If you can't find answers to your questions here, call the Tourist Information Center (tel. 03/3201-3331), open daily from 9am to 5pm; the city-run Tokyo Tourist Information Center (tel. 03/5321-3077), open daily from 9:30am to 6:30pm, or the TIC TOKYO (tel. 03/5220-7055), open daily 10am to 7pm. Another good source for information is the Foreign Residents' Advisory Center (tel. 03/5320-7744), which can answer a wide range of topics from problems concerning daily life in Japan and emergency numbers to Japanese customs; it's open Monday to Friday from 9:30am to noon and 1 to 5pm. Finally, if you're staying in a first-class hotel, another valuable resource is the concierge or guest-relations desk; the staff there can tell you how to reach your destination, answer general questions, and even make restaurant reservations for you.
Area Codes -- The area codes for Tokyo are tel. 3, if calling from abroad, and tel. 03, if calling from within Japan.
Babysitters -- Most major hotels can arrange babysitting services, but expect to pay a minimum of ¥5,000 for 2 hours. Some hotels have day-care centers for young children, though they are no less expensive.
Business Hours -- Government offices and private companies are generally open Monday through Friday 9am to 5pm. Banks are open Monday through Friday 9am to 3pm (but usually will not exchange money until 10:30 or 11am, after that day's currency exchange rates come in). Neighborhood post offices are open Monday through Friday 9am to 5pm; some major post offices (located in each ward) stay open until 7pm.
Department stores are open from about 10am to 8 or 9pm. Most are open daily but may close irregularly. Smaller stores are generally open from about 10am to 8pm, closed 1 day a week. Convenience stores such as 7-Eleven and Family Mart are open 24 hours.
Keep in mind that museums, gardens, and attractions stop selling admission tickets at least 30 minutes before the actual closing time. Similarly, restaurants take their last orders at least 30 minutes before the posted closing time (even earlier for kaiseki restaurants). Most museums are closed on Monday; if Monday is a national holiday, however, museums will usually remain open and close on the following day, Tuesday, instead.
Drinking Laws -- The legal drinking age is 20. Beer, wine, and spirits are readily available in grocery stores, some convenience stores, and liquor stores. Many bars, especially in nightlife districts such as Shinjuku and Roppongi, are open until dawn. If you intend to drive in Japan, you are not allowed even one drink.
Drugstores -- There is no 24-hour drugstore (kusuri-ya) in Tokyo, but ubiquitous 24-hour convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven, Lawson, and Family Mart, carry such things as aspirin. If you're looking for specific pharmaceuticals or familiar health-care products, a good bet is the American Pharmacy, in the basement of the Marunouchi Building, 2-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku (tel. 03/5220-7716; Mon-Fri 9am-9pm, Sat 10am-9pm, and Sun and holidays 10am-8pm). It carries imported cosmetics, vitamins, and other items and has many of the same over-the-counter drugs you can find at home (many of them imported from the U.S.) and can fill American prescriptions -- but note that you must first visit a doctor in Japan before foreign prescriptions can be filled, so it's best to bring an ample supply of any prescription medication with you.
Earthquakes -- Kobe's tragic 1995 earthquake brought world-wide attention to the fact that Japan is earthquake-prone. Approximately 200 earthquakes can be felt in Tokyo each year, but there are many more that are too small to detect. However, in the event of an earthquake you can feel, there are a few precautions you should take. If you're indoors, take cover under a doorway, against a wall, or under a table, and do not go outdoors. If you're outdoors, stay away from trees, power lines, and the sides of buildings; if you're surrounded by tall buildings, seek cover in a doorway. If you're near a beach or the bay, evacuate to higher ground to avoid danger in case of a tsunami. Never use elevators during a quake. You should be sure to note emergency exits wherever you stay. All hotels supply flashlights, usually found attached to your bedside table. In case of major emergencies, there are emergency shelters throughout the city.
Electricity -- The electricity throughout Japan is 100 volts AC, but there are two different cycles in use: In Tokyo and in regions northeast of the capital, it's 50 cycles, while in Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and all points to the southwest, it's 60 cycles. In any case, it's close enough to the American system that I've never encountered any problems plugging my American electronics, including laptops and camera rechargers. Leading hotels in Tokyo often have two outlets, one for 110 volts and one for 220 volts (with the appropriate plugs used in the U.S. and Europe), so you can use most American or European appliances (electric razors, travel irons, laptops, and so forth) during your stay. Otherwise, plugs are the same as in the U.S., two flat parallel pins.
Embassies & Consulates -- The visa or passport sections of most embassies are open only at certain times during the day, so it's best to call in advance.
U.S. Embassy: 1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku, near Toranomon subway station (tel. 03/3224-5000; http://japan.usembassy.gov; consular section Mon-Fri 8:30am-noon and Mon-Tues and Thurs-Fri 2-4pm; phone inquiries Mon-Fri 8:30am-1pm and 2-5:30pm).
Canadian Embassy: 7-3-38 Akasaka, Minato-ku, near Aoyama-Itchome Station (tel. 03/5412-6200; www.international.gc.ca/missions/japan-japon/menu-eng.asp; consular section Mon-Fri 9:30-11:30am; embassy Mon-Fri 9am-12:30pm and 1:30-5:30pm).
British Embassy: 1 Ichibancho, Chiyoda-ku, near Hanzomon Station (tel. 03/5211-1100; http://ukinjapan.fco.gov.uk/en; Mon-Fri 9am-12:30pm and 2-5:30pm; consulate inquiries Mon-Fri 9:15am-2:15pm).
Embassy of Ireland: Ireland House, 2-10-7 Kojimachi, Chiyoda-ku, near Hanzomon Station, exit 3 (tel. 03/3263-0695; www.irishembassy.jp; Mon-Fri 10am-12:30pm and 2-4pm).
Australian Embassy: 2-1-14 Mita, Minato-ku, near Azabu-Juban Station, exit 2 (tel. 03/5232-4111; www.australia.or.jp; consular section Mon-Fri 9am-5:30pm; embassy Mon-Fri 9am-12:30pm and 1:30-5pm).
New Zealand Embassy: 20-40 Kamiyama-cho, Shibuya-ku, a 15-minute walk from Shibuya Station (tel. 03/3467-2271; www.nzembassy.com/japan; Mon-Fri 9am-5:30pm; call for consular hours).
Emergencies -- The national emergency numbers are tel. 110 for police and tel. 119 for ambulance and fire (ambulances are free in Japan unless you request a specific hospital). You do not need to insert any money into public telephones to call these numbers. However, if you use a green public telephone, it's necessary to push a red button before dialing. If you call from a gray public telephone or one that accepts only prepaid cards, you won't see a red button; it that case simply lift the receiver and dial.
Hospitals -- Large hospitals in Japan are open only a limited number of hours (designated hospitals remain open for emergencies, however, and an ambulance will automatically take you there). Otherwise, you can make appointments at these hospital clinics to see a doctor: The International Catholic Hospital (Seibo Byoin), 2-5-1 Naka-Ochiai, Shinjuku-ku, near Mejiro Station on the Yamanote Line (tel. 03/3951-1111; http://catholic-toshima.web9.jp/english/seibohospital.html; clinic hours Mon-Sat 8-11am; closed third Sat each month; walk-ins accepted); St. Luke's International Hospital (Seiroka Byoin), 9-1 Akashi-cho, Chuo-ku, near Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya Line (tel. 03/3541-5151; www.luke.or.jp; Mon-Fri 8:30-11am; appointment necessary for some treatments); and Japan Red Cross Medical Center (Nihon Sekijujisha Iryo Center), 4-1-22 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku (tel. 03/3400-1311; www.ned.jrc.or.jp; Mon-Fri 8:30-11am; walk-ins only), whose closest subway stations are Roppongi, Hiroo, and Shibuya -- from there, you should take a taxi.
Otherwise, many first-class hotels offer medical facilities or an in-house doctor. Both your embassy and the AMDA International Medical Information Center (tel. 03/5285-8088; www.amdainternational.com; Mon-Fri 9am-5pm) can refer you to medical professionals who speak English.
The following clinics have some English-speaking staff and are popular with foreigners living in Tokyo: Tokyo Midtown Medical Center, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins and located on the sixth floor of Midtown Tower, 9-7-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, near Roppongi Station (tel. 03/5413-7911; www.tokyomidtown-mc.jp; Mon-Fri 10:30am-1pm; accepts walk-ins, appointment, and emergencies); The International Clinic, 1-5-9 Azabudai, Minato-ku, within walking distance of Roppongi or Azabu-Juban stations (tel. 03/3582-2646; Mon-Fri 9am-noon and 2-5pm, Sat 9am-noon; walk-ins only); and Tokyo Medical & Surgical Clinic, 3-4-30 Shiba-koen, Minato-ku, near Kamiyacho, Onarimon, or Shiba-koen stations and across from Tokyo Tower (tel. 03/3436-3028; www.tmsc.jp; Mon-Fri 9-11:30am and 2-4:30pm, Sat 9am-noon; appointment only).
At the Tokyo Medical & Surgical Clinic, above, is the Tokyo Clinic Dental Office (tel. 03/3431-4225; Mon-Thurs 9am-6pm and Sat 9am-5pm). Just a 3-minute walk away is the United Dental Office, 2-3-8 Azabudai, Minato-ku (tel. 03/5570-4334; http://uniteddentaloffice.com; Mon-Tues and Thurs-Sat 9am-1pm and 2-6pm). Tokyo Midtown Medical Center also has a Dental Clinic; call tel. 03/5413-7912 for an appointment.
Language -- English is widely understood in major hotels, restaurants, and shops, but it's hit-or-miss elsewhere.
Laundromats -- All upper- and most midrange hotels offer laundry and dry-cleaning services (but it's expensive, with a laundered shirt costing about ¥400). Note that for same-day service, it's usually necessary to hand over your laundry by 10am. Many hotels do not offer laundry service on Sundays or holidays. Several Japanese-style accommodations in the budget category have coin-operated washers. Otherwise, coin laundries (as they're known in Japan) can be found in residential areas; ask your hotel for the nearest one. Many hotel guest rooms have a pull-out laundry line over the tub for hand washables.
Legal Aid -- Contact your embassy if you find yourself in legal trouble. The Legal Counseling Center, 1-4 Yotsuya, Shinjuku (tel. 03/5367-5280; www.horitsu-sodan.jp; station: Yotsuya), is operated by three bar associations and provides legal counseling with English interpreters Monday to Friday 1 to 4pm.
Lost & Found -- If you've forgotten something on a subway, in a taxi, or on a park bench, don't assume it's gone forever -- if you're willing to trace it, you'll probably get it back. If you can remember where you last saw it, the first thing to do is telephone the establishment or return to where you left it; there's a good chance it will still be sitting there. If you've lost something on the street, go to the nearest police box (koban); items found in the neighborhood will stay there for 3 days or longer.
If you've lost something in a taxi, have someone who speaks Japanese contact the Tokyo Taxi Center, 7-3-3 Minamisuma, Koto-ku (tel. 03/3648-0300). For JR trains, go to the nearest station master's office (usually near the exit) or call the JR East Infoline (tel. 050/2016-1603). For items lost in the subway, go to the nearest subway station; after 1 day, lost items are kept at Ueno Station's Lost and Found Center (tel. 03/3834-5577) for 3 to 4 days.
Eventually, every unclaimed item in Tokyo ends up at the Central Lost and Found Office of the Metropolitan Police Board, 1-9-11 Koraku, Bunkyo-ku (tel. 03/3814-4151; Mon-Fri 8:30am-5:15pm; station: Iidabashi).
Be sure to notify all your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen, and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Visa's emergency number in Japan is tel. 00531/11-1555. American Express cardholders can call tel. 03/3220-6220, and for traveler's checks it's tel. 0120/779-656. MasterCard holders should call tel. 00531/11-3886 in Japan, and Diner's Club holders should call tel. 0120-074-024 in Japan.
Luggage & Lockers -- At Narita International Airport, delivery service counters will send luggage to your hotel the next day (or from your hotel to the airport) for about ¥1,690 to ¥2,000 per bag. Coin-operated lockers are located at all major JR stations, such as Tokyo, Shinjuku, and Ueno, as well as at most subway stations. Lockers cost ¥300 to ¥600 per day, depending on the size.
Mail -- If your hotel cannot mail letters for you, ask the concierge for the location of the nearest post office, recognizable by the red logo of a capital T with a horizontal line over it. Mailboxes are bright orange-red; the left slot is for domestic mail while the slot on the right is for mail to foreign countries. It costs ¥110 to airmail letters weighing up to 25 grams and ¥70 to mail postcards to North America and Europe. Domestic mail costs ¥80 for letters weighing up to 25 grams, and ¥50 for postcards. Post offices throughout Japan are also convenient for their ATMs, which accept international bank cards operating on the PLUS and Cirrus systems, as well as MasterCard and Visa.
Although all post offices are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, major post offices in each ward remain open to 7pm. The Shibuya Central Post Office, 1-12-13 Shibuya (tel. 03/5469-9907; station: Shibuya), has longer business hours than most: Monday through Friday 9am to 9pm; and Saturday, Sunday, and holidays 9am to 7pm. An after-hours counter remains open throughout the night for mail and packages, making it the only 24-hour post office in town. Note: The Central Post Office, built in 1931 near Tokyo Station, is closed for major renovation until approximately 2012.
As for mailing packages, your hotel may have a shipping service. Otherwise, you can mail packages abroad only at larger post offices. Conveniently, they sell cardboard boxes in several sizes with the necessary tape. Packages mailed abroad cannot weigh more than 20kg (about 44 lb.). A package weighing 10kg (about 22 lb.) will cost ¥6,750 to North America via surface mail and will take about a month to arrive. Express packages, which take 3 days to North America and can weigh up to 30kg (66 lb.), cost ¥12,550 for 10kg (22 lb.).
For English-language postal information, call tel. 0570-046111 Monday through Friday between 8am and 10pm, weekends and holidays between 9am and 10pm, or check the website www.post.japanpost.jp.
Newspapers & Magazines -- Three English-language newspapers are published daily in Japan: the Japan Times and the Daily Yomiuri (the former with a weekly supplement from The Observer and the latter with a weekly supplement from The Washington Post), as well as the International Herald Tribune/Asahi Shimbun. Hotels and major bookstores carry the international editions of such newsmagazines as Time and Newsweek. You can also read the Japan Times online at www.japantimes.co.jp and the Daily Yomiuri at www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy.
Police -- The national emergency telephone number is tel. 110. For nonemergency criminal matters or concerns, the Metropolitan Police Department maintains an English-language telephone counseling service for foreigners at tel. 03/3501-0110 Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5:15pm.
Smoking -- The legal age for purchasing tobacco products and smoking in Japan is 20. Smoking is banned in public areas, including train and subway stations and office buildings. In most wards (city districts), nonsmoking ordinances ban smoking on sidewalks but allow it in marked "Smokers Corner" areas, usually near train stations. Many restaurants have nonsmoking sections, though bars do not.
Taxes -- A 5% consumption tax is imposed on goods and services in Japan, including hotel rates and restaurant meals. Although hotels and restaurants are required to include the tax in their published rates, you might come across one that has yet to comply (especially on English-language menus which may not be updated regularly). In Tokyo, hotels also levy a separate accommodations tax of ¥100 per person per night on rooms costing ¥10,000 to ¥14,999; rates ¥15,000 and up are taxed at ¥200 per night per person. Some hotels include the local tax in their published rack rates; others do not.
In addition to these taxes, a 10% to 15% service charge will be added to your bill in lieu of tipping at most of the fancier restaurants and at moderately priced and upper-end hotels. Thus, the 15% to 20% in tax and service charge that will be added to your bill in the more expensive locales can really add up. Most ryokan, or Japanese-style inns, include a service charge but not a consumption tax in their rates. If you're not sure, ask. Business hotels, minshuku (private-home lodging), youth hostels, and inexpensive restaurants do not impose a service charge.
As for shopping, a 5% consumption tax is also levied on most goods. (Some of the smaller vendors are not required to levy tax.) Travelers from abroad, however, are eligible for an exemption on goods taken out of the country, although only the larger department stores and specialty shops seem equipped to deal with the procedures. In any case, most department stores grant a refund on the consumption tax only when the total amount of purchases for the day exceeds ¥10,000. You can obtain a refund immediately by having a sales clerk fill out a list of your purchases and then presenting the list to the tax-exemption counter of the department store; you will need to show your passport. Note that no refunds for consumption tax are given for food, drinks, tobacco, cosmetics, film, or batteries.
Telephones -- For directory assistance in Tokyo, dial tel. 104.
Television -- Almost nothing is broadcast in English; even foreign films are dubbed in Japanese. Most upper-range hotels, however, offer bilingual televisions (meaning you can switch the language from Japanese to English, but only if the program or movie was originally in English), though very few (and fairly dated) English movies and sitcoms are broadcast each week. The plus of bilingual TV is that you can listen to the nightly national news broadcast by NHK at 7 and 9pm. Otherwise, major hotels in Tokyo have cable TV with English-language programs, including CNN broadcasts (sometimes in Japanese only) and BBC World as well as in-house pay movies. But even if you don't understand Japanese, I suggest that you watch TV at least once; maybe you'll catch a samurai series or a sumo match. Commercials are also worth watching. Note: Japan switches from analog to digital broadcasting in July 2011. Many hotels have already replaced their old TV sets with new equipment, but some of the cheapest accommodations may upgrade only a few rooms at a time because of the extra expense.
A word on those pay video programs offered by hotels and many resort ryokan: Upper-range hotels usually have a few choices in English, and these are charged automatically to your bill. Most business hotels usually offer only one kind of pay movie -- generally "adult entertainment" programs. If you're traveling with children, you'll want to be extremely careful about selecting your TV programs. Many adult video pay channels appear with a simple push of the channel-selector button, and they can be difficult to get rid of. In budget accommodations, you may come across televisions with coin boxes attached to their sides or, more common nowadays, vending machines in the hallway offering prepaid cards. These are also for special adult entertainment videos. Now you know.
Time -- Japan is 9 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, 14 hours ahead of New York, 15 hours ahead of Chicago, and 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Because Japan does not go on daylight saving time, subtract 1 hour from the above times if you're calling the United States in the summer.
Because Japan is on the other side of the International Date Line, you lose a day when traveling from the United States to Asia (if you depart the U.S. on Tues, you'll arrive on Wed). Returning to North America, however, you gain a day, which means that you arrive on the same day you leave. (In fact, it can happen that you arrive in the U.S. at a time earlier than when you departed from Japan.)
Tipping -- One of the delights of being in Japan is that there is no tipping -- not even to waitresses, taxi drivers, or bellhops. If you try to tip them, they'll probably be confused or embarrassed. Instead, you'll have a 10% to 15% service charge added to your bill at higher-priced accommodations and restaurants. That being said, you might want to tip, say, your room attendant at a high-class ryokan if you've made special requests or meals are served in your room; in that case, place crisp, clean bills (¥3,000 to ¥5,000) in a white envelope on the table of your room at the beginning of your stay; but it's perfectly fine, too, if you choose not to tip.
Toilets -- If you're in need of a restroom in Tokyo, your best bets are train and subway stations, big hotels, department stores, and fast-food chains such as McDonald's. Use of restrooms is free in Japan, and though most public facilities supply toilet paper, it's a good idea to carry a packet of tissues.
In parks and some restaurants, especially in rural areas, don't be surprised if you go into some restrooms and find men's urinals and private stalls in the same room. Women are supposed to walk right past the urinals without noticing them.
Many toilets in Japan, especially those at train stations, are Japanese-style toilets: They're holes in the ground over which you squat facing the end that has a raised hood. Men stand and aim for the hole. Although Japanese lavatories may seem uncomfortable at first, they're actually much more sanitary because no part of your body touches anything.
Otherwise, Western-style toilets in Japan are usually very high-tech. Called washlets, these combination toilet/bidets have heated toilet seats, buttons and knobs directing sprays of water of various intensities to various body parts, and even lids that raise when you open the stall. But alas, instructions are usually in Japanese only. The voice of experience: Don't stand up until you've figured out how to turn the darn spray off.
Visas -- Most foreign tourists, including Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and citizens of the United Kingdom and Ireland, do not need visas to visit Japan. Nationals of countries that do not have reciprocal visa exemption arrangements with Japan must obtain a visa. A Temporary Visitor's Visa allows tourists to stay in Japan for up to 90 days. Applicants must apply in person to a Japanese Embassy or a consulate with a valid passport, two passport photos taken within the past 6 months, two official visa application forms, and documents certifying the purpose of the visit.
Water -- The water is safe to drink anywhere in Japan, although some people claim it's too highly chlorinated. Bottled water is readily available.