Visas: US passport holders, most EU residents and visitors from Australia do not require a visa if staying in Japan for less than 90 days. South African residents are amongst those who are required to get a visa.
Public holidays: 1, 2 and 3 Jan; Adults Day (15 Jan); National Founding (11 Feb); Vernal Equinox (21 March); Emperor’s Birthday (29 April), Constitution Memorial Day (3 May); Children’s Day (5 May); Respect for the Aged Day (15 Sept); Autumn Equinox (23 Sept); Health-Sports Day (10 Oct); Culture Day (3 Nov); Labour Thanksgiving (23 Nov).
Good buys: Electronic equipment, pearls, Japanese arts and crafts and toys.
Local dishes: Japan’s cuisine is much more varied than the sushi, tempura and sukiyaki for which it is best known. The main restaurant types include shokudo (all round eateries), izakaya (offering pub-style atmospheres and food), okonomiyaki restaurants, where diners choose a mixture of meat, seafood and vegetables to fry up in a cabbage and vegetable batter, and robatayaki (a type of rustic drinking restaurant specialising in charcoal grills).
Funny fact: Many Japanese golfers have a hole-in one insurance. This is because in Japan it is traditional to share your good luck by sending gifts to all your friends when you get an “Ace”, which means that the price could run into the thousands!
Good reading: Alan Booth’s The Roads to Sata charts a four-month journey on foot from the northern tip of Hokkaido to Sata, the southern tip of Kyushu. Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson recounts his hitch-hiking travels from one coast of Japan to the other, along the path of the sakura (cherry blossom). And Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden, traces the life story of a Japanese woman, from her humble beginnings in a small fishing village to her career in the glamorous and decadent Kyoto of the 1930s.