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Tokyo dazzles with bright lights and high-tech gadgetry. Bustling cities burst with skyscrapers, bullet trains, trendy nightlife and rampant consumerism. Yet beneath the brash modernity beats an ancient heart. This is still the realm of the exquisite art of the geisha and the skill of the sumo wrestler; where ancient festivals are celebrated and food is elevated to an art form. And Japan is still a land of great natural beauty, from the snow festivals and lavender farms of the northern isle of Hokkaido to the sun-drenched beaches of the subtropical south. Whether you choose to climb Mount Fuji or relax at volcanic hot spring resorts, Japan is unforgettable.

Practical Information

Area: 377 864 km² (145 894 miles²)

Capital: Tokyo. Population: 35 million

Population: 127.7 million

Currency: Japanese Yen (JPY symbol ¥)

Government: Constitutional monarchy.

Tipping: Tips are never expected since a 10 to 15% service charge is added to the bill at hotels, ryokan and restaurants; where a visitor wishes to show particular appreciation of a service, money should not be given in the form of loose change but rather as a small financial gift. Special printed envelopes can be bought for financial gifts of this type.

Time zone: GMT + 9

Languages: Japanese

Additional descriptions

Japan: Social customs

Japanese manners and customs are vastly different from those of Western people. A strict code of behaviour and politeness is recognised and followed by almost all Japanese. However, they are aware of theRead more difference between themselves and the West and therefore do not expect visitors to be familiar with all their customs but expect them to behave formally and politely.A straightforward refusal does not form part of Japanese etiquette. A vague ‘yes’ does not really mean ‘yes’ but the visitor may be comforted to know that confusion caused by non-committal replies occurs between the Japanese themselves. Entertaining guests at home is not as customary as in the West, as it is an enterprise not taken lightly and the full red-carpet treatment is given. Japanese men are also sensitive lest their wives be embarrassed and feel that their hospitality is inadequate by Western standards; for instance, by the inconvenience to a foreign guest of the custom of sitting on the floor. Bowing is the customary greeting but handshaking is becoming more common for business meetings with Westerners. The honorific suffix san should be used when addressing all men and women; for instance Mr Yamada would be addressed as Yamada-san. When entering a Japanese home or restaurant it is customary to remove shoes. Table manners are very important, although the Japanese host will be very tolerant towards a visitor. However, it is best if visitors familiarise themselves with basic table etiquette and use chopsticks. It is customary for a guest to bring a small gift when visiting someone’s home. Exchange of gifts is also a common business practice and may take the form of souvenir items such as company pens, ties or high-quality spirits.

Japan: Food and local specialties

Japanese cuisine, now popular in the West, involves very sensitive flavours, fresh crisp vegetables and an absence of richness. The best place to try sushi is a Kaiten Sushi Bar, where many varieties passRead more the customer on a conveyor belt allowing complete choice over which delicacies to try, at more reasonable prices than a traditional sushi bar. Fine Oriental food (Korean, very hot, and Chinese) is served in restaurants. An amazing number and variety of international restaurants are also available, catering for every possible taste and budget, from French and Italian to Chinese, Indian and Thai. Western dishes in expensive places are good, but cheaper restaurants may be disappointing. The Japanese are very fond of original Scotch whisky, but this is both very expensive and highly sought after, therefore Japanese versions of this drink are often served. Things to know: Restaurants have table service and in some places it is customary to remove footwear. Waiter service is common in bars. There are no licensing hours. Drinking is subject to long-standing rituals of politeness. The hostess will pour a drink for the visitor, and will insist on the visitor’s glass being full. It is also appreciated if the visitor pours drinks for the host, but it is bad manners for a visitor to pour one for himself. The national specialties are: Teriyaki (marinated beef/chicken/fish seared on a hot plate). Sukiyaki (thin slices of beef, tofu and vegetables cooked in soy sauce and then dipped in egg). Tempura (deep fried seafood and vegetables). Sushi (slices of raw seafood placed on light and vinegary rice balls very tasty and refreshing). Sashimi (slices of raw seafood dipped in soy sauce). Green tea is by far the most popular beverage amongst the Japanese. The quality of the tea varies greatly from houjicha (a common brown-coloured tea) to matcha (a bitter green tea used in tea ceremonies). Sake, rice wine served hot or cold according to the season, is strong and distinctively fresh tasting. Shochu, a strong aquavit, is an acquired taste. Japanese wines are worth trying once. Popular brands of beer are Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory.

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