Japan consists of four main islands: Hokkaido in the north, Kyushu in the south, Honshu, the main, largest island and Shikoku, located between Honshu and Kyushu. Japan extends 3,000 kilometers from north to south, a range equivalent to that from southern British Columbia to the Mexican Baja Peninsula.
The total land area is about 378,000 sq. km., or about half the size of British Columbia. Japan's present population is about 125 million, making it one of the world's most densely populated countries. Japan's inhabitants by race are 99% Japanese, with minorities of Korean and Chinese. Japan is 84% mountainous and forested, with only 16% of the land area habitable and fertile. Japan is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and experiences about 1,500 seismic occurrences per year (mostly tremors). Due to the volcanic environment, there are many hot springs that the Japanese can enjoy.
There are a wide range of climates in Japan, ranging from the freezing conditions of Hokkaido in the north to the tropical weather in the southern islands of Okinawa. In the main area of Japan, the four seasons are evident and similar in time periods to the west coast of North America. There is a rainy season from mid-June to mid-July, although the temperatures are still warm and the humidity rises to very high levels. The typhoon season is in September, but it is the southern islands that are most affected by any typhoons.
660 BC Japan is founded by Emperor Jimmu.
1542 AD Portuguese land in Japan.
1637 All foreigners are expelled.
1854 United States Navy Commodore Matthew Perry forces Japan to trade.
1868 Meiji Emperor implements westernization programs.
1894 Japanese militarism begins with war on China.
1941 December, Japan attacks the United States at Pearl Harbour.
1945 August, The United States drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The war ends.
1952 Japan returns to self-rule.
1960 Japan and the U.S. sign Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.
1984 Japanese begin to try to reduce their growing trade surplus
By tradition, the Japanese do not tip. This includes services from taxi drivers, bell boys, and restaurant staff. Often a service charge of 10% or 15% is automatically added to your bill, especially at Western style hotels and first class establishments. A cash tip not expected, and in some cases creates an embarrassing situation. A more appropriate item might be a small gift or even words of thanks in Japanese.
On the other hand, a cash gratuity may be expected in certain circumstances such as at a Japanese Inn (ryokan) where tipping for your maid's services is not included in the bill. As well, if someone provides you with extensive service, such as a translator or a tour bus guide, a gratuity may be in order. A cash gratuity should always be wrapped in paper or placed in an envelope. To give money directly is considered crass.
ELECTRICITY AND VOLTAGE
In Japan, the voltage supply of 100 V is the same throughout the country, however, the frequency is different. In the eastern half (Tokyo), the frequency is 50 Hz and in the western half, (Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagoya) the frequency is 60 Hz. Thus a frequency converter must be used for sensitive equipment when traveling throughout the country. Many hotels have 110 and 220 volt outlets to accommodate foreign appliances. For the average tourist, electrical equipment such as hair dryers and shavers do not require converters.
VIDEO and ELECTRONICS
Japan uses the same VHS video cassette format as Canada. Electronic gadgets (TVs, etc.) are often as or more expensive than they are in North America, although product introductions of new technologies are sometimes a year or two ahead in the local markets. The frequencies for broadcast television are different than in North America however, so this together with voltage differences means that tourists should check for export compatibility.
The water from taps in Japan can be consumed without concern for germs or other health precaution. But the water in major cities has many additives and so for taste, sometimes bottled water is recommended. A two-litre container is about ¥400 ($5.40) in the stores but considerably higher in hotel rooms.
Vending machines were first sold in Japan in 1888, but only became a common sight after the second world war. Now, the number of vending machines seen in Japan far out number those seen in the West. In Japan, vending machines sell soft drinks, liquor (mostly beer), cigarettes, magazines, cakes, cooked snacks, ice cream and even batteries. What is probably most surprising is that vending machines are seen at very obscure sites including remote country areas.
YEN or ¥
The unit of currency used in Japan is the Yen which is symbolized with the ¥ sign.
Authorized money changers accept traveler's cheques such as first class hotels, department stores, duty free shops and generally where tourists frequent. They cannot be used at most regular stores and restaurants. Japanese Yen traveler's cheques are available for purchase all money exchanger's and authorized banks deals in foreign currency.
All major credit cards are widely accepted at hotels, department stores, restaurants, and many smaller stores. Generally credit cards are preferred to traveler's cheques. For the traveler, credit cards are also safer than carrying a large amount of cash.