Japan experiences four distinct seasons:
- Spring (March-May) is the best time of year to visit Japan. The temperatures are warm and there is not much rain. In addition, March and April brings the cherry blossoms (“sakura”) and there are many festivals surrounding this event.
- Summer (June-August) brings the rainy season from June through July with July through August being extremely hot (reaching 90º) and humid. However, there are an abundance of festivals and fireworks shows throughout this season.
- Autumn (September-November) is also a great time to visit Japan. Temperatures and humidity are milder and the autumn foliage is beautiful. However, typhoons often hit the southern parts of Japan in early autumn, with heavy rains and strong winds.
- Winter (December-February) can become quite cold, especially in the north (Hokkaido) where snow is abundant. The Pacific coast will usually see a milder winter than the side closest to the Sea of Japan.
The national language spoken by the majority of the population is Japanese. Although most schools require students to take English courses, English is not commonly spoken and most will be hesitant or embarrassed to speak it.
The written language is comprised of kanji (Chinese characters), katakana, and hiragana. The difference between the latter two is stylistic with hiragana being the default syllabic script and katakana used for borrowed foreign words and interjections.
National Holidays and Festivals
January 1 – New Year’s Day
2nd Monday of January – Coming of Age Day
April 27 to May 6 – Golden Week
3rd Monday of September – Respect for the Aged Day
2nd Monday of October – Sports Day
November 3 – Culture Day
November 23 – Labor Thanksgiving Day
December 23 – The Emperor’s Birthday
March or April – Hanami (Cherry Blossom Viewing)
Throughout summer – Various local festivals (“matsuri”) and fireworks competitions
Mid-July in eastern Japan & mid-August in western Japan – Obon (largest summer festival honoring departed ancestral spirits)
The official currency is the yen (JPY). The exchange rate as of Feb 2010 is 90 yen to US$1.
Japan is a mainly cash society and it is quite safe to carry large amounts of cash with you, as the locals do.
You will get the best rates when exchanging your money at the Japanese post offices. Traveler’s checks will have a slightly better exchange rate than cash.
Bargaining is not common but may be done is some of the smaller shops.
Tipping is not customary and will likely be refused.
100V/50 or 60Hz (American plug)