Japan (日本)

On this page you can find the diaries of our trips and general information about the wonderful country that is Japan, from its history to learning how to get around.

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  1. Short history of Japan.
  2. Documents and visas.
  3. Transport.
  4. Security in Japan.
  5. Health care.
  6. Electricity.
  7. Money.
  8. Diaries of our travels.

1. Short (very short) history of Japan.

From prehistory to classical history.

It is believed that the first settlers of the archipelago arrived around the year 30,000 BC.

Around the year 14,500 B.C. The Jōmon (縄文時代) period begins and it was a semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer culture from Mesolithic to Neolithic, characterized by semi-sunken dwellings with thatched roofs and rudimentary agriculture. The oldest clay objects and utensils found in Japan date from this period.

It is believed that around 1,000 B.C. The Yayoi tribe enters through Kyushu and mixes with the Jōmon, although, officially, the Yayoi period (弥生時代), goes from the year 300 B.C. to 300 AD With them come rice crops and metallurgy.

Jinmu Tennō (神武天皇).

According to legend, Emperor Jinmu Tennō (神武天皇), a grandson of the goddess Amaterasu, founded a kingdom in central Japan in 660 BC. C., beginning an imperial line that still continues with the reign of the current Emperor Naruhito from 2019.

Although most historians believe that the first fourteen more than royal emperors are legendary characters (from Emperor Jimmu to Emperor Chuai).

Japan is first named in the Chinese Book of Han (漢書) written in 111 BC.

In the year 552, Buddhism was introduced from the Baekje kingdom in Korea, but the development of Japanese Buddhism was mainly influenced by China.

Despite initial resistance, Buddhism was promoted by the ruling class, including such figures as Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太), and gained wide acceptance beginning in the Asuka period (飛鳥時代) between 592 and 710.

In 645, the Taika Reforms (大化の改新) nationalize all land in Japan, to be equally distributed among farmers, and mandate the compilation of a household register as the basis for a new tax system.

Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太).

In the year 672, the Jinshin War (壬申の乱) takes place, a bloody war of succession after the death of Emperor Tenji Tennō (天智天皇), between Prince Ōama (his brother) and his son his son and successor, the Prince Otomo. The war is won by Ōtomo, although less than a year after taking the throne he commits suicide and Prince Ōama becomes king.

He introduced the Taihō Code (大宝律令) in 701, an administrative reorganization with a historical law system based on Confucianism. These legal reforms created the Ritsuryō (律令制) state, which was largely an adaptation of the Chinese governmental system of the Tang dynasty.

The Nara period (奈良時代), between 710 and 784, marks the rise of a Japanese state centered on the Imperial Court at Heijō-kyō (present-day Nara). The period is characterized by the emergence of a nascent literary culture with the completion of Kojiki in 712 and Nihon Shoki in 720, as well as the development of Buddhist-inspired works of art and architecture.

In the year 784, Emperor Kanmu Tennō (桓武天皇) moved the capital to Heian-kyō (present-day Kyoto), beginning the Heian period (平安時代), which runs from 794 to 1185. During this period, the Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu and the lyrics of Japan’s national anthem “Kimigayo”.

Feudal period.

Japan’s feudal era was characterized by the rise and dominance of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai.

In 1185, after the defeat of the Taira clan in the Genpei Wars (源平合戦), the samurai Minamoto no Yoritomo established a military government in the city of Kamakura, giving rise to the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代) that lasted until the year 1333. After his death, the Hōjō clan takes power as regent of the shōguns.

During the Kamakura period, Zen Buddhism is introduced and becomes tremendously popular among the samurai class. They also repelled the Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281.

In the year 1318 Go-Daigo Tennō (後醍醐天皇) assumed power after Hanazono Tennō (花園天皇) abdicated, beginning the Muromachi period (室町時代) between 1336 and 1573.

The later Ashikaga shogunate failed to control the feudal warlords (daimyōs) and a civil war began in 1467, opening the century-long period of Sengoku (“Warring States”).

In the 16th century, Portuguese merchants and Jesuit missionaries arrived for the first time in Japanese lands. Thanks to the commercial exchange with these, Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長) uses European technology and firearms to conquer many other daimyōs; his consolidation of power began what became known as the Azuchi-Momoyama (安土桃山時代) period.

Following Nobunaga’s death, his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified the nation in the early 1590s and launched two failed invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597.

Tokugawa Ieyasu served as regent for Hideyoshi’s son Toyotomi Hideyori, and used his position to gain political and military support.

At the Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の戦い) in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated rival clans, was appointed shōgun by Emperor Go-Yōzei (後陽成天皇) in 1603, and established the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo (present-day Tokyo). ).

The shogunate enacted measures including the buke shohatto, as a code of conduct to control autonomous daimyōs, and in 1639 the isolationist sakoku (“closed country”) policy that spanned the two and a half centuries of tenuous political unity known as the Edo period. (1603-1868).

Modern era.

In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry and the “Black Ships” of the United States Navy forced the opening of Japan to the outside world with the Convention of Kanagawa. Subsequent similar treaties with other Western countries caused a serious economic and political crisis.

The resignation of the shōgun led to the Boshin War (戊辰戦争) between 1868 and 1869, leading to the establishment of a nominally unified centralized state under the emperor, known as the Meiji Restoration (明治維新). Adopting Western political, judicial, and military institutions, the cabinet organized the Privy Council, introduced the Meiji Constitution, and assembled the Imperial Diet.

During the Meiji era (1868-1912), the Empire of Japan emerged as the most developed nation in Asia and an industrialized world power.

After victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Japan gains control of Taiwan, Korea, and the southern half of Sakhalin.
The beginning of the 20th century saw a period of Taishō democracy (1912-1926) overshadowed by increasing expansionism and militarization.

After the First World War Japan, as an allied power, takes control of the German possessions in the Pacific and in China.

In 1931, Japan invaded and occupied China’s Manchuria and in 1936 signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany; the Tripartite Pact of 1940 made it one of the Axis Powers.

The Empire of Japan invaded other parts of China in 1937, precipitating the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).

In 1940, the Empire invaded French Indochina. Following this, the United States imposed an oil embargo on Japan.

From December 7 to 8, 1941, Japanese forces carried out surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor, as well as British forces in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong, among others, beginning World War II in the Pacific.

After Allied victories over the next four years, culminating in the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender.

Allied occupation ended with the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952, and Japan was granted membership in the United Nations in 1956.

A period of record growth propelled Japan to become the world’s second largest economy; this ended in the mid-1990s after the bursting of an asset price bubble, beginning the “Lost Decade”.

Do you know Civitatis? Here you can find a multitude of activities, tickets, guided tours and much more.

2. Documents and visa.

To travel to Japan it is necessary to have a valid passport, whose validity covers the entire period of planned stay in the country, and a proof of return / return ticket.

The Japanese authorities are very demanding when it comes to examining tourists’ passports, and they cause problems at the entrance if it is damaged or has separate covers from the booklet. Therefore, if the document is not in perfect condition, it is recommended to renew it before traveling to the country, and in any case, refrain from trying to manipulate it. Likewise, entry into Japan is not allowed with passports that appear as canceled, so it is important not to travel with documents whose loss had been reported and later recovered, since these are considered invalid passports. It is also worth bearing in mind that passport renewals can only be processed through the Consular Section of the Spanish Embassy in Tokyo and that the passports are issued in Spain, so their renewal may be delayed.

During your stay in Japan, at any time the authorities may require you to show your passport or residence card. The DNI is not a valid document to travel to Japan.

It is not necessary to obtain a visa for stays of less than 90 days without work purposes. In all other cases, contact the Japanese Embassy in Spain or the General Consulates in Barcelona and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

It is illegal to work even temporarily or informally in Japan without a visa. Exceeding the maximum stay period can lead to criminal consequences and eventual prohibition of return to the country.

3. Transport.

Important: especially in big cities like Tokyo, you have to avoid rush hours that are from 7 to 9 in the morning and from 5 to 7 in the afternoon. Even so, the silence in transport is sepulchral and it is even mandatory to silence the mobile phone before entering. Of course, if you get on a train around 9 at night, you will coincide with many office workers returning home after spending time with colleagues drinking in the izakayas and then you will already be able to hear a brief murmur (in addition to a bit of vinegar smell).

The Japanese are really orderly. To enter the trains you will see them making two perfect lines on the sides of where the door is going to fall and you will see that no one will enter before those inside come out. Once they leave, you will see the human tide going up or down the stairs in perfect order without crossing the lines on the ground that divide both directions. It is spectacular. Another curiosity about the Japanese and transportation is how easy it is to fall asleep. You’ll see them asleep standing up holding on to the bar. Impressive.

1. Train.

Getting around by train is the most effective way. The trains are very punctual and have an incredible frequency, although it is quite expensive unless you have the Japan Rail Pass. The national train company is Japan Rail, although there are many private lines that complete the impressive Japanese train system.

You can purchase the JR Pass and receive it comfortably at home clicking here:

The Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) is a train pass in which you can make unlimited travel on all Japan Rail company trains except the NOZOMI, MIZUHO and HAYABUSA Shinkansen, which are the fastest.

The JR Pass can be purchased for 7, 14 or 21 days and has 2 classes: the Green Class, which is the first; and the standard class.

Class7 days14 days21 days
Standard (Children)¥14.820¥23.620¥30.220
Green Class¥39.600¥64.120¥93.390
Green Class (Children)¥19.800¥32.060¥41.690

The prices in this table are the official ones of JR but when you buy it, any agency will charge you a commission.

As a recommendation, I would tell you to study well the routes you are going to do to see if it compensates you. But for example, only Tokyo-Kyoto round trip is already ¥27,700 (€212.65-$253.53).

It can be purchased online and must be purchased within 90 days before activation. When you buy it, they send you a coupon that you will then have to redeem at one of the JR offices in Japan. If you arrive early you can activate it at the airport for the day you want to start using it. For example: you arrive at Narita on July 1 and there you can activate it on the fly but to use it from July 3.

You can activate it at all major stations in the country and at airports. Once we have the pass, to use it is very simple, next to the turnstiles of the stations there is a window where there is an employee who you have to show the back of the pass and let you pass.

As a recommendation, his thing is that before making a long trip, reserve a seat in any office one day before making the trip.

As of June 1, 2020, the format of the Japan Rail Pass is scheduled to change. It goes from being made of cardboard to a magnetic card and instead of going through the window, it will go through the turnstiles together with the rest of the passengers. It will certainly speed up travel a lot. Although we assume that with the COVID-19 pandemic it will have been postponed due to the closure of borders to tourists.

2. Bus.

In some cities the bus is essential, as in Kyoto where there are only two subway lines. One that goes from north to south and another from east to west.

Normally you enter through the back door where there is a machine from which a ticket comes out with the number or name of the stop where you get on. Above the driver you will see a screen or illuminated sign indicating the price to pay from each stop. For example: if you got on at stop number three you will see a box with that number and the price to pay at that time. Depending on which city or line it is, the price will go up. When you arrive at your stop, you insert the ticket and the exact money in coins into a machine next to the driver. If you don’t have loose money, don’t worry, you can change money in another machine that is in the same place.

The entrance is normally indicated with the kanji 入口 and exit by the one with 出口. Look carefully because in some cities it is done the other way around, you enter from the front and leave from behind.

In some cities, like Kyoto, the rate is flat and you always pay the same. In the rest you have to look at the type of tickets. If it is not in English, the kanjis to differentiate between them are: 大人 for adults and 小供 for children. If you find that the panel does not put anything, only the prices, logically the highest is for adults and the other for children. Always remember to ask at the tourist office for possible discount cards.

3. Alternatives to Hyperdia.

Hyperdia was a web/application that exactly indicated timetables, prices, platforms, etc… It was a truly complete and essential application until April 1, 2022, when it ceased to be functional.

Google Maps.

As in almost all countries, Google maps is a good alternative. It is quite complete and in Japan it even tells you the prices of the journey.

The disadvantage is that it does not clearly indicate the company that makes the journey. For example, if we want to go from Tokyo Station to Narita Airport:

This second option we can take the Ueno-Tokyo Line that does not indicate that it is from the JR company with what the JR PASS would be worth, but we must transfer to the Skyliner, which is from the KEISEI company and is not included in the pass.

Japan Travel by Navitime.

It is the best and most complete option. You can exclude some types of transportation and you can choose between JR Pass and other passes. In addition to covering train and flight connections, Navitime is particularly strong with bus connections throughout Japan and also covers driving routes, taxi fares, and expressway tolls.

The service is free and comes as a website and app.

Web: https://japantravel.navitime.com/en/area/jp/route/

Japan Transit Planner (Jorudan).

Jorudan has been involved in publishing and developing video games since 1991. Today it offers a website and an app, both of which come with free basic search features and some paid features. The free options available differ between the web and the app, with the app version being much higher than the website version.

Luckily, the free app offers the option to select JR company trains. It also indicates platform details and stations along the way. But only the app, not the web.

Web: https://world.jorudan.co.jp/mln/en/

3. Security in Japan.

Japan is a safe country, in fact it has the two safest cities in the world. Wherever you go, no matter how dark it is, you will never feel insecure.

You will be surprised how the stores close in the malls. In 2016 we “lost” the camera in Tokyo and it appeared. In 2018, while we were on the train platform, we bought some soft drinks from a machine and after a while we realized that my bag had fallen to the ground and people were avoiding it.

It also shocks how parked bikes are in cities like Tokyo without chains or clamps.

However, as in any part of the world, and although they are very infrequent, there can be some cases of theft of documentation, cards and cash, especially in certain bars in some nightlife neighborhoods of Tokyo (Roppongi, Kabukicho, Ikebukuro, Shibuya …). In the event of any difficulties, and before going to the embassy, it is advisable to go to a ‘koban’ (easily identifiable community police posts in cities) to report any of these events. The agents will be able to provide the tourist with the assistance that he may need or direct him to other types of public services, as the case may be. The police telephone number is 110 and the fire and ambulance telephone number is 119.

5. Health care.

To travel to Japan it is highly recommended to have medical insurance with the widest coverage possible, since health care can be really expensive. For the same reason, it is recommended that the insurance that is contracted does not imply that the insured must advance the expenses.

Sanitary conditions in Japan are good, and Japanese doctors and hospitals have a good reputation. One of the problems that foreigners often encounter is that of language, since few doctors and nurses speak English. Let’s hope we don’t have to use it.

Here you have a good specialist travel insurance, IATI. Also for being our reader you will have a 5% discount on all insurance:

Another thing to watch out for are mosquitoes. In Japan they are as big as sparrows and stings are horrible. We recommend bringing repellents or clothing patches.

6. Electricity.

The electric current throughout Japan is 100 volts, but there are two possible frequencies: 50 or 60 hertz. The plugs are two flat pins type A. Sometimes a current transformer is necessary. If your chargers put 110-220 you will not need a transformer. Yours is to buy an adapter. We always carry a universal adapter and a power strip to charge the two mobiles and the tablet or the camera battery.

7. Money.

As we all know, the currency of Japan is the Yen. The yen is a currency that fluctuates on the stock market so its exchange rate varies. What is worth €2 today may be worth €1.80 or €2.20 tomorrow.

In Japan, what is most used is cash. The use of the card is not widespread and in most small places such as restaurants and shops they do not charge with it. In any case, from the first time we were in 2016 to the next in 2018, we discovered that it is becoming more and more accepted. Still, make sure you always have plenty of cash in your pocket.

To get money the best option is the combinis. In most there are ATMs although in some they only accept Japanese cards. In many post offices too. In bank ATMs it is more complicated since they only accept Japanese cards.

Another thing is that in Japan there are no tips, never leave more money because they will return it to you.

When you go to pay, they will bring you a tray with both hands in which you must deposit the money, in which they will then return what is left over. Physical contact should always be avoided. Also, whenever you are going to give something remember to give it with both hands, using only one is not well seen.

8. Diaries of our travels:

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