Asia and Oceania

Japan Flag of Japan

Still current at: 11 June 2008
Updated: 09 May 2008


This advice has been reviewed and reissued with amendments to the Summary and Natural Disasters section (a tropical typhoon is being tracked to the south of Japan).  The overall level of the advice has not changed.

(see travel advice legal disclaimer)

Travel advice for this country


Travel Summary

  • 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.

  • Do not become involved with drugs.  Japan has a zero tolerance policy. Possession of small amounts will lead to detention and prosecution.  Possession of large amounts leads to long prison sentences and heavy fines.

  • Japan has strict immigration laws.  You should not overstay your entry permission or take unauthorised employment.  See the Entry Requirements section of this advice for more details.

  • Japan is in a major earthquake zone, and earthquakes of varying sizes occur very frequently.  Also, the typhoon season in Japan normally runs from June to October.  There is currently a tropical typhoon tracking south of Japan, which is likely to be off the southern Japanese coast on Monday. See the Natural Disasters section of this advice and the Hurricanes page on the FCO website for more details.
  • Just over 17,000 British nationals are resident in Japan with a further 300,000 visitors each year (Source: Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications).  The main type of incident for which British nationals required consular assistance in Japan in 2007 was for replacing lost and stolen passports (80 cases) and arrests, for drugs and other offences (49 cases).

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake.  See the General (Insurance) section of this advice and {InternalLink:6} for more details.  See the General (Insurance) section of this advice and Travel Insurance for more details.

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. 
 
For further information see Terrorism Abroad.

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, especially if visiting bars and restaurants in e.g. the Roppongi entertainment district of Tokyo. There have been reports of drink-spiking with drugs such as rohypolol.  There have also been instances of British citizens arrested following disputes with bar staff and doormen.  
 
For more general information see Victims of Crime Abroad.
 
Political Situation

Japan is a stable democracy.  Civil disturbances and violent demonstrations are infrequent.

Background on the political situation is available on the FCO Website.  Japan Country Profile.

Local Travel
 
Travel throughout Japan is relatively easy.  Taxis are generally safe and use a fixed meter system for fares.

Road Travel

To drive in Japan, you must hold an International Driving Licence (IDL) and insurance.  There are two types of insurance:

Compulsory insurance (jibaisekihoken) which may be insufficient in cases of personal liability.

Voluntary insurance (nin’i no jidoshahoken).  We strongly recommend that you buy this in addition to the compulsory insurance.  It is compulsory to carry your driving licence with you at all times.  UK residents of Japan must obtain a Japanese licence within one year of arrival, and will need both parts of the UK licence when applying (photocard and counterpart paper).
 
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 2007 there were 6,639 road deaths in Japan (source: National Police Agency).  This equates to 5.2 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 5.5 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2006.
 
For further information see Driving Abroad.
 
Rail Travel

The Japanese national rail network is generally efficient, reliable, safe and affordable (though bullet trains are considerably more expensive than ordinary trains).
 
Air Travel
 
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.

Local laws and customs

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.
 
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) 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 doubt, 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.  Transfers to prisons in the UK take several months to arrange.
 
For more general information for different types of travellers see Travel Advice Relevant to You

Entry requirements

Visas

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:  http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/index.html

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 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 (link opens in Windows Media Player).

Health

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 advice for information on Japanese law covering prescription and over the counter medicines.

In the 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 17,000 adults aged 15 or over in Japan were living with HIV; the prevalence rate was estimated at less than 0.1% of the adult population. This compares to the prevalence rate in adults in the UK of around 0.2%.  You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. For more general information on how to do this see HIV and AIDS.

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.

For more general health information see Travel Health.

Avian Influenza

The risk to humans from Avian Influenza is believed to be very low.  As a precaution, you should avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.
 
You should read this advice in conjunction with Avian and Pandemic Influenza, which gives more detailed advice and information.

Natural Disasters

Earthquakes

Japan is in a major earthquake zone, and earthquakes of varying sizes occur very frequently.

The last major earthquake, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, hit the centre of Japan on 16 July 2007.  The earthquake killed seven people and injured hundreds.

You should familiarise yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake, and take note of earthquake-related instructions eg in hotel rooms.  To enable the Embassy or Consulate-General to help British visitors and respond to enquiries from relatives after an earthquake, we strongly recommend that you register with the British consular services in Tokyo and Osaka on this link.

Typhoons
A tropical typhoon is being tracked to the south of Japan, it is likely to be off the southern Japanese coast on 12 May 2008 but is not forecast to hit Japan.  However, you should monitor local media and check with your tour operators before travelling.

Travellers to Japan (particularly southern regions) You should be aware that typhoon season runs from June to October and primarily affects the southern regions of Japan.  You should closely follow local travel information and consult the Japan Metrological Agency website:  http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html, which has information in English.  We also recommend that you check with carriers if you are planning to travel inside Japan at that time.

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 consulting the Japan Meteorological Agency website, which has information in English. We further recommend checking with carriers if you are planning to travel inside Japan.

General

Insurance

We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake.  You should take out comprehensive insurance before visiting Japan, including insurance against medical costs, loss of belongings, theft, cancellation of your journey etc.  Keep belongings, especially your passport, safe.  Enter next of kin details into the back of your passport.  See Travel Insurance.
 
If things do go wrong when you are overseas then this is how we can help.

Emergency contact numbers in Japan are as follows:  Police 110; Fire and Ambulance 119.  The Tokyo English Lifeline (Tel:  +813 5774 0992) provides advice and counselling in English.

The Consular Section of the British Embassy provides a passport renewal service.  Replacement passports are normally issued within 15 working days. 

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, eg by taxi drivers, restaurant staff, police, doctors.  A pen and notebook and a simple phrase book may prove useful.

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 (eg drink plenty of water, limit time spent in the sun).

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.

Consular Registration

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.  More information about registering with LOCATE can be found here.

Money

Japan is mainly a cash society.  The Japanese currency is the Yen.  Some credit cards and Cirrus, Maestro, Link and Delta cash cards are NOT widely accepted, and 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 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.  Western Union Money Transfer is available in Japan.

Travel advice for this country

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contacts

Japan, Tokyo, British Embassy

Address:

British Embassy
No 1 Ichiban-cho
Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 102-8381

Telephone:

(81) (3) 5211-1100

Fax:

(81) (3) 5275-3164 (All sections except those listed above)
(81) (3) 3265-5580 (Commercial Section)
(81) (3) 3230-0624 (Press & Public Affairs)
(81) (3) 3230-4800 (Science & Technology)
(81) (3) 5275-0346 (Consular&Visa Section)
(81) (3) 5211-1270 (Energy & Environment Section)
(81) (3) 5211-1121 (Financial Section)
(81) (3) 5211-1344 (Political Section)
(81) (3) 5211-1254 (Defence Section)
(81)(3) 5211-1111 (Ambassador's Office)
(81)(3) 5211-1345 (Minister's Office)

Email: defence.tokyo@fco.gov.uk

Email: management.tokyo@fco.gov.uk

Email: political.tokyo@fco.gov.uk

Email: ppas.tokyo@fco.gov.uk

Email: trade-policy.tokyo@fco.gov.uk

Email: science.tokyo@fco.gov.uk

Email: embassy.tokyo@fco.gov.uk

Email: consular.tokyo@fco.gov.uk

Email: commercial.tokyo@fco.gov.uk

Email: investukjapan.tokyo@fco.gov.uk

Email: energy.tokyo@fco.gov.uk

Office hours:

GMT:
Mon-Fri: 0000-0330 / 0500-0900

Local Time:
Mon-Fri: 0900-1230 / 1400-1730

Website: http://www.uknow.or.jp/



 

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