Top tips

  • Take cash. Credit cards and ATMs do exist, but most villages are still very much a cash society.
  • Write the name of your destination, hotel, etc in Japanese characters on some paper in order to ask for help with directions.
  • Don’t tip – the Japanese prefer a sincere thank you and a polite bow.
  • Smile and say hello. You’ll find the Japanese to be the friendliest nation on Earth. Join in.
  • Try at least one new food per day. You may find something you’ll love forever.

Getting there

Japan's international gateway is Tokyo's Narita airport. From the US and Canada, All Nippon Airways (fly-ana.com), Japan Airlines (jal.co.jp/en), United Airlines (unitedairlines.com), Northwest (nwa.com) and Korean Air (koreanair.com) have regular serviced routes. From Europe, Air France (airfrance.com), JAL, British Airways (ba.com), Virgin (virgin-atlantic.com), Finnair (finnair.com), and ANA all fly direct to Tokyo. In addition, Cathay Pacific (cathaypacific.com), Austrian (aua.com), Emirates (emirates.com), Alitalia (alitalia.com), Korean Air, Asiana Airlines (flyasiana.com), Thai Air (thaiairways.com), Qatar (qatarairways.com), Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com), Malaysian Air (malaysianairlines.com), KLM (klm.com) and Aeroflot (Aeroflot.ru/eng) also offer connecting flights from mainland Europe. Lastly, Cathay Pacific, Garuda (garuda-indonesia.com), Qantas (qantas.com), Air New Zealand (airnewzealand.com) and JAL fly to and from Australia, while Malaysian Airlines and Thai Airlines also serve the New Zealand route. Internally, the main flight network is through ANA. Niseko, which is on a different island (Hokaidõ ) than Tokyo, is reached via Chitose airport just outside of the city of Sapporo, while Happo is on the same island (Honshü ) as Tokyo and can be reached by train. Those unwilling to fly to Japan can try the fantastic seat61.com for sea links to the Orient.

red tape

Visas required, but can be filled out on the flight over.

health

Japan has no health risks or dangerous animals to speak of. Standard travel insurance is essential as in most western countries. Hospitals and medical centres are well distributed with interpreters available at both Happo and Niseko.

eating

The main topic of conversation for travellers returning from Japan is usually the food. While sushi, sake, noodles and soy sauce have all been successfully exported from the country, a whole world of taste sensations awaits those who dare to enter the mysterious world of real Japanese cuisine. Thankfully, most restaurants print pictures of their dishes, enabling visitors to see what their food actually looks like. Whether that helps however, is another matter, as what counts as edible foods in Japan is clearly different from other cultures around the world. Generally speaking, if it can't be eaten raw (and there aren't many things, including squid, whole fish, most meats and vegetables that don't fit into this category) then the Japanese will usually try to pickle it. Rice is obviously very popular, but noodles are probably a close second. Fish and seafood are sold virtually everywhere (the Japanese equivalent of crisps would be dried, rolled fish parts sold on every street corner), while vending machines are happy to sell cans of hot corn soup or any of the many drinks that fall under the 'tea' division. If you have an adventurous palette, you'll relish the exciting challenge that Japan presents. You may even find a whole new world of tastes encompassed in one Bento Box.

crime & safety

Japan is perhaps the safest country in the world. Most foreigners are amazed to see the staggering number of Japanese people asleep in public places. While this would be unthinkable in most western countries, the idea of stealing someone's belongings while they're grabbing forty winks is clearly not widespread. Leaving boards outside restaurants is generally fine.

language

Japanese is the official language, although English is the first language of the Australian and Kiwi contingent – the people who will likely be organizing your trip to either Happo or Niseko. English is not well spoken by local businesses such as ticket desks, bus companies or lift operators. However, many signs are in English (including all road signs), and with patience, most transactions can be achieved using sign language and ingenuity. Numbers are the same as in western fonts, which helps enormously. If you do have problems, you'll find the Japanese only too willing to help.

getting around

Driving is on the left-hand side. All foreign nationals need an International Driving Permit (which you can get from you local driving authority – often without a re-test). The road standard in Japan is high, and easy for Australian, UK, Kiwi drivers and others used to driving on the left-hand side of the road. People drive with care and consideration and generally obey all signs. Japan's motorway network is not as good as its rail network, which is easily one of the best in the world. As a consequence, most longer trips are generally taken on the train. If you're planning on taking a high pass between resorts, it's essential to check whether it is open while planning the route.

car hire

Most major hire car companies (easycar.com, hertz.com, avis.com, etc) have offices in airports and cities. Usual age restrictions apply.

public transport

The Japanese 'Bullet' Train is an institution in itself – fast, efficient, cool and surprisingly good value. Most signs and machines have instructions in English, or station guards will be willing to help. Note that all queue lines and seat numbers are strictly adhered to by the Japanese, and confusion will result if you disregard these rules. Tokyo also has a fantastic underground and mono-rail system from its airports. For all rail info try Japan Rail (T33423 0111, japanrail.com).

opening hours

Shops have long opening hours in Japan. Most businesses open around 0800 and close around 1900.

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