State of the Map 2017/Travel advice

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The information below has been collected in order to help with your SotM2017 travel.

It is not an "official" guideline and some of the information may be out of date when you read it.

Feel free to double-check it and please enrich it.

Print outs

Some handy print outs:


Always carry your passport with you, otherwise you could be fined.


Before going to Japan ask at your bank about the daily withdrawal limit and overseas usage of your card.

Bring cash in JPY!

  • Japanese ATMs generally do not accept foreign cards and the availability of credit card advances is spotty. There are exceptions ("Read")
  • Exchange rates at the airport are not good
  • Although most stores and hotels serving foreign customers take credit cards, many businesses such as cafés, bars, grocery stores, and even smaller hotels and inns do not.
  • Banks are often reluctant or unwilling to give cash advances to foreigners, stemming mainly from stereotypes of untrustworthiness.  If you need to get a cash advance from your bank, care of a Japanese bank, Japanese language proficiency, or a Japanese friend to vouch for you will strongly help your case.


Using your foreign bank card in Japan

  • Your card may work with a Citibank ATM and these are open 24 hours. You’ll only find Citibank branches in the larger cities and at major airports. These allow withdrawal of as little as ¥2000.
  • Japanese convenience stores 7-11s have ATMs that accept most foreign-issued cards (but there is a chance your card may not be accepted). These stores are open 24hrs.
  • Post offices have ATMs that might work with your card.

Exchanging your currency for Yen

You can exchange foreign cash (depending on the currency) at discount ticket shops, post offices, banks, some large hotels and department stores.
  • Banks: most banks will exchange major currencies. normal operating hours ~ 9am to 3pm/5pm on weekdays only.
  • Post offices: will exchange major currencies. normal operating hours ~ 9am to 5pm on weekdays, central post offices in cities open weekends too.
  • Discount ticket shops (“kinken shops”): some of them exchange foreign cash for JPY. They are usually located near train stations in large cities and you’ll usually get a slightly better rate than at other places.


Expect high humidity, occasional rain and thunderstorms.




Add a translation app to your smartphone before you go and download the offline pack if applicable, and learning just a few simple words of Japanese will be hugely appreciated. Few people speak English - however everyone is extremely helpful if you look lost or confused.

Phrasebooks and vocabulary:

Travel by train


Tickets and timetable

Ordering tickets

It is not possible to order tickets online for most rail routes. For those routes that do offer online reservation you must pick up your ticket at least the day before you travel, otherwise it is cancelled and you are charged the cancellation fee! As such most people make reservations in person at the ticket office. You can reserve tickets for the same day or a future date.


Use where you can check times and prices (but not book tickets).

JR Pass

Recommendation: JR pass

JR Passes are offered to visitors to Japan only and can be a great way to save money on train travel. If you intend to travel to and from State of the Map by Shinkansen ("Bullet train") from any tokyo airport, then the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) offers immediate savings.

Buy online

You can buy the passes online to get the best price. Look for delivery by email (48hour delivery):

Pick-up locations

If you have been sent an e-voucher, or you would like to purchase the pass when you land in Japan, then you will need to go to one of the pick up locations. The main ones you are likely to need are listed below. For a full list see here.

  • Haneda Airport International Terminal
    • JR EAST Travel Service Center (Tokyo Monorail 2F Ticket Gate / Arrival Lobby): Open 7:45-18:30

Travelling by train 


  • Get your lunch (an eki-ben) on the platform before you leave unless you want to do it in style (i.e. at greater expense) in the dining car.

Travelling by Metro & Train 

You can get a Suica transport card for travel in Tokyo (


  • Travel outside of rush hour (7 am to 9 am is the most intense time, and 5 pm to 7 pm is crowded but slightly less so).
  • Sunday afternoons will be busy, and so will holidays.
  • The last train in Tokyo metro starts exactly at midnight.
  • Map your course wisely: Try to avoid sections that a lot of workers commute to. Japan Guide advises avoiding
    • Nakano to Shinjuku (JR Chuo Line),
    • Kinshicho to Ryogoku (JR Sobu Line),
    • Kiba to Monsen Nakacho (Tokyo Metro Tozai Line),
    • Ikejiri Ohashi to Shibuya (Tokyu Denentoshi Line) and
    • Kawasaki to Shinagawa (JR Tokaido Line)
  • Get in line: all Japanese waiting for the train or metro will strictly wait in line of two, or following the proper demarcation lines painted on the floor.
  • Tokyo apps:
  • During rush hour, some train lines designate the first or last car to be for women only.

Travelling by bus



Climate appropriate clothing

  • Due to the humidity, prefer natural fabrics.
  • Consider packing a raincoat (but you can find many umbrellas there).


  • Do not show any cleavage. You'll be stared at a lot more than you would otherwise be if you show any.
  • Do wear mini-skirts if you want.
  • Avoid an all-black look - this is associated with funerals.
  • Sleeveless blouses and spaghetti tops are considered inappropriate by the older generation and you might get more stares.
  • Shopping for clothes: it might be difficult to find clothes at your size (unless you are very petite)


  • Avoid wearing a black tie as it is associated with funerals.

Shoes and socks

  • Pack comfortable shoes that are easy to remove.
  • Pack socks without holes, as you will take off your shoes often.
  • Do not bring flip-flops (but sandals might be ok).

Electronics and internet

Electrical systems

  • Power sockets: A and B type Japanese electrical plugs have two, flat, non-polarized pins. Unless you are travelling from North America you will need an adapter.
  • The voltage in Japan is 100 Volt (North America: 120V, Central Europe:230V)
  • Most power adapter for laptops and USB chargers will accept 110v or 220v and will work fine but double check!
  • Probably won't work: hair dryers.



  • GSM-only phones do not work.
  • Most newer phone models can be used.
  • You can rent a Japanese sim card, if your phone is compatible. To use it you must have an unlocked 3G or 4G cellphone that supports the 3G Band 1, 19 or 4G Band 1, 3, 19, 21.
  • You can rent a phone with a Japanese sim card.


Companies that rent phones or sims:
Cellular phone/wifi rental at Narita airport:

RentafoneJapan, JALABC, Softbank, Global Advanced Comm, so-net, IIJ, BIC SIM, OCN Mobile One, bmobile


Tokyo doesn't have free WiFi in all cafes or malls etc, so you may want to take a portable wifi with you.

Rent a pocket wifi

  • A pocket wifi is a great solution, especially for families and groups and those with locked phones (which can’t use other SIM cards).
  • The disadvantage of a pocket wifi (if you intent to use it all day) is that you might need a power pack for that.
  • Some companies send the pocket wi-fi to your hotel or you can pick-it up at the airport.


Companies that provide pocket wifi: Ninja Wifi Sakura Mobile Pupuru Wifi Genki Mobile

Rent a data sim

  • To use a SIM card you must have an unlocked 3G or 4G cellphone that supports the 3G Band 1, 19 or 4G Band 1, 3, 19, 21.


Buying electrical appliances in Japan

Look for equipment specifically made for oversea tourists.

Stay safe

General tips

Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Nonetheless, it always pays to be careful in crowds, to keep money and important documents hidden, and to keep a low profile.

In general:

Read: (pages 5 and 22),

Travel insurance

We advise that you take out travel insurance covering your trip. E.g.

Emergency numbers

  • 110 (百十番 hyakutoban) - To call the police in an emergency.
  • 03-3501-0110 - Tokyo police English helpline, available Monday through Friday except on holidays 08:30-17:15.
  • 119 - Ambulance or fire truck.

Avoiding scams

Red-light districts in large cities can be seedy but are rarely dangerous for visitors, but some smaller backstreet bars have been known to lay down exorbitant cover charges or drink prices. In some extreme cases, foreigners have reported being drugged at such establishments and then charged for as much as ¥700,000, or close to $7000, for drinks that they do not remember ordering (notably in the Roppongi and Kabuki-cho districts of Tokyo). Never go into a place that is suggested by someone that you just met, and you will avoid that problem

Find the address and phone number of your country's Embassy in Tokyo, before coming.


General Etiquette

  • Do not speak loudly.
  • Avoid excessive physical and eye contact. Avoid pointing at people (if you want to point, use your whole hand, not your finger).
  • It is polite to put "-san" after another's name, or "-chan" after a young girls name, or "-kun" after a boy's name, but do not use these after your own.
  • If you have to blow your nose, leave the room, or at the very least try to face away from other people.
  • If you ask a Japanese person to do something and they tilt their head away from you, it's a sign of strong reluctance or a polite refusal.
  • It's polite to initially refuse someone's offer of help. Japanese may also initially refuse your offer even if they really want it. Traditionally an offer is made 3 times. It may be better to state you'll carry their bag, call a taxi, etc., instead of pushing them to be polite and refuse.
  • It's polite to belittle the value of your gift or food when you offer it, even if it's blatantly untrue.
  • Japanese often compliment each other to promote good will, but it is polite to deny how well you speak Japanese, how nice you look, etc.
  • The Japanese gesture for "Come here" is to put your hand palm out, fingers up, and raise and lower your fingers a few times. The western gesture of palm-up, closing your hand is only used to call animals to you.
  • In Japan 4 and 9 are "unlucky" numbers, and especially older Japanese tend to be superstitious, so avoid giving gift sets of 4 or 9.
  • Hand things with both hands, otherwise it is considered impolite.
  • Be overtly admiring of any business cards you are given.

Outdoor Etiquette

  • Do not eat or drink while walking outside - it is considered undignified. Go to the side, eat or drink and then continue to walk.
  • On escalators, stay on the left side if you plan to just stand and not climb them - except for Osaka which is the opposite.

Indoor Etiquettes 

Taking off Your Shoes

  • Shoes  are  removed  when  entering  households  in  Japan.  They are  left  in  the  foyer  and,  in  many  cases, traded  for  house  slippers.  You  are  expected  to  remove  them  when  entering  a  room  with  a tatami floor. Some public places such as hospitals where there are a number of
  • people using the facilities, however, may let you come inside with your outdoor shoes on or offer slippers to wear in place of shoes.
  • Don't wear your slippers into the genkan (at the entrance to a home, where the shoes are kept), nor outside.

Eating and drinking

  • Do not  use your chopsticks to point at somebody.
  • Do not  leave your chopsticks standing up out of your food.
  • Do not pour your own drink when eating with others--you pour your companion's drink and your companion pours yours.
  • Do not put soy sauce on your rice.
  • Do not put sugar or cream in Japanese tea.
  • Use the moist rolled-up towel given to you at restaurant only to wipe your hands with. It's impolite to wipe your face and neck with it.
  • Do not leave a mess on your plate--fold your napkins neatly.
  • Do make slurping sounds when eating noodles. It is customary and shows enjoyment of the food.
  • Do not give money to the waiter/waitress. It is normal to pay a restaurant or bar bill at the register.
  • Eat all your rice in Japan. Leaving food behind is rude esp if it is rice bits. When you scrape food off your rice cooker, you need to take everything, leaving little bits is ruder than leaving a lot. If you just can't finish your food that you got at a restaurant then you can leave some behind, but try to finish everything at home and at your friends house.

Public baths

  • If you have any tattoos, it's better to hide them.



Restrooms and toilet paper

  • There are two styles of toilets in Japan. One is a squat toilet, which is known as washikior Japanese-style toilet  set  horizontally into  the  floor and you face the hemispherical hood; another is the Western-style flush toilet, which is called youshiki. Most public places have both styles of toilet.
  • Restrooms at  restaurants  and  private  houses sometimes have a  pair of slippers you can wear inside the facilities. Do not forget to take them off when you leave. Public restrooms may not always have toilet paper; women may want to carry some tissue paper just in case.
  • In Japan, shut the toilet door after you are done using the toilet.

Post offices

The symbol of post offices and mail boxes in Japan is a capital letter T with a bar over it (〒). In addition to offering postal services such as parcels,  printed matter, express mail and telegrams, post offices handles banking and insurance.


Do not speak loudly or make loud noises in daily life in general. Be careful with the volume on the television and radio, sounds of musical instruments, loud voices.


Only ride a bike that you have registered at the police station. A police station registration is easy, short and only costs 500 yen. NEVER borrow a bike - you might end up in jail.


Very limited selection, Japanese don't use them.


Some medicine are not allowed, e.g. common medical nasal sprays.

Checklist before you travel


  • Passport (and a photocopy of it)
  • Visa (if needed, and a photocopy of it)
  • Flight tickets
  • Train vouchers
  • Travel insurance (please share this info with someone close to you)

Mobile apps

  • Map related (OsmAnd,, Vespucci etc)
  • Translation apps
  • Tokyo metro app

Email related

Saving important information offline or printing
Please save offline or print before you reach Japan any information in your email that is important for your travel. Depending on your email provider, there is a small chance that trying to log-in from a different country and perhaps a different device might lock you out of your email account.

For Email users who have enabled 2 Factor authentication (receiving codes by phone)
Please note that your phone might not work in Japan (it will definitely not work if it is a GSM phone). It might be a good idea to generate some back-up codes before you leave your country. Please save the codes offline/print them.

Information to know/have with you

  • Before going to Japan ask at your bank about the daily withdrawal limit and overseas usage of your card.
  • Address and phone number of your country's Embassy in Tokyo
  • Information of your credit card (in case you lose it)
  • International phone number of your bank, in case you lose your credit card
  • Your phone's PUK number (in case it gets accidentally locked)

Photocopies of

  • Passport
  • Visa (if a visa is necessary)


  • Cash (in JPY)
  • Medicine
  • Chargers
  • tissues or microfiber travel towel (towels or hand-driers are rarely provided in public toilets)

Miscellaneous notes

Quiet places: Kagurazaka Shibamata

fashion -2nd hand: Shimokitazawa