Practical info

Basic information

The following information wil help you surviving Japan with ease, please read/follow them to have the best experience during your stay:

  • You have to remove your shoes when you step into a house or apartment. Please remove them on entry; the recessed flooring at the front door is where you leave them (or in the cupboard beside it). Usually, slippers are provided, but making sure your socks are clean and free of holes would be nice anyway.
  • Except for Osaka, people tend to stand on the left side of the escalator, so that people in a hurry will pass you on the right. This custom is reversed in Osaka and it’s surroundings; you have to stand on the right. Keep this in mind.
  • Riding a bike in Japan is usually done on the sidewalk. Yes, that’s where pedestrians walk as well. To avoid hindrance and possible collisions, make sure you look over your shoulder from time to time to check if someone’s hurdling towards you from behind and avoid taking up the whole side walk when in a group.
  • If you want to take pictures, try to do this with as little interruption as possible; avoid using shutter-sounds and flash when possible. Do not take pictures in shops or Buddhist temples.
  • If you want to be sure whether taking pictures is allowed or not, ask “Shashin wa ii desu ka?” (Am I permitted to take pictures?).
  • If you see people waiting in line somewhere, for a train, attraction or something like that and you have to be there as well, don’t go and skip that line. It’s there for a reason.
  • We are accustomed to speak at a certain volume. In Japan this is significantly lower. Please try to lower your voice in public places and avoid pointing at things with one finger. Use your open hand instead.

VAT, bargaining, where to shop

VAT in Japan is 5%. Retailers are obligated to show prices including VAT since 2004, but you still may sometimes run into a shop which has it’s pricing the old-fashioned way. Bargaining in Japan is frowned upon and therefore pretty much non-existent. Apart from the fact that some prices are determined by the manufacturer, the shop just wants a certain amount of money for product X and if you want the product, you pay that amount. No hassling. Exceptions to that rule can only be found in Akihabara and DenDen Town where it is possible to get a small discount on electronics. Anyway, it’s usually better to shop around first and then go for the lowest price, as things like warantee and service probably don’t concern you anyway. When in doubt about where to buy specific items, please ask the guides for some nice places to shop.

What to do in case of emergencies

You can call these numbers from any phone for free. Please check in advance (if you can) the street name. The police is able to understand you if you speak to them slowly in clear English (not LOUD English, CLEAR English).

  • Please come and help! Tasukeni kite kudasai.
  • There has been trouble/an accident! Jiken/Jiko desu.
  • Thief! Dorobo desu.
  • Traffic accident, please help! Jiko desu.Kite kudasai.
  • Monster on the rampage, destroying city, HELP! Kaijuu des, tasukeni kite kudasai!
  • Fire! Please come and help! Kaji desu. Kite kudasai.
  • Please send emergency medical help! Kyubyo desu. Kite kudasai.
  • Someone is seriously injured. Help! Ookegadesu. Kite kudasai.
  • My address is... Jusho wa (address of hotel or apartment) desu.
  • My name is... Namae wa (name) desu.
  • My phone number is... Denwa bango wa (number)
  •  0 - rei/zero
  •  1 - ichi
  •  2 - ni
  •  3 - san
  •  4 - yon/shi
  •  5 - go
  •  6 - roku
  •  7 - nana/shichi
  •  8 - hachi
  •  9 - kyu
  • 10 - ju

Dialing from public telephones:

Lift the receiver and push the red emergency button, then dial the number or use the emergency dial on the phone if present. When they answer, provide your name, address and details about the problem in Japanese or have someone call for you. Should you need to speak to the police without an emergency, you can call them on an English line between 9:30 and 16:30. The number to call are for:

  • Tokyo: ……….. 03-3501-0110
  • Osaka: ……….. 06-6943-1234
  • Fukuoka: ………. 092-733-2220

You can also visit a police station, but English speaking personnel is most often only available at larger stations.

Seismic activity

Japan is also a country with a lot of seismic activity, and there is a fair chance you will experience some tremors in case the earth decides to stir things up a little. New warning systems generally give out a warning 10 seconds before the quake hits, and there are some basic rules you have to follow:

  • If you’re able, make sure you have a way out by opening a door, but do not go outside as there might be debris falling.
  • Turn off a burning stove or furnace if it’s lit, but only if you’re close by. The city’s gas lines have emergency shutoff valves, but it takes a while before the pipes are empty.
  • Stand against a wall near the center of the building or hide under a table to shelter yourself from falling lamps and debris.
  • Stay away from windows; they shatter and you will injure yourself.
  • When you’re in a public building like a warehouse, follow the shop attendant’s instructions and remain calm.
  • When the quake subsides, switch on a TV or in case the power is out, use a battery powered radio. NHK 2 and AFN will broadcast the news in English. They will also provide information about possible tsunamis and what you should do.
  • Stay away from beaches and water front areas where a tsunami could strike, even long after the shaking has stopped.

Preventing infection of malicious bacteria

The following precautions are very important to avoid infection when going out and about. Just be careful and take note of what you do before you do it.

  • Never, ever, drink the water of a stream or a marsh, unless it has been boiled.
  • Do not have contact with wild red foxes or any other canines.
  • Wash your hands, especially after touching anything anywhere a fox may have been.
  • Do not eat wild fruits or vegetables unless washed very carefully or better yet, cooked.