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Japan

Japan is a country of such spectacular natural beauty that the four seasons have shaped the very cultural fabric of this ancient nation, best known nowadays perhaps for its technology, electronics, modern design and dancing robots. 

Japan is one of the few nations on earth to have emerged from an industrial revolution with its traditional culture intact.

One of the reasons for Japan’s impressive modern technology and quality is that they managed to keep their artisan pride in workmanship and aesthetics intact during the transformation from cottage industries to automated industrial giants.

The stark differences between the seasons in Japan result in such vivid changes to the weather the trees and the gardens that they have shaped the culture over thousands of years. The pristine white of the snow draped over the bottle green pines and carved stone lanterns in winter contrasts with the warm orange glow of charcoal fires and traditional hotpot dishes such as shabu shabu , sukiyaki, mizudaki and chankonabe, ramen, udon and oden.

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With the coming of spring, vivid blue skies replace the drab misty days of late winter and the country comes alive with cherry blossoms. It is as if a heavy blanket has been lifted and the whole country celebrates the coming of spring with family outings and “hanami” (blossom viewing) picnics of bento lunch boxes under spectacular canopies of pale pink blossoms on centuries old manicured trees. The patience that is necessary for cultivating these magnificent cherry trees and their miniature bonsai cousins over decades is evident in the patient and polite society that has evolved in this tiny country. Japan is one of the safest places on earth. The people are friendly and tolerant of strangers and they are proud to show and share their heritage.

In summer the wet season arrives and washes away the fallen petals and gives the land a good soaking. The bamboo forests thrive and the deciduous trees develop luxuriant coats of dark green foliage. Summers are hot in Japan and after the rains a steamy sultry atmosphere descends on the country. The famous moss gardens thrive and the locals visit the temples and enjoy traditional cool dishes such as soumen and soba(cold noodles) and shaved ice, fruit and syrup, hiyayakko (chilled tofu), seaweed salads and sushi.

A welcome cool change rolls across the country as autumn approaches and people begin to promenade in the cool night air. There are traditional harvest festivals and others commemorating ages past, night fairs, colourful lights and tantalizing street stalls. As the days shorten it is as if a switch has been flicked and there is a spectacular appearance of vibrant orange and red autumn colours. Enamored by the vivid colours, generations past have selected and planted trees such as maple, elm and oak which paint a beautiful canvas across the countryside. Silk kimonos, still worn by women and young girls at festivals and formal occasions, sport patterns which reflect these autumn hues.

There are four main islands in Japan. Honshu is the largest and is the home of Tokyo the modern capital and Kyoto the ancient capital and still the cultural capital of Japan.

Geography and Language

Japan is situated in north-eastern Asia between the North Pacific and the Sea of Japan. The area of Japan is 145,897.59 square miles, about the size of California. Japan consists of four major islands, surrounded by more than 4,000 smaller islands.

There is only one official language spoken in Japan, which is of course Japanese. However, many Japanese are able to understand English to a certain extent since English is the foreign language that everyone must learn as part of compulsory education.

Average Temperature (F)

 Cities

Spring
Mar – May

Summer
Jun – Aug

Autumn

Sep – Nov

Winter
Dec – Feb

Tokyo

46 – 66

72 – 79

57 – 76

41 –48

Kyoto

45 – 68

72 – 82

57 – 77

37 – 46

Passport and visas

A visa is NOT necessary for US passport holders visiting Japan for a short-term stay of less than 90 days with the purpose of tourism and business.

Currency

The unit of Japanese currency is yen. Coins are available in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 yen and bank notes in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000.

Travelers checks and credit card

Travelers Checks are accepted by leading banks, hotels, ryokan (Japanese inns) and stores in major cities. International credit cards such as American Express, VISA, Diners Club and MasterCard are also acceptable at these major establishments. However, Credit card transactions are not always convenient outside big cities so obtaining cash beforehand is recommended when you travel to the countryside.

ATMs

You can withdraw cash using your international brand credit, debit, prepaid and cash cards nationwide at ATMs of Japan Post Bank. Please note that no other Japanese banks currently accept international transactions. For ATMs that accept credit cards, it is advised to contact each credit company beforehand and check the location of each ATM and its availability as these conditions vary from machine to machine. 

Visa provides an ATM locator on their website which you can use to locate ATMs nearby your nearest subway/train station.

Foreign credit, debit and cash cards can be used at over 26,400 Post Offices’ ATMs in locations throughout Japan. This service is available in English and display stickers indicating which cards are accepted. Cards from the Cirrus, Plus, Maestro and Visa Electron networks can be used. Accepted credit cards include Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club.

Transport

The railway system in Japan has a reputation for punctuality and safety. Tickets for short distances are available from ticket machines that are installed at each train station whereas tickets for long distances and reservations are dealt with at ticket offices at major stations

Cell Phones

You can use your mobile phone (smart phones only) in Japan in SoftBank Mobile or DOCOMO's 3G (3rd Generation) or 4G/LTE service areas. Ensure global roaming has been activated with your service provider before you leave home and the phone is unlocked from the network. For more details, please check with your local mobile phone service provider. Rental phones service is also available upon arrival at Narita Airport or Kansai Airport.

Electricity

The voltage used throughout Japan is uniformly 100 volts, A.C. There are two kinds of frequencies in use; 50 Hertz in eastern Japan and 60 Hertz in western Japan (including Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka). A dual voltage type of electrical appliance such as a hair dryer, travel iron and shaver will therefore be handy; otherwise a step-down transformer is required to convert the voltage. There are no columnar-shaped plugs or 3-pin plugs used in Japan but 2-flat-pin plugs are used instead. The traveller is therefore advised to purchase a plug adapter beforehand.

Tipping

Individual tipping is not customary in Japan. Instead a 10-15% service charge is added to your bill at major hotels and restaurants.

Tipping at the hotels

Again, individual tipping is not customary but staff will appreciate it if personal service is provided to your guest room such as special delivery or a special request but it is not common to tip otherwise or at normal dining places.

Food

In recent years, Japanese cuisine has become more and more popular around the world as a heathy diet.

Although you may already have tried it many times in Australia, it will be a unique opportunity while you are in Japan to sample the most authentic Japanese cuisine made from the freshest ingredients, from the oceans to the mountains. When in Japan, do as the Japanese do. Indulge yourself in tasting authentic Japanese cuisine with Japanese sake. Cheers, Kampai !

  • Sushi– a small piece of raw seafood placed on a ball of vinegared rice. The most common ingredients are tuna, squid and prawn. Cucumber, pickled radish and sweet egg omelette are also served.
  • Sashimi– sliced raw fish eaten with soy sauce and wasabi, Japanese horseradish.
  • Tempura– lightly battered deep-fried prawn, fish or seasonal vegetable.
  • Yakitori– made up of small pieces of chicken meat, liver and vegetables skewered on a bamboo stick and grilled over charcoal.
  • Sukiyaki– prepared right at the table by cooking thinly sliced beef together with various vegetables, tofu and noodles.
  • Shabu Shabu– tender, thin sliced of beef held by chopsticks and swished in a pot of boiling

Water then dipped in citrus or creamy sesame sauce

  • Tonkatsu– crumbed and deep fried pork cutlet.
  • Soba and Udon– Soba is made from buckwheat flour and Udon from wheat flour. Both are served either hot with a broth or cold with dipping sauce.
  • Takoyaki– savoury balls of octopus pieces in a flour batter blended with stock and chunks of octopus, chopped cabbage and other ingredients, and baked crispy outside and inside still soft.
  • Okonomiyaki– savoury pancakes made with batter of flour mixed with cabbage, egg, seafood and sometimes noodles.

 

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