Local laws and customs

Penalties for most offences tend to be more severe than in the UK. Detention, including for minor offences, is generally longer than in the UK and prison regimes in Japan are very strict.

Police have the power to detain people whilst they investigate you, for up to 23 days, even for minor offences. If you are arrested, the police can question you before you are able to speak to a lawyer or an embassy consular officer. Investigations are not usually recorded and lawyers are not present. High quality interpretation may not always be available.

If you are charged with a crime, it is likely that you will be detained without bail until your court dates. You may be subject to a communications ban if the charges are drug related, which means you will only be allowed to speak to your lawyer and embassy while awaiting trial. Legal proceedings can take many months or longer.

More information about what happens if you are arrested can be found in the Japan Prisoner Pack.

Most Japanese people are very friendly and welcoming but can be reserved. Loud, boisterous behaviour is not as acceptable as it is in the UK.

In regard to sexual conduct in private, Japan is a tolerant society. However, public displays of affection are less common than in the UK.

Homosexuality is not illegal, although currently there are no provisions in Japanese legislation guaranteeing freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. While same-sex marriages are not recognised in Japan, some areas of the country have begun issuing equivalent certificates that can be used in civil issues, such as hospital visitation rights. Nichome in Tokyo and Doyamacho in Osaka are the most well-known LGBT areas. The Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade has been held without incident since 2012, with around 5,000 participants in 2017. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.

Drinks and meals are paid for at the end of your visit to a Japanese bar. Tipping is not necessary. In some places, prices can be high. Disputes over bills can lead to arrest.

Tattoos in Japan have a historical association with organised crime, and while attitudes towards them are increasingly accepting, many public swimming pools, hot springs, beaches, and some gyms do not admit anyone with tattoos. Other establishments may simply ask that any tattoos to be covered up while using the facilities.

Whale meat is available in Japan but importing it into the UK/EU is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Any importation of whale meat into the UK will result in seizure of the goods, possibly a fine of up to £5,000 and a custodial sentence.

Carrying identification

You must carry your passport or residence card at all times. Information about the residence card system can be found on the Japanese immigration website

Family law

Japanese family law is very different from UK law. We have produced some general information about issues around custody, child abduction and parental rights. Japan is a signatory of the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the Hague Convention), which entered into force in Japan on 1 April 2014.

Prescription and over-the-counter medicines

The use or possession of some common prescription and over-the-counter medicines are banned under Japan’s strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law and ignorance may not be considered a defence. This includes Vicks Inhalers, medicines for allergies and sinus problems, cold and flu medication containing Pseudoephedrine and even some over-the-counter painkillers like those containing Codeine. Foreign nationals have been detained and deported for offences. If you’re travelling to Japan with medication, or are in Japan and intending to import medication into the country for personal use, you should check the status of your medicine with the nearest Japanese Embassy or Consulate beforehand. See Medication

Drugs

Japan has a zero tolerance towards drug crime and there are severe penalties for all drug offences. Detection facilities at airports and post offices are effective. British nationals have been arrested and detained for receiving small quantities of cannabis through the mail, and for returning positive results in tests carried out by Japanese Police on customers in bars. British nationals have received sentences for drug trafficking ranging from 6 to 17 years with work, or even longer, as well as receiving large fines. Prisoners in Japan are expected to work as part of their sentence.