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Supporting Academic Activities and the Exchange of Ideas
Low Risk
A busy and colorful street in Japan

Photo credit: Esteban Flores '20

GSS Country Snapshot

A brief overview of Harvard activities, safety & security, health, cultural, and outbound immigration considerations


Registered Trips in 2023


In-Country Office

Japan is a popular destination for Harvard affiliates to study, research, intern, attend conferences, and travel. It consistently ranks in the top 10 registered locations for Harvard travelers and is home to Harvard Business School’s Japan Research Center in Tokyo.

At Harvard, the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies and the Asia Center support research on Japan and the region, respectively, and provide a forum for academic activities and the exchange of ideas. The Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs promotes social science research on Japan from comparative, global, and interdisciplinary perspectives.

The information below is a high-level summary and is not all encompassing. Situations on the ground can change rapidly. We encourage you to review the additional resources and utilize your Harvard network to learn more. You can also schedule a consultation with us if you’d like to discuss the safety and security or operational matters unique to you and your travel or project. We’ll work with you to minimize risks and help you make informed decisions about your travel and activities.

Safety & Security

Although the Harvard GSS risk rating for Japan is low risk, there are still factors for Harvard affiliates to consider when traveling or planning activities in Japan. For example, low levels of petty crime present the most common risk, and there have been reports of sexual harassment on public transportation. Homosexuality is legal, but same sex marriage is not recognized. As with any country, you need to research and consider all factors in the context of your identity, your activities in country, and your familiarity with the country and its culture. If a security incident occurs, contact International SOS through the Assistance App or by dialing +1-617-998-0000.

Weather and environmental incidents can create safety risks in Japan. Given its location along the Ring of Fire, the country is prone to earthquakes (and tsunamis as a result), although many of its buildings have been designed to withstand significant tremors. Typhoons pose a risk from May through November, particularly along the eastern coast. Japan also has several active volcanoes. Make sure you’re informed, prepared, and have a plan in case a natural disaster occurs. Download the International SOS Assistance App to receive push alerts about incidents in your area.

“I was in Japan and received some very helpful details related to earthquakes. One occurred at 9 am, and International SOS sent out an email 10 minutes later that was very helpful.”

– Harvard graduate student

Japan has extensive train and bus networks connecting all major cities, but they’re known to be highly congested. Roads are narrow and often congested. Be mindful that traffic drives on the left. Travelers are advised not to self-drive because conditions may vary from what you’re used to. Taxis may be a convenient but expensive way to get around. Airports are plentiful throughout the country and connect cities and towns. Review the road safety report for Japan to learn more about public transit, walking, biking, and driving conditions.

Mobile and internet coverage networks are extensive. Know how to keep your data safe abroad.


Make sure you’re up-to-date on any required and recommended vaccines for Japan. Health risks such as Covid-19, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, and tickborne encephalitis may be present. If you're traveling with medication, check to see if your medications are legal and available in Japan. Many common U.S. medications and supplements are illegal abroad or require special authorization. The Japanese Ministry of Health imposes strict regulations, and you may need to obtain an import certificate called a “Yakkan Shoumei” before you depart, especially for certain pain medications, decongestants, stimulants, antidepressants, antianxiety agents, and mood stabilizers.

Visit your doctor or a travel clinic (such as Harvard University Health Services) at least a month before your departure to discuss all health risks and your individual health with a professional, to receive any vaccines or medications you’ll need, and to learn how to reduce your risk of infection or transmission.

Keep in mind that all travelers have a small risk of developing traveler’s diarrhea in any country. Eating sushi and sashimi is a common practice in Japan, and although it’s generally considered safe, there is still a risk of food poisoning when consuming raw fish. Learn how to make safe food and drink choices.

In general, Japan offers a high level of medical care. If you need any medical or mental health assistance while on a Harvard-related trip in Japan, contact International SOS through the Assistance App or by dialing +1-617-998-0000. International SOS can direct you to appropriate inpatient or outpatient care and provide translation assistance. Emergency and trauma services are available, and evacuations to centers of medical excellence are possible throughout the country.


Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. It has a highly advanced consumption-based economy driven by technology and finance. Shintoism and Buddhism are the two most practiced religions, and many people practice both.

In social contexts, familiarity with Japanese language and customs is appreciated. Japanese is the official language, although English may be spoken in major tourist shops and hotels. Japan is a cash-based country, but credit cards and contactless payments are widely accepted in major cities.

When booking travel or scheduling meetings, be mindful of Japan’s holidays and observances. Businesses may be closed or have reduced hours, and security measures may be enhanced.

Visas & Travel Documents

Before traveling to Japan, make sure your passport is valid for the entire period of your stay and that you have one blank page for an entry stamp. Depending on your citizenship, reason for travel, and length of stay, you may need a visa and an onward/return ticket to enter. Requirements are subject to change, so always check your visa and travel document requirements well in advance.

Once in Japan, keep in mind that it’s the law for foreign visitors to carry their passport at all times. You must also register with the local municipal office and the Ministry of Justice within 14 days of arrival.

Quick Facts

  • Currency: Yen (¥)
  • Tipping: not customary
  • Voltage & plug type: 100 Volts; Types A and B
  • Telephone code: +81
  • Emergency numbers: 110 (police), 119 (fire and ambulance)
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