohypnol. Victims have described loss of consciousness for several hours, during which time large charges are reported to have been fraudulently billed to their credit card.
See victims of crime abroad page.
Safety and Security - Local Travel
See Travel Summary for updates on disruption to local and air travel services due to the 11 and 14 March earthquakes and resulting tsunamis.
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Road Travel
See Travel Summary for updates on disruption to local and air travel services due to the 11 March earthquake and resulting tsunamis. To drive in Japan, you must hold an International Driving Licence (IDL) and a current British licence as well as insurance. The IDL is only valid for use in Japan for one year regardless of its date of expiry. Check the Metropolitan Police Department website for further details to be sure that you meet and comply with the necessary requirements. Penalties for driving in Japan without a legal licence are severe.
If you intend to stay in Japan for longer than one year, you should apply for a Japanese driving licence. To do this you will need to prove that you were living in the UK for at least three months after receiving your British licence. You will need both parts of the UK licence when applying (photocard and counterpart paper). For more information and details of offices where you can apply for a Japanese licence, please refer to the Japanese Automobile Federation website. There are two types of driving insurance available in Japan:
(a) Compulsory insurance (jibaisekihoken) which may be insufficient in cases of personal liability.
(b) Voluntary insurance (nin’i no jidoshahoken). We recommend that you buy this in addition to the compulsory insurance. It is compulsory to carry your driving licence with you at all times.
Roads in Japan are well maintained. Traffic travels on the left-hand side of the road, as in the UK. Road rules are, for the most part, the same as in the UK but drivers should pay particular attention to: pedestrians crossing roads at green lights, especially at junctions; cyclists travelling on the pavements, or on the wrong side of the road and without lights at night; and taxi drivers stopping suddenly. Many road signs are written in English and Japanese in urban areas but this is less common in rural areas. In 2009 there were 5,772 road deaths in Japan (source: DfT). This equates to 4.5 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 3.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2009.
See our driving abroad page.
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Rail Travel
See Travel Summary for updates on disruption to local and air travel services due to the 11 March earthquake and resulting tsunamis. The Japanese national rail network is generally efficient, reliable, safe and affordable (though bullet trains are considerably more expensive than ordinary trains).
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Air Travel
See Travel Summary for updates on disruption to local and air travel services due to the 11 March earthquake and resulting tsunamis. The revised aviation security measures that came into effect for all passengers departing from UK airports in November 2006 were also implemented in Japan in March 2007. For more details about this please see Dft Airline Security.
Safety and Security - Political Situation
Japan country profile
Japan is a stable democracy. Civil disturbances and violent demonstrations are rare.
There are few major differences between the laws and customs of Japan and the UK of relevance to most visitors to Japan. In regard to sexual conduct in private between consenting adults, Japan is a tolerant society. However, you should be sensitive to the different culture and people around you and not engage in behaviour, which may cause offence.
Most Japanese people are very friendly and welcoming but can be reserved. Loud, boisterous behaviour is not as acceptable as it is in the UK.
Japanese family law is very different from UK law and particular caution is needed when, for example, child custody becomes an issue. Also see our child abduction page.
British nationals visiting Japan for up to three months must carry their passports at all times. If you have permission to stay longer in Japan, you must register with the ward office or city office of the district in which you reside. You will then receive an alien’s registration card, which must be carried at all times.
Detention for minor offences can be longer than in the UK, and prison regimes in Japan are very strict.
Japan has a zero tolerance policy towards drug crime and there are severe penalties for drug offences, however minor. Detection facilities at airports and post offices are effective. There have been a number of cases of small quantities of cannabis being sent through the mail to Britons living in Japan, which have resulted in the arrest and detention of the recipients. Japanese Police have been known to require customers of bars to give samples for drug trace testing. Tests proving positive lead to arrest and prosecution, even if the drug was taken before arrival in Japan.
There are severe penalties to deter drink driving, including allowing someone else to drink and drive (for example if you are a passenger in a vehicle being driven by a drunk driver). Offences can attract a heavy fine or imprisonment.
The use or possession of Vicks inhalers and some other common prescription and over-the-counter medicines (e.g. for allergies and sinus problems or even certain mild painkillers, such as those containing certain levels of codeine) are banned under Japan’s strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law. Customs officials may not be sympathetic if you claim ignorance about these medicines. If in any doubt about customs procedures for such items, you should check with the nearest Japanese Embassy before visiting Japan.
Drinks and meals are paid for at the end of your visit to a Japanese bar. Tipping is not necessary. Be aware that, in some cases, prices can be high. Disputes over bills can lead to the customer’s arrest.
In general, penalties for most offences are more severe than in the UK. If you are arrested in Japan, even for a minor offence, expect as much as 23 days police detention while your case is investigated. Bail is seldom granted to foreigners. Police interviews can last many hours and you will not have access to a lawyer while under questioning. You are advised not to sign any document you cannot understand, since it is very hard to amend once signed. Police interviews are not recorded. If you are indicted, you can expect up to six months on remand awaiting trial. Time spent in detention while on remand or making an appeal does not automatically count in full towards completion of the sentence.
Japan has signed the Council of Europe Convention of the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, so British citizens can apply to serve the remainder of their sentence in the UK. The transfer process is long and it can take months or sometimes years before a successful applicant transfers back to the UK.
For more general information for different types of travellers see our your trip page.
Entry Requirements -
You must have a valid passport and an onward/return ticket. British nationals wishing to visit Japan for three months or less for business, tourism or family purposes etc (but not to work for a local employer) may do so without a visa.
However, if you wish to visit Japan for other purposes (e.g. long-term stay, study, settlement, employment), you should approach a Japanese Embassy or Consulate for advice before travelling, as visas are not issued after arrival in Japan. It is illegal to work in Japan without the correct visa, however informal or temporary the work. Do not overstay your permission to be in the country. Failure to leave, or to renew your residence permit, leaves you open to arrest, detention and heavy fines. There is now a zero tolerance policy, even in cases of genuine oversight. Full details of entry requirements can be found on the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs visa website.
Entry Requirements - Passport validity
The Japanese authorities stipulate no minimum period of validity on your passport. However, before departure you should check that your passport remains valid and acceptable to the immigration authorities of the country to which you are travelling.
Entry Requirements - Entry Procedures
Since November 2007, in accordance with a partial amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, all foreign visitors entering Japan must be fingerprinted and digitally photographed during entry procedures. Those refusing to be fingerprinted or photographed will be denied entry to Japan. Persons under the age of 16 years are exempt.
The Japanese Government has produced a video in English that explains in full the new immigration procedures.
Entry Requirements - Travelling with Children
Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries, including Japan, may ask to see documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing the children to enter or leave the country.
Medical facilities are good, but the cost of treatment is high. Hospitals and clinics are well equipped and staff highly trained. There are very few British doctors practising in Japan, but some Japanese doctors will have had experience abroad and may speak English. You are expected to pay the whole cost of any treatment you receive.
See the Local Laws and Customs section of this Travel Advice for information on Japanese law covering prescription and over the counter medicines.
In the 2010 Report on the global AIDS epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 8,100 adults aged 15 or over in Japan were living with HIV; the prevalence percentage was estimated at less than 0.1% of the adult population compared to the prevalence percentage in adults in the UK of around 0.2%. You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. See our HIV and AIDS page.
You should seek medical advice before travelling to Japan and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit the websites of the National Travel Heath Network and Centre NaTHNaC and NHS Scotland's Fit For Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
See our travel health page.
Natural Disasters -
Japan is in a major earthquake zone, and earthquakes of varying sizes occur very frequently.
You should familiarise yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake, and take note of earthquake-related instructions e.g. in hotel rooms. To enable the Embassy or Consulate-General to help British visitors and respond to enquiries from relatives after an earthquake, we recommend that you register with the British consular services in Tokyo and Osaka.
Japan also has several active volcanoes. You should heed advice given by the Japanese authorities about travelling in volcanic areas.
Natural Disasters - Typhoons
Travellers to Japan (particularly southern regions) should be aware that typhoon season runs from June to October. We recommend paying particular attention to local travel information and consult Japan Meteorological Agency, which has information in English. and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). We further recommend checking with carriers if you are planning to travel inside Japan.
Please also see our tropical cyclones page for more detailed information about what to do if you are caught up in a typhoon.
You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling, including insurance against medical costs, loss of belongings, theft, cancellation of your journey etc. You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake. Keep belongings, especially your passport, safe. Enter next of kin details into the back of your passport. See our travel insurance page.
If things do go wrong when you are overseas then see our When Things Go Wrong page.
General – Emergency Services
In cases of emergency in Japan, for the police dial 110. For the fire or ambulance services, dial 119. Calls are free of charge from any phone, including pay phones.
General – Lost/Stolen Passports
If your passport is lost or stolen in Japan, you should report this to the local police and obtain a police report. You will need to present the police report to the Consular Section at the British Embassy in Tokyo or Consulate-General in Osaka. A full validity replacement passport can be obtained by applying to our Regional Passport Processing Centre in Hong Kong. In cases of genuine emergency, the British Embassy in Tokyo may be able to issue an emergency travel document.
General - The language
Most Japanese people have studied English at school, but not all can speak it well or understand what is said to them. However, many can understand clear and simple English in written form and may be able to write a reply more easily than they can speak, but you should be prepared for situations in which English is not understood at all, e.g. by taxi drivers, restaurant staff, police, doctors. A pen and notebook and a simple phrase book may prove useful.
General - Weather conditions
You should check what sort of weather you can expect in Japan before you travel. June – September can be very hot and humid and you should take sensible precautions (e.g. drink plenty of water, limit time spent in the sun).
General - Mobile phone network
Most UK mobile phones will not work in Japan, even in roaming mode. You should check with your service provider if you wish to use your mobile phone in Japan.
General - Consular Registration
If resident in Japan or just visiting, you should register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling abroad or where you live abroad so our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency.
General - Money
Japan is mainly a cash society. The Japanese currency is the Yen. Credit and Debit cards issued outside Japan, as well as Cirrus, Maestro, Link and Delta cash cards, are NOT widely accepted. Few banks or cash machines will provide cash drawn on such cards. Japanese post offices do have cash machines, which will accept Visa, Delta and Cirrus cards during hours of business. Citibank and Seven-Eleven ATMs will also take certain foreign credit and debit cards. Cash machines do not operate 24 hours a day. They generally close at 21:00 hours or earlier and may not operate at the weekends. You should check with your bank before travelling and take sufficient alternative sources of money for the duration of your stay.
General - Consular Assistance Statistics
119 British nationals required consular assistance in Japan in the period 01 April 2009 – 31 March 2010 for the following types of incident, deaths (21 cases), hospitalisations (15 cases), and arrests, for a variety of offences (43 cases). During this period assistance was also requested with regard to lost or stolen passports (68 cases).