Living in Japan/Getting to Japan
If you plan to work or study in Japan, you should obtain a visa before traveling to Japan. Japanese visas are issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) through Japanese embassies and consulates in your home country. MOFA maintains a comprehensive guide to visas on its website.
Your employer or school in Japan will most likely provide you with a "Certificate of Eligibility." This is a document issued by the Ministry of Justice, which shows that you have fulfilled the legal criteria to obtain permission to enter Japan. The certificate does not entitle you to enter Japan. Instead, it expedites the process of obtaining a visa and obtaining landing permission upon your arrival.
Once you have a Certificate of Eligibility, you can provide it to your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate, along with a visa application form and your passport. Visas are usually issued within a few business days, unless there is an obvious problem with the Certificate of Eligibility: in that case, the embassy will have to contact the Ministry of Justice in Tokyo, which will delay the visa application.
If you do not have a Certificate of Eligibility, you must submit additional documentation to the embassy in order to obtain a visa. The required documentation varies based on which type of visa you seek. The MOFA guide to visas contains a complete list of required documents.
Once you enter Japan, the Ministry of Justice will grant you "landing permission" to engage in the activities provided for by your visa. At this point, any issues regarding the legality of your stay in Japan will be handled by the Immigration Bureau, which is a unit of the Ministry of Justice.
Working holiday program
Nationals of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, South Korea, New Zealand and the United Kingdom can take advantage of Japan's "working holiday" visa. You do not need a Japanese contact to get this visa: it is available to just about everyone between 18 and 30. However, it has a maximum duration of one year (18 Months for Australia), and cannot be extended beyond that. Holders are also prohibited from working in nightclubs and similar establishments.
Visa waiver program
It is also possible to enter Japan without a visa. 62 countries currently have visa waiver arrangements with Japan, under which nationals of those countries may enter Japan without a visa. The permitted stay ranges from 14 days to 6 months depending on the visitor's nationality: the most common period is 90 days or 3 months. However, a visa waiver bars the visitor from engaging in "paid activities" within Japan.
A number of foreigners stay in Japan for extended periods without a visa by leaving and re-entering Japan every 3 months. While this is not technically illegal, it is frowned upon by immigration officers, and some foreigners who attempt it are temporarily detained when they return to Japan.
Flying to Japan
Japan has three main international airports: Narita Airport (NRT) near Tokyo, Kansai Airport (KIX) near Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto, and Chubu Centrair Airport (NGO) near Nagoya. Intercontinental flights to Japan are basically limited to these airports, with the bulk of the service using Narita. However, many smaller airports in Japan have direct service to major cities in East Asia. Incheon Airport (ICN) in Korea is a particularly good connecting point for accessing smaller Japanese cities from Europe or the Americas.
Published airfares to Japan (such as those offered by airline websites) tend to be quite high, particularly fares on the two national airlines, JAL and ANA. For cheaper fares, your best bet is to find a Japanese travel agency in your local area. These agents tend to buy seats in bulk at cut rates, and can therefore offer very low fares in comparison with the airlines.
What to bring
Japan is a very advanced country, and you can find just about anything you need there. Don't worry about packing every daily necessity. Here are some items you should be sure to bring:
- Cash or travelers' checks. Wiring money to Japan or accessing your foreign account from a Japanese ATM can be expensive, both due to bank fees and wide exchange rate spreads. Instead, you should bring some money with you to Japan and convert it into yen at the airport. Airport currency kiosks in Japan tend to have the best exchange rates and won't charge you additional fees. There is no legal limit to how much you can bring, but if you are on a student or trainee visa, you will have to declare the amount to Immigration.
- Power adapters if you have electronics. Japan uses 100V outlets. These are very similar to American 110V outlets, but there are very few three-prong outlets in Japan, so even Americans will need to bring an adapter for any devices which require one. Some items, such as plug-in clocks, will not work properly unless they were designed for 50 Hz. Laptops, cameras and other items built for 110V are usually fine in Japan.
- Gifts. Small items from your home country are an excellent idea. You don't have to go overboard: a few keychains, refrigerator magnets or postcards will do. People are often curious about where you come from, and a small gift can help build a relationship with them.
You can find a full list of what to bring, what you *could* bring, and what NOT to bring here.
What NOT to bring
Narita Airport Customs has a fairly thorough guide of what you absolutely cannot bring into Japan:
- Drugs. Illegal drugs are, of course, right out. You should also avoid bringing Vicks inhalers or Sudafed, as these drugs are considered to be illegal stimulants in Japan.
- Pornography. Japan has a thriving porn industry, but it is still illegal to show a person's genitalia in Japan, and any items you have containing frontal nudity will be confiscated if Customs finds them.
- Firearms and firearm components (including ammunition) cannot be brought into the country.
- Counterfeit articles, including money and designer goods, may be confiscated if Customs finds them.