Travel essentials needed for a trip to Japan
The Land of the Rising Sun is a fascinating country in that there is no set list of things you need that works for any prefecture at any given time. Japan is like the UK in that no matter where you go, the weather is going to be different - just at a much more extreme level. Where you may have snow falling on the mountains of Hokkaido, you may have a pleasant 27°C in Wakayama, or a sweltering 36°C in Kyushu. As a result, the travel essentials you need for Japan are going to be a little more area-specific than you might initially realise - here's a quick guide that will get you through everything you need to know before you go!
Travel light, travel smart!
The right visa
First things first - you need the right paperwork or you're never going to get into the country. Depending on where you hail from, and what you're looking to do in Japan, you may or may not need a visa. As a rule of thumb, British citizens (and British Nationals) don't need a visa to get into the country if they're just going for tourism (kankou). This is significantly easier than you may expect - particularly if you've considered going to America only to be met with the online ESTA requirements.
This being said, you will probably be asked to present evidence of a return or onward flight before you travel. It's also worth noting that if you have a business visa and you're travelling for work (shigoto), your visa is good for a single entry only. If you head home for Christmas and want to get back into Japan after that, you'll need to apply for a re-entry permit!
The right clothing
As we said before, Japan's weather is on a par with the UK's for how unique it is - the difference is that Japan's weather is much nicer. Make sure you check the weather report for the prefecture before you travel - and check last year's weather report while you're at it.
Japan also has a couple of unique phenomena you should be aware of when it comes to the weather. Tsuyuu, the rainy season, is one them, and no matter where you go during June-July, you're going to want to know about the rain. The other one is kousagenshou, a fine yellow sand which blows over from China, briefly covering pretty much everything in the country for a few days every summer.
The right cash - and a lot of it!
Japan is a cash based economy. This may seem a little weird for anyone coming from the world of plastic credit cards, but just go with it. Credit cards will usually work in the major cities, but that's if you're lucky and you go to the right places. The vast, vast majority of the country will tell you they only take cash (genkin), so come prepared.
While you're at it, be prepared to think in 10,000's. Japan's note denominations are 1000 (sen), 5000 (go sen) and 10,000 (ichi man) yen. If you need to pay for something that's 100,000 yen, you'll need to pay jyu man en - literally "10 x 10,000 yen".
Good luck choosing from the wide variety of Japanese medicines.
By and large you can get by in Japan with only basic Japanese and the hope that the people around you speak English. However, this is little comfort when you're really sick and need medication. As with any travels abroad, it's prudent to bring a small first aid case where you can keep your kouhistaminzai (antihistamines), itamidome (painkillers) and everything else. This will stop you from having to track down a pharmacy and trying to explain your symptoms using basic English and hand gestures - something which is never fun!
A hand towel
Another peculiarity, as far as Western people are concerned, is that many Japanese washrooms don't provide hand towels. This makes sense when you think about it - they're highly wasteful and Japan is a country which is big on recycling and environmental protection. Most Japanese people carry a small hand towel (roughly the size of a small flannel) to dry their hands on instead. You can pick these up pretty much everywhere if you don't have one, and they come with all your favourite characters emblazoned on them. On that note, a neck towel makes for a great addition to the set in the middle of the Japanese summer!