The culture of Japan has evolved greatly over the millennia, from the country’s prehistoric time Jōmon period, to its contemporary modern culture, which absorbs influences from Asia, Europe, and North America. Strong Chinese influences are still evident in traditional Japanese culture as China had historically been a regional powerhouse, which has resulted in Japan absorbing many elements of Chinese culture first through Korea, then later through direct cultural exchanges with China. The inhabitants of Japan experienced a long period of relative isolation from the outside world during the Tokugawa shogunate after Japanese missions to Imperial China, until the arrival of “The Black Ships” and the Meiji period.
Many visitors to Japan limit their sightseeing activities to the country’s heavily urbanized areas between Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. As a result, many return home with a hardened misconception that Japan is one large, densely populated megacity. In fact, however, over two thirds of Japan are covered by forested mountains and hills, compared to less than ten percent residential and industrial land.
The Japanese archipelago stretches nearly 3000 kilometers from north to south, allowing visitors to experience a wide range of natural sights from the drift ice in the seas off Hokkaido to the mangrove jungles in Okinawa. In between, there are majestic volcanoes, breathtaking coastlines and vast forests inhabited by monkeys, bears, deer, cranes and other wildlife. Places of particular natural beauty are protected as national parks and world heritage sites.
The weather in Japan is generally temperate, with four distinct seasons:
Japan’s weather in Winter, from December to February, is quite dry and sunny along the Pacific coast and the temperatures rarely drop below 0°C. The temperatures drop as you move north, with the Central and Northern regions experiencing snowfall. Southern Japan is relatively temperate and experiences a mild winter.
Spring is from March to May. Temperatures are warm but not too hot, plus there isn’t too much rain. The famous cherry blossoms are out during this time and there are plenty of festivals to enjoy.
Summer begins in June and the country experiences a three to four-week rainy season during which the farmers plant their rice. It is hot and humid during this time and temperatures are often in the high 30’s. Summer wraps up in August.
Autumn is from September to November and is characterised by light breezes and cooler temperatures of around 8-10oC. It’s during autumn that many exhibitions, music concerts and sports tournaments are held in Japan.
Time & Date: GMT +9
The yen is the official currency of Japan. It is the third most traded currency in the foreign exchange market after the United States dollar and the euro. It is also widely used as a reserve currency after the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the pound sterling.
The concept of the yen was a component of the Meiji government’s modernization program of Japan’s economy; which postulated the pursuit of a uniform currency throughout the country modeled after the European decimal currency system. Before the Meiji Restoration, Japan’s feudal fiefs all issued their own money, hansatsu, in an array of incompatible denominations. The New Currency Act of 1871 did away with these and established the yen, which was defined as 1.5 g (0.048 troy ounces) of gold, or 24.26 g (0.780 troy ounces) of silver, as the new decimal currency. The former han (fiefs) became prefectures and their mints private chartered banks, which initially retained the right to print money. To bring an end to this situation the Bank of Japan was founded in 1882 and given a monopoly on controlling the money supply.
Following World War II the yen lost much of its prewar value. To stabilize the Japanese economy the exchange rate of the yen was fixed at ¥360 per $1 as part of the Bretton Woods system. When that system was abandoned in 1971, the yen became undervalued and was allowed to float. The yen had appreciated to a peak of ¥271 per $1 in 1973, then underwent periods of depreciation and appreciation due to the 1973 oil crisis, arriving at a value of ¥227 per $1 by 1980.
Since 1973, the Japanese government has maintained a policy of currency intervention, and the yen is therefore under a “dirty float” regime. This intervention continues until today. The Japanese government focuses on a competitive export market, and tries to ensure a low yen value through a trade surplus. The Plaza Accord of 1985 temporarily changed this situation from its average of ¥239 per US$1 in 1985 to ¥128 in 1988 and led to a peak value of ¥80 against the U.S. dollar in 1995, effectively increasing the value of Japan’s GDP to almost that of the United States. Since that time, however, the yen has greatly decreased in value. The Bank of Japan.
The most widely spoken language in Japan is Japanese, which is separated into a large number of dialects with Tokyo dialect considered standard Japanese.
In addition to the Japanese language, Ryukyuan languages are spoken in Okinawa and parts of Kagoshima in the Ryukyu Islands. Along with Japanese, these languages are part of the Japonic language family, but they are separate languages, and are not mutually intelligible with Japanese, or with each other. All of the spoken Ryukyuan languages are classified by UNESCO as endangered.
In Hokkaido, there are Ainu languages, which are spoken by the Ainu people, who are the indigenous people of Japan. The Ainu languages are isolated and do not fall under any language family. Ever since the Meiji period, Japanese has become widely used among the Ainu people and consequently Ainu languages have been classified critically endangered by UNESCO.
In addition, languages such as Orok, Evenki, and Nivkh spoken in formerly Japanese controlled southern Sakhalin are becoming more and more endangered. After the Soviet Union took control of the region, speakers of these languages and their descendants migrated to mainland Japan and still exist but in small numbers.
When buying your travel insurance, always check the small print – some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities’, which could be anything from scuba diving to horse riding. You should check whether the medical coverage is on a pay first, claim later basis and, more importantly, ensure that your medical coverage includes the cost of medical evacuation.
Any foreign visitor who wishes to enter Japan must have a passport, which will remain valid during the period of stay. In order to enter Japan, visitors usually must comply with the conditions of their visas and authorizations of resident eligibility. However, visa exemptions can be made for citizens of sixty-six different countries provided that their stays are within ninety days such as with stays for sightseeing purposes and that they do not engage in activities where they earn compensation. This page provides information on short stays. Revisions in visa conditions are made periodically. Therefore, please check the “Visa” section in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan website if the latest and detailed information on standard visas or visas other than for those for short stay programs is needed.
Kansai International Airport
Narita International Airport
Chūbu Centrair International Airport
Osaka International Airport
Currency: Japanese Yen
Population: 127 million
Official languages: Japanese