Travel Consideration: Japan

Contributed By RealAdventures

Japan is a stable, highly developed parliamentary democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.

A passport and an onward/return ticket are required. A visa is not required for tourist/business stays up to 90 days. For information about the Japanese visa waiver for tourists, Japan's strict rules on work visas, special visas to take depositions, and other visa issues, travelers should consult the consular section of the Embassy of Japan at 2520 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel: (202) 939-6700, or the nearest Japanese consulate. In the United States, there are Japanese consulates in the following cities: Agana (Guam), Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Portland (Oregon), Saipan (Northern Marianas), San Francisco, and Seattle. Additional information is available via the Internet on the Embassy of Japan home page at

While active-duty U.S. military personnel may enter Japan under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with proper Department of Defense identification and travel orders, they are urged to obtain passports prior to leaving the U.S. to accommodate off-duty travel elsewhere in Asia. All SOFA family members, civil service employees and contractors must have a valid passport and, in some cases, a Status of Forces visa to enter Japan.

U.S. citizens transiting Japan should take care to ensure that their passports and visas are up to date before leaving the U.S. Many Asian countries deny entry to travelers whose passports are valid for less than six months. It is not usually possible to obtain a new U.S. passport and foreign visa during a brief stopover while transiting Japan.

There have been no major terrorist incidents in Japan since 1995. Nevertheless, Americans traveling abroad in any country should exercise security awareness.

Crimes against U.S. citizens in Japan are rare and usually only involve personal disputes, theft or vandalism. Some Americans believe that Japanese police procedures appear to be less responsive to a victim’s concerns than would be the case in the U.S. The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. embassy or the nearest U.S. consulate. Useful information on guarding valuables and protecting personal security while traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, which is available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402 or via the Internet at

While medical care in Japan is good, English-speaking physicians and medical facilities that cater to Americans’ expectations are expensive and not very widespread. Japan has a national health insurance system, but medical caregivers often insist upon payment in full at the time of treatment or concrete proof of ability to pay before treating a foreigner. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. It can be both difficult and expensive for foreigners not insured in Japan to receive medical care. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization or medical evacuation can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $120,000. Private U.S. citizens are ineligible for treatment at U.S. military hospitals in Japan or U.S. military medical evacuation to the U.S. The cost of preparation and shipment of remains to the United States is over $15,000. Extended psychiatric care for foreigners in Japan is difficult to obtain at any price.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Japan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Excellent
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural road conditions/Maintenance: Good
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Good

Driving in Japan is complicated for those who cannot read the language and who may have trouble understanding road signs. City traffic is often congested. Most short-term visitors choose not to drive in Japan. Vehicular traffic moves on the left. Turns at red lights are not allowed unless specifically authorized. Roads in Japan are much narrower than those in the United States. Drivers should exercise particular caution with respect to motorcyclists. See the above section on criminal penalties regarding traffic accidents. Japanese compulsory insurance (JCI) is mandatory for automobile owners. An international driving permit is required.

For specific information concerning Japan’s driver’s permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Japan National Tourist Organization offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco via their Internet website at, or consult local police stations in Japan.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking Japanese law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Japanese law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. In Japan, traffic accidents are automatically considered to involve professional negligence, allowing criminal charges with severe penalties to be assessed in any case involving injury without specific proof of negligence. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Japan are strict and convicted offenders can expect “hard time” jail sentences and fines. In most drug cases, suspects are detained incommunicado, which bars them from receiving visitors or corresponding with anyone other than a lawyer or U.S. consular officer until after indictment, which may take weeks. Persons arrested in Japan, even for a minor offense, may be held in detention without bail for many weeks during the investigation and legal proceedings.

It is illegal to bring into Japan some over-the-counter medicines commonly used in the United States, including inhalers, and some allergy and sinus medications. Japanese customs officials have detained travelers carrying prohibited items, sometimes for several weeks. Some U.S. prescription medications cannot be imported into Japan, even when accompanied by a customs declaration and a copy of the prescription. Japanese physicians can often prescribe similar, but not identical substitutes. Lists of Japanese physicians are available from the U.S. Embassy and consulates and from the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of American Citizens Services. Persons traveling to Japan carrying prescription medication that must be taken daily should consult the Japanese embassy in the United States prior to travel to confirm whether they will be allowed to bring the particular medication into Japan. Japanese customs officials do not make on-the-spot "humanitarian" exceptions for medicines which are prohibited entry into Japan.

Japan has very strict laws regarding the importation and possession of firearms or other weapons. Persons bringing a firearm or sword into Japan (including target and trophy pistols, air guns and Japanese-origin swords) may find these items confiscated by Japanese customs agents, and may themselves be incarcerated, prosecuted and deported or jailed. Please contact the Japanese embassy or one of the Japanese consulates in the United States for information about import restrictions.

Customs officials encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes. ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States. For additional information call (212) 354-4480, send an e-mail to or visit for details.

IMMIGRATION DETENTION: Working Without a Proper Visa: Japanese work visas are issued outside of Japan for a specific job with a specific employer at a specific place of employment, and are not transferable. It is illegal for U.S. citizens to work in Japan while in tourist or visa waiver status. Japanese authorities do not allow foreigners to change their immigration status from tourist or visa waiver status to work status while in Japan. A U.S. citizen who works in Japan without a work visa may be subject to arrest and deportation, which can involve several weeks of incarceration, or conviction and imprisonment. The deportee must bear the cost of deportation, including legal expenses and airfare.

CONSULAR ACCESS: U.S. citizens should carry their U.S. passports or Japanese alien registration cards with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. In accordance with the U.S.-Japan consular convention, U.S. consular officers are generally notified within 24 hours of the arrest of a U.S. citizen, if the U.S. citizen requests consular notification.

CONDITIONS AT PRISONS AND DETENTION FACILITIES: Japanese prisons and detention facilities maintain internal order through a regime of very strict discipline. American-citizen prisoners often complain of stark, austere living conditions and psychological isolation. Access to competent translators is not required at all times under Japanese criminal law.


The Japanese economy remains in recession, and no American citizen should come to work in Japan in the hopes of earning a large salary.

U.S. citizens planning to work in Japan should never enter Japan using a tourist visa or the visa waiver, even if they have been advised to do so. Such actions are illegal and can lead to arrest, incarceration and/or deportation.

Assessing Employment Offers: Some U.S.-based employment agencies and Japanese employers do not fully discuss, or correctly represent, the true nature of employment terms and conditions. U.S. consular officers in Japan receive numerous complaints from U.S. citizens who come to Japan to work as English teachers, carpenters, models, actors, entertainers, exotic dancers, and bar hostesses. These complaints include contract violations, non-payment of salary for months at a time, sexual harassment, intimidation and threats of arrest, deportation and physical assault.

A minimum requirement for effectively seeking the protection of Japanese labor law is a written and signed work contract. Without such a contract, Japanese authorities do not intervene on behalf of foreign workers. It is prudent for U.S. citizens coming to work in Japan to carefully review their contracts and the bona fides of their Japanese employer before traveling to Japan. U.S. consular officers generally are unable to confirm the bona fides of prospective Japanese employers, although they may be familiar with organizations about whom they have received complaints. If asked to do something which they find troubling, U.S. citizens may wish to reassess their reason for being in Japan, and consider terminating their employment and returning to the U.S. Complaints against U.S.-based employment agencies or recruiters may be directed to the better business bureau or the office of the attorney general of the state in question.

Teaching English: For specific information on teaching English in Japan, contact the Japanese embassy or one of the Japanese consulates in the United States, or visit the Embassy of Japan's home page on the Internet at

LIVING EXPENSES: Japan's cost of living is one of the highest in the world. Japanese immigration officers may deny entry to travelers who appear to them to have no visible means of support. Contact the Japanese embassy or one of the Japanese consulates in the United States for guidance on what constitutes adequate financial support for a specific period of time. The use of credit cards is not widespread, particularly outside major cities. While there are ATM card machines in Japan, finding a machine that is open 24 hours a day or one that will accept your U.S.-based card may be difficult. Taxi fares from airports to downtown Osaka and Tokyo can cost hundreds of dollars. Airport departure fees are collected at both Narita (Tokyo) and Kansai (Osaka) international airports.

ENGLISH HELP AND INFORMATION LINES: Tourists and foreign residents in Japan have access to valuable information, including professional counseling, via help and information telephone hotlines. The Tokyo English Lifeline provides English-speaking counseling and referrals at (03) 3968-4099. The Japan Helpline provides similar assistance nationwide at 0120-461-997. For additional referrals, contact the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo or the nearest U.S. consulate.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Japan is faced with the ever-present danger of deadly earthquakes and typhoons. Responsibility for caring for disaster victims, including foreigners, rests with the Japanese authorities. One of the first things a traveler should do upon arriving in Japan is to learn about earthquake and disaster preparedness from hotel or local government officials. General information regarding disaster preparedness is available via the Internet on the home pages of the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, and the U.S. Consulate General, Osaka-Kobe via links through, and from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) home page at

U.S. citizens resident in or visiting Japan are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy or one of its consulates, where they may also obtain updated information on travel and security in Japan. Registration forms are available via the home pages or by fax from the U.S. embassy or one of its consulates. Alien registration formalities required under Japanese immigration law are separate from U.S.-citizen registration, which is voluntary but allows U.S. consular officials to better assist American citizens in distress. Registration information is protected by the Privacy Act.

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo is located at 1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8420 Japan; telephone: (81)(3) 3224-5000; fax (81)(3) 3224-5856. Recorded information for U.S. citizens concerning U.S. passports, notarials and other American citizen services is available 24 hours at: (81)(3) 3224-5168. Recorded visa information for non-U.S. citizens is available at the following 24-hour toll phone number: 0990-526-160. The U.S. Embassy Tokyo's home page via the Internet is available at See also the U.S. Commercial Service in Japan's home page at

The U.S. Consulate General in Osaka-Kobe is located at 2-11-5 Nishitenma, Kita-ku, Osaka 530; telephone: (81)(6) 6315-5900; fax (81)(6) 6315-5914. Recorded information for U.S. citizens concerning U.S. passports, notarials and other American citizens services is available 24 hours at (81)(6) 6315-5995. Recorded visa information for non-U.S. citizens is available at the following 24-hour toll phone number: (0990) 512-122. The U.S. Consulate General Osaka-Kobe's home page via the Internet is available at

The U.S. Consulate General in Naha is located at 2564 Nishihara, Urasoe, Okinawa 901-21; telephone: (81)(98) 876-4211; fax: (81)(98) 876-4243.

The U.S. Consulate General in Sapporo is located at Kita 1-Jo Nishi 28-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo 064. Telephone: (81)(11) 641-1115. Fax (81)(11) 643-1283.

The U.S. Consulate in Fukuoka is located at 2-5-26 Ohori, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka 810; telephone: (81)(92) 751-9331; fax: (81)(92) 713-9222. The American Consulate Fukuoka’s home page via the Internet is available at

The U.S. Consulate in Nagoya is located at the Nishiki SIS Building 6f, 3-10-33 Nishiki, Naka-ku, Nagoya 460; telephone: (81)(52) 203-4011; fax: (81)(52) 201-4612. The Consulate in Nagoya offers only limited emergency consular services for U.S. citizens. All routine matters are processed in Osaka-Kobe. The Consulate in Nagoya accepts applications for passports which are then issued by the U.S. Consulate General in Osaka-Kobe. The Consulate General in Osaka-Kobe forwards the new passport by mail directly to the U.S. citizen applicant in Nagoya.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Japan’s civil aviation authority as Category 1 - - in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Japan’s air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA’s Internet website at The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at 618-229-4801.

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