5 Things to Know before Visiting Japan

Modern Geisha

Modern Geisha©Marc Veraart/Flickr

Japan is often referred to as the “Land of  Contrasts”, where ancient arts, crafts and  traditions coexist in harmony with the  aspects of modern civilization. Everyone  knows some traditional elements of Japan,  such as the Buddhist temples, martial arts,  gardens, floral arrangements, and  kimonos. You may have eaten sushi,  played Japanese computer games or sang  at a karaoke.

However Japan means much  more. On international level, for example,  many products and components from the field of communication, entertainment and transport are made in Japan, reason why, many visitors ask themselves before arriving to the “Land of the Rising Sun”: Which is the real Japan? The truth is that Japan became one of the most modern countries, where traditions and customs greatly influence people’s everyday lives. Thus the purpose of this article is to draw the reader’s attention to 5 things one must know before visiting Japan, such as the national holidays, currency exchange, ways of communication, media and the opening hours of important institutions.

 National Holidays

Festival in Japan

Festival in Japan©bitmask/Flickr

January 1 – New Year’s Day – Gantan: many workplaces are closed from Dec. 29 to Jan. 3
Second Monday of January – Coming of Age Day – Seijin-no-hi: to encourage those who have newly entered adulthood, reaching the age of 20.
February 11 – Foundation Day – Kenkoku Kinen-no-hi: to reflect on the nation’s founding and foster their love for the country
March 20 or 21 – Vernal Equinox Day – Shunbun-no-hi: to pay respect to their ancestors
April 29 – Shōwa Day – Shōwa-no-hi: in honor of the late Emperor Shōwa
May 3 – Constitution Memorial Day – Kenpo Kinenbi: to celebrate the Japanese Constitution introduced after WW II
May 4 – Greenery Day – Midori-no-hi: to celebrate nature
May 5 – Children’s Day – Kodomo-no-hi
Third Monday of July – Marine Day – Umi-no-hi: to celebrate the oceans
September 15 – Respect-for-the Aged Day – Keiro-no-hi: to respect the elderly
September 23 – Autumnal Equinox Day – Shubun-no-hi: to remember the dead
Second Monday of October – Health and Sports day- Taiiku-no-hi: to enjoy sports and to commemorate this first Olympic Games held on Asian soil
November 3 – Culture Day – Bunka-no-hi: to celebrate peace and freedom and enhance culture
November 23 – Labor Thanksgiving Day – Kinro hanshano-hi: to thank laborers for their hard work and celebrate production
December 23 – The Emperor’s Birthday – Tenno Tanjobi: to celebrate the birthday of the reigning emperor, Emperor Akihito, who was born in 1933.

Currency Exchange

You can exchange foreign currency at the airport, big hotels, local bank branches, Japan Post Bank branches and most post offices.
The official currency of Japan is yen (sign: ¥; code: JPY). Today, 7.21.2012, 1 U.S. Dollar is the equivalent of 78.24 Japanese Yen.

Communication

Public Phones

Public Phones©Robert Sanzalone/Flickr

Telephone: Japanese public pay phones are well maintained, and always work. Most of the pay phones take coins but Telephone Cards (terehon kado) too. These can be purchased from vending machines near the telephone, from stations or convenience stores. The value of the cards can be of 500, 1.000, 3.000 and 5.000 yen. The phones can be green, grey or orange in color. The green ones are recommended for internal calls, while the grey ones can be used for both internal and international calls. Moreover, the orange colored phones, also accept international credit cards. Using the above public phones is cheaper than effectuating calls from the hotel room.
Foreign cell phones are not compatible with the Japanese mobile phone network, but you can easily purchase one from international airports on your arriving, as well as from hotels. There are three major international calling companies: KDDI, ISD and IDC.

Media

Journalism: Newspapers written in English are “Japan Times” and “Daily Yomiuri”.
Television: Japan’s national public broadcasting organization is NHK. NHK News is also broadcasted in English between 19 and 21.
Radio: Radio is often listened to by tourists. The only radio station to provide programs in English is the American Forces Network (AFN).

Opening Hours

Banks: – weekdays: 9AM-12PM / 1PM-3PM (closed on weekends and holidays)
Post Offices: – weekdays: 8AM-7PM; Saturdays: 8AM-3PM; Sundays: 9AM-12:30PM
Universal Magazines: 10AM-8PM

Restaurants: -most of them are open all day long
Public Offices: – weekdays: 9AM-5PM (closed on weekends)

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