Blooming cherry blossoms should be reason enough to visit Tokyo in spring. Likewise, the mellow hues of autumn also provide a poignant example of the Japanese aesthetic. The muggy summer is not for everyone; just remember there's roughly 5500 persons per sq km (over 14,000 per sq mi)! It might also be wise to avoid an even more crowded Tokyo during the Golden Week national holiday, from 29 April to 5 May.
As any visitor to Tokyo will soon discover, festivals play an enormous part in Japanese life. Known as matsuri, the majority of these celebrations have Shinto origins, and range from frenetic street dancing to enjoying a glass of sake under the new cherry blossoms. As a rule, the more significant the festival, the more popular it is, which can make transport and accommodation scarce and more expensive. Those planning to visit Tokyo during New Year (28 December to 4 January) and Golden Week (29 April to 5 May) would be strongly advised to make arrangements well in advance. Tourists are also warned that during these times most shops, restaurants and attractions will close. You can view a Tokyo annual events calendar here.
he Japanese are formal and reserved and visitors are expected to behave politely. Their system of etiquette is one of the most complex in the world, with a strict code of conduct for almost every situation. It is important to avoid causing 'loss of face' by insulting or criticising someone in front of others. Bowing is the customary greeting. The possession of common prescription, or over the counter medicines, particularly for allergies and sinus problems, are forbidden under Japanese law, and it is highly advisable to check with a Japanese embassy before travel.
Japanese is the official language. Most Japanese people will have studied English at school, but few can speak it well or understand what is said to them.
Editor's Advice: When needing directions or catching a taxi always write down your destination in English as well as the local language script.
The Japanese do not give or expect tips. To them it is a Western tradition that is considered a little vulgar. Service charges tend to be included in the bill - a 5% consumer tax and a service charge of around 10–15% may be added in pricier restaurants. The Japanese often insist on picking up the tab for their foreign friends. It's polite to refuse three times, then let them pay, promising to get the next one. At table, guests should wait for their host to indicate where they should sit. It's the Japanese custom to place guests in the most comfortable chairs facing the best view.
January 1: Ganjitsu (New Year's Day)
January, 2nd Monday: Seijin no Hi (Coming of Age Day)
February 11: Kenkoku Kinen no Hi (National Foundation Day)
Late March (around 21): Shumbun no Hi (Vernal Equinox Day)
April 29: Midori no Hi (Greenery Day)
May 3: Kenpo Kinembi (Constitution Memorial Day)
May 4: Kokumin no Kyujitsu (National Holiday)
May 5: Kodomo no Hi (Children's Day)
July 20: Umi no Hi (National Maritime Day)
September 15: Keiro no Hi (Respect for the Aged Day)
Late September (around 23): Shubun no Hi (Autumnal Equinox Day)
October, 2nd Monday: Tai-iku no Hi (Sports Day)
November 3: Bunka no Hi (Culture Day)
November 23: Kinro Kansha no Hi (Labour Thanksgiving Day)
December 23: Tenno Tanjo Bi (Emperor's Birthday)
No vaccination certificates are required for entry to Japan. There have been recent outbreaks of the deadly bird flu, but no human infections have been reported. Travellers to Japan are unlikely to be affected, but live animal markets and places where contact with live poultry is possible should be avoided, and all poultry and egg dishes well cooked. Medical facilities are very good, but medical assistance in Japan can be very expensive and visitors have to pay the whole cost up front. Travellers should ensure that they have adequate medical insurance before travelling. The possession of Vicks inhalers and other common medications used for allergies and sinus problems are banned under the strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law, and visitors are advised to check with the Japanese embassy if in doubt.
Safety and Security
The vast majority of visits to Japan are trouble-free. It is generally a very safe country with low levels of common crime, and is stable, highly developed and modern. Travellers should, however, still be vigilant about personal safety and belongings. Typhoons are common particularly from June to October and travellers should take note of storm warnings along the coastal regions if travelling during this period. Japan is in a major earthquake zone, and earthquakes of varying sizes occur very frequently.
A 5% consumption tax is included in the price of marked goods, but all major department stores in Tokyo will refund the tax to foreign visitors if total purchases amount to more than ¥10,001 ($95) on that day. Exemptions include food, beverages, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, film, and batteries. When you've completed your shopping, take the purchased goods and receipts to the tax refund counter in the store. There are forms to fill out (you will need your passport). Upon completion, a record of your purchase is placed on the visa page of your passport and you are given the tax refund on the spot. When you leave Japan, make sure you have your purchases with you (pack them in your carry-on); you may be asked by Customs to show them
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