For a lot of people, visiting Japan is a dream that may happen only once in their lifetime. After months, or even years, of saving for their most-awaited trip to this beautiful country, it only makes sense to want to ensure that everything goes well during the entire vacation.
In addition to booking plane tickets and accommodations well in advance to avail of the best deals, memorizing a number of Japanese greetings and other phrases, and learning some customs and traditions to not appear rude and disrespectful, it is also essential to know common Japanese laws to not find yourself in trouble with the authorities.
Here are some laws that tourists should know and remember for a worry-free Japan trip:
Tourists are not allowed to work while in the country.
You are visiting Japan as a tourist, so you are expected to do what tourists are supposed to do. You should be visiting shrines, temples, and castles; trying out the delicious local cuisines; waiting for hours in line at theme parks; looking at your smartphone to figure out how to get to your hotel; asking a local where the nearest bus stop or train station is; or shopping for yukata, kimono, fold-able fans, chopsticks, and other souvenirs for your friends and family back home.
As a tourist, you should not be working. It is illegal to take on any kind of job because you are in the country on a tourist visa or a visa-waiver status. If caught, you may face serious repercussions, including being fined a large amount of money (that may be as much as several thousands of US dollars), or banned from re-entering the country for a number years (that may be as long as a decade).
Thus, if you want to be able to go back to Japan as many times as you wish until the end of time, do not attempt this. Get the proper working visa to be able to find employment and be in the country legally.
Always have your passport with you.
The Japanese police are allowed to stop any individual anytime and anywhere and ask for their identification. If you get stopped on the street, you should be ready to present your passport to verify your identity and that you are in the country legally as a tourist. Failing to do so may result in being taken to the police station for further questioning.
So, keep your passport with you at all times, in your pocket or in a small purse, even if you are just going to the convenience store across the street from your hotel. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Some over-the-counter medications legal in your country may be illegal in Japan.
In general, tourists are allowed to bring certain over-the-counter medicines from their country to Japan, up to two months’ worth of supply. However, there are substances present in some of these OTC medicines that may be illegal in Japan.
For instance, pseudoephedrine, which is a kind of stimulant that is usually found in allergy and sinus medications, as well as inhalers, is prohibited in the country. If you are currently taking medication with pseudoephedrine for your medical condition, it is best to consult with your doctor to find for alternatives before you fly out to Japan.
Check the website of your country’s Japanese embassy for information on which drugs are legal or illegal in Japan. It also will not hurt to call the office and talk to an actual embassy staff to provide you with accurate and updated information.
And, before you leave, make sure that you have a doctor’s prescription for all the medications you have with you and a letter that explains what they are for. Keep everything in their original bottles, containers, and packages. Place them in a transparent zip-lock bag, sealed, in your carry-on for easy access once you get to the customs and security line.
No smoking in public.
If you are used to lighting a cigarette and puffing on a smoke whenever and wherever you like in your home country, you have to know, before you leave for Japan, that you are not able to do that while you are on vacation.
For the longest time, Japan was known to be a smoker’s paradise. People could pretty much smoke tobacco or any cheap cigarette brands in bars, restaurants, outdoors, next to a child or a pregnant woman, while waiting at the bus stop, or walking on the street. But that changed years ago, when the government started efforts to prohibit smoking in public and have designated smoking areas in restaurants, hospitals, trains, and other establishments.
In 2009, Kanagawa put in place an ordinance that prohibit smoking in public areas, including hospitals, schools, restaurants, and hotels, becoming the first prefecture to do so.
Nowadays, in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and other urban areas, you can typically find these designated smoking sections outside train stations and office buildings, in parks, and more. At restaurants, fast foods, and airports, these smoking areas are small, enclosed rooms. On some train lines, like the Shinkansen, there are cars with designated smoking spots as well.
The fine for smoking at no-smoking areas can cost up to 20,000 yen.
Drinking age is 20.
If you are under 20 years old and going to bars and clubs every night, or chugging as much beers and sake as you can, is one of your must-do things while in Japan, you should probably re-think your itinerary.
In Japan, the legal drinking age is 20, and, unfortunately, even if you have already been drinking for a year or so because the legal drinking age in your country is 18, you are advised not to do it while on vacation.
You can probably get away with it, as there are establishments that do not really check for IDs, or if you look mature for your age, and vending machines that sell beer are everywhere too. However, the inconvenience that results from getting caught is not worth it. The police may not arrest you, but your information will be added to a system and sent to your parents, your school, or your place of employment. And, if in the future you get in trouble with the law, this hit on your record will be taken into account.
While in Japan, you will never run out of places to go and things to do. To have the grandest time and tons of fun, memorable, and problem-free experiences to share to everyone back home, obey the laws and respect the local customs and traditions.