Japan Basic Information
There are countless festivals in Japan. Every shrine will host an annual festival that celebrates a deity or historic event. And then there’s the others like the Naked Man festival. For 1,200 years, thousands of men have gathered around shrines wearing nothing but a giant nappy (fundoshis) and crushed together to expel their misfortunes. To transfer their bad luck, they need to touch the ordained Naked Man, who later appears with a giant rice cake strapped to his back (go figure). For more insider info about Japan, here’s what you need to know.
Aussies can enter the Land of the Rising Sun without a visa and stay for up to 90 days. However, the Japanese Visa Waiver Program is pretty strict and entry can be refused if you don’t have enough money, a return ticket or accommodation booked. When you enter the country, you’ll need to have your photo taken and your fingerprints electronically scanned. As usual, make sure you have 6 months’ validity on your passport. Be aware that this is only a guideline and if you want the latest visa info, get in touch with your local Embassy or Consulate of Japan before you leave.
In Japan, you’ll use the Japanese Yen, pronounced ‘en’ in Japanese. The exchange rate between the Australian Dollar and Japanese Yen fluctuates according to the market, so it’s a good idea to monitor the exchange rate and purchase your Yen when the rate is at its best. For safe spending while travelling in Japan, consider using a credit card or debit card.
One really cool thing about dining in Japan is many of the eateries will specialise in one particular dish and provide in infinite ways. So you might head out for yakatori (grilled chicken) and try every meat under the sun on a stick. Or go to a ramen bar that serves only Japanese noodle soup. The thing about specialising in one dish is the establishment does it to absolute perfection. Every meal will leave you with a big fat smile on your face and hungry for more, like a big sumo. If you want to try the freshest sushi in the world, head to Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market – the world’s largest. The fish is literally caught that morning and served up on your plate. For life-changing takoyaki (fried octopus balls), go to the little vendor under the Tokyo Tower. There are also hundreds of restaurants around Japan that do shabu shabu (thinly sliced meat that you dip in a soup with vegetables and cook yourself). Many of these restaurants offer ‘2-hour drinking packages’, so you pay a specific price and can drink as much as you like for 2 hours. Sake!
Welcome, to the karaoke capital of the world. Most nights out in Japan will start (or end) with you screaming your fave song at the top of your lungs. Even if you’re not a diva, it’s good fun to watch. You can hire private rooms or watch drunken Japanese businessmen take the stage in karaoke bars like Smash Hits in Tokyo. But if singing isn’t your thing, there’s plenty more to keep you busy at night such as sumo matches, Kabuki (Japanese dance/drama) theatre performances, countless clubs, bars and nights all over the country and some of the best in the world are in Tokyo. The après-ski action on the Japanese slopes is pretty fantastic too. If you’re in Kyoto after dark, head to the district of Gion to go geisha spotting. There’s also great restaurants, bars and karaoke venues here too.