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Article 5: Useful Tips On Visiting and Doing Business in Japan

  1. Some people still call Narita Airport The "Tokyo" international airport because it was the first airport to serve international flights closest to Tokyo. It is actually in a city called Narita which is in a different prefecture (i.e. state) and an hour and a half from Tokyo by train ($28). A taxi would cost you over $140 to get you from Narita Airport to Tokyo and takes longer. * Haneda Airport is actually in Tokyo and used to serve mostly domestic flights. After renovation, it claimed itself to be the new "Tokyo International Airport" and opened to international flights in 2010. Try to book a flight that lands in Haneda Airport instead of Narita since you can quickly and cheaply get into the center of Tokyo from Haneda (about 25 to 45 minutes to Tokyo Station by train for about $7.)
  2. Foreigners can get a 7, 14 and 21-day Japan Rail pass (from about $255) that lets you ride almost any Japan Railway train (bullet trains, express trains, local trains) on the main island. You can buy the pass (a voucher you exchange for the pass) outside of Japan from a travel agent or buy one when you arrive in Japan.
  3. Any foreigner found to have any criminal record will not be permitted to enter Japan.
  4. Possession of illicit drugs is a serious crime in Japan and consequences are harsh.
  5. You can buy beer at vending machines, on some trains, convenience stores, supermarkets - it's cheap, readily available, and way better than American beer! You can drink in public but it is not good to drink (or eat) or hold an open drink while you're walking. Better to sit down (or stand in one place) and enjoy your beverage. Remember to recycle - all garbage cans have pictures so you know what to throw in it. You may have to carry your garbage with you until you find a receptacle. The number of public garbage cans was extremely reduced (especially after the Sarin Gas Incident in 1995 and the worldwide aftermath of 9/11) to prevent terrorists from hiding explsove devices there. Littering is highly frowned upon and you can be scolded or fined if caught.
  6. Japan has now become a non-smoking country but you will still find separate rooms at train stations and restaurants where you can smoke. Look at the signs or follow the other smokers.
  7. Rental cars are available at airports and in cities. Depending on your country you can get an international driver's license (which you can obtain in your own country - just make sure that it can be used in Japan). But parking is hard to find and expensive in the big cities. If you get a parking ticket, it will cost you $175 and up. It's cheaper and more convenient to take a train. Everyone else does. Actually you cannot buy a car in Japan unless you have proof that you also own/rent a parking space - land is scarce and expensive in Tokyo. Try to avoid morning and evening rush hour (same time as other countries) on the trains unless you want to experience the "coziness" that sardines feel in a can. On the other hand, maybe you should try it - many say that they feel like they're floating in a sea of humanity! But it's almost impossible to carry big backpacks or suitcases on local trains in rush hour though.
  8. Cars drive on the left side of the road (like in the UK) and overtake on the right. Don't get caught looking the wrong way when crossing the street or you might get hit by a car. Although some roads may look like narrow one-way streets, they are likely 2-way traffic streets. Be careful walking on the roads when there are no sidewalks. Most drivers can come within a few centimeters (inches) from you - it's scary, but it's fine. Don't get angry. The standards of proximity are shorter. People are used to coming "real close" without touching. Try to use the foot bridges, tunnels and overpasses whenever available.
  9. Unless you are a sport cyclist, most everyday bicyclists ride on the sidewalks or bike paths - not on busy streets (though technically they should not be on sidewalks but on the roads). Mostly middle-aged ladies, moms with kids, and students ride bikes. Nobody really wears a helmet though you're supposed to. Take caution when you hear granny ringing the bike bell or some high-schooler's squeaky brakes! Dodging people and bicylces is tricky.
  10. On escalators, stand on the left side. Leave room on the right side for people who are in a hurry to pass. Same concept with cars on the road! (NOTE: In Osaka, it is the opposite for some reason.)
  11. Taxis are relatively inexpensive (typically $15 to $35 per ride in the city). They use meters that typically start at $5. Doors open and close automatically (by the driver). Sit in the back unless you have 4 people (most taxis are small and can squeeze 3 in the back and 1 in the front). There's usually a tiny tray (green, gray or blue) inbetween the front seats where you put your money in. The driver will take it and then put your change in your hand or back in the tray for you to take. Remember to take it! And NO TIPPING! (Remember this "placing money in the tray" thing because it is standard at all stores and restaurants - even McDonald's.)
  12. There is NO TIPPING ANYTIME, ANYWHERE in Japan! It's already built into the prices. Don't force anyone to take a tip or tell them to "keep the change". It is embarrassing for them if you offer, and a cultural no-no to accept.
  13. Japan is still mainly a cash society so many small places will not accept your credit cards. Many people carry large sums of cash in their wallets. Nobody will accept your US$ so convert your money to Japanese YEN (1000, 5000 and 10000 YEN bills). It's common to pay with 5000 and 10000 YEN bills. Bring at least 20,000 YEN cash per person if you plan a night out. Drinks, food and a taxi ride home can cost you a lot.
  14. Typical western style hotels range from 15,000 to 35000 Yen ($100-$250) a night and can take 1-4 per room. Most business hotels only allow 2 people maximum per room. Most are nice and clean but small in comparison to American standards. Again, NO TIPPING!
  15. For cheap accommodations in Japan, try AirBnB. You can find rooms, apartments and houses from $50/night and up.
  16. Japan is full of 24-hour convenience stores where you can find good cheap food. A lot of people live solely on convenience store food. All Western food franchises are in Tokyo. Prices are about the same (but don't expect any "Super Sizes" on drinks or fries).
  17. Silence in conversations is not bad. You don't always have to fill up the space with words. Let the other person take their time to answer. Smiling/laughing may be a sign of shyness. Many women cover their mouths when they talk or laugh due to traditional customs of not showing teeth or wide open mouth.
  18. Take off your shoes when entering rooms (houses, hotel rooms, Japanese style restaurants, shrines, temples). If you see a shoeshelf (shoetree or different flooring) with slippers, take off your shoes and put on some slippers from the shoeshelf (shoetree or different flooring). Usually there is a raised threshold or change in flooring material which shows the division of outside shoes/inside shoes areas. You can tell by all the shoes around. Slippers should not be worn on tatami mats - take them off and enter in your sockfeet or barefeet (best to wear clean socks all the time). If you see other shoes in front of the door that is a good sign that you have to take your shoes off too. After taking off your shoes, turn around, bend down and then place your shoes the opposite direction side-by-side or place them in the designated area with other shoes. It's a good idea to wear shoes that you can take off/put on easily and quickly since you may have to do this many times each day. There is no bench to sit on to lace up your London boots. Just follow what others do. Note that once inside, there are other special slippers for use in the bathroom. They are usually just inside the bathroom door. Before entering the bathroom, take off your other slippers, leave them outside the bathroom door, and step into the bathroom slippers inside the bathroom. Do the opposite coming out. Never wear the bathroom slippers outside of the bathroom. The bathroom or washroom is also referred to as the "toilet" or toy-ray in Japanese or the "W.C." (after the British "water closet"). The place where you actually take a bath or shower is called the o-fu-ro in Japanese.
  19. In Japan, a simple "domo arigato" (thank you) and nod of the head is OK when at shops and restaurants. You only have to bow in really formal or strict business situations. You probably won't be in such a situation. A simple 2-second 45 degree bow with your hands at your side will suffice when greeting key people. Most will just shake your hand like a Westerner anyway. You can try the handshake first unless the other bows first. Never bow and put your hands together like praying - that is the greeting in Thailand or India, not Japan. They'll think you're some kind of religious freak. Many new foreigners to Japan get this wrong.
  20. Giving a gift or souvenir (i.e. your band merchandise) is a good idea when meeting key people or when you want to get on the good side of someone.
  21. Don't expect a definite "yes" or agreement when you meet someone (especially first meeting) in the office. First meetings are reserved for small talk and introductions. Most deals are done over drinks rather than at the office. Oral agreements are common and most people do business on their reputation or word. Details may be put into writing but usually in a letter format rather than any form of legal contract with pages of fine print like you would expect in many Western countries. But it is better to get it in writing when dealing with a record company. Although signatures are used in foreign business affairs, in Japan, a registered official name stamp (inkan or hanko for person or business) is used. Official documents, applications, contracts, and business letters are stamped instead of signed. Foreigners can get one made at the store too (it makes a nice souvenir). You usually use the red ink pad then stamp on the designated place on the document.
  22. Most countries have a visa requirement waiver agreement with Japan so you can enter Japan with a valid passport. The temporary visitor's entry permission stamp (sightseeing or business) that you get when you land is normally for 90 days to 6 months depending on your nationality. However, the visa waiver is not valid if you are getting paid in Japan. If you are getting paid then you will need to apply for a special visa which takes at least 4-6 months or longer to obtain.

    *Japanese currency is the YEN. As of Sept. 2022, 1000 YEN was worth about US$7. Check the currency converter for current rates. All monetary amounts above are in US$ unless specified otherwise and are only general approximations.

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