Location Guide Japan
Rainy SeasonFor about a month and a half during June and July, the expectancy of rain is very high, around 80%. There is little chance of sunshine. Halfway through the rainy season, there may be a day here or there of sunshine. Don't think the rainy season is over until the Weather Bureau announces the rain front has passed. Average duration of the Rainy season in Tokyo (data from 1961 - '90): June 9th - July 20th. Much like the Sakura (cherry clossom) season, the rain front starts and ends earlier in Okinawa (furthest south), later in Hokkaido (furthest north).
Typhoons are likely to spawn around the equator in mid June, head north through the Philippines, Taiwan etc., and strike Japan from September through mid October. Out of 15 - 20 typhoons spawned each year, an average of 5 strike Japan. Early typhoons move from the south, and their path usually is up the Sea of Japan (west coast). As the season progresses, the paths move more and more easterly. Most often, they do not in fact strike Tokyo.
Visas & Permits
For most visitors travelling to Japan for the purpose of film production, a visa is not required. There are some exceptions to this advice depending on your country of origin. The Japan Film Commission has a lot of useful advice in this pdf document
Japan is a member of the ATA Carnet system and you should use a Carnet if you are travelling with TV / Film production equipment. See http://eyefish.tv/production-guide/carnets for more information on Carnets
Advice from Cameraman / Director / Producer Michael Goldberg
Michael Goldberg is a camera op / DP who also produces and directs. He has lived and worked in Japan over 30 years. He is fluent in English & French, and speaks Japanese like a native.
It's already tomorrow in Japan! It’s halfway around the globe, across the International Dateline. If you phone or e-mail us when you start work in Europe, it's evening in Japan the same day. If you are in the US, your morning is the middle of our night, the next day. If you call Japan on your Friday evening about a shoot starting Monday morning here, that's very tight scheduling.
Phone numbers in Japan start with a zero (0). Drop the zero when calling from overseas. For example, my company number is 03-3333-5335. Dial this when calling us from within Japan / outside Tokyo, e.g. from Narita Airport (where the area code is 0476). Once in Tokyo's 03 area, you need only dial 3333-5335. From overseas, dial 81 (the country code for Japan), drop the zero, then dial the rest: 81-3-3333-5335. Not all foreign mobile phones work in Japan. You can rent a Japanese phone at the airport and at some hotels.
Arrival. Customs & Immigration
Narita Airport is far from Tokyo, as is Itami International Airport from Osaka. There are trains and limousine buses to stations and many hotels, much less expensive than taxi. Some taxis - though not all - accept credit cards, and drivers are honest.
While there may be long lines at the airport, Customs & Immigration procedures are usually straightforward, as long as you are patient and polite. Keep this in mind throughout your stay. Don’t expect everyone to understand English.
Only the yen is legal tender. Currency exchange can be done at designated banks, including at the airport. There are almost no “money change” kiosks in town. There is NO tipping - for anything. This is a culture where thinking of others and “service” are taken for granted. It’s a good idea to bring small gifts as a token of appreciation for interviewees you’ve lined up.
Rentacars (and hotel rooms) can be reserved in advance via the Internet. An International Drivers License must be obtained in your home country. Thank goodness for "Car-Navi" (Car Navigation systems - GPS). It is rare to find one in English, though some work with phone numbers. Driving is on the left side of the street, with the driver’s seat on the right.
Addresses in most Japanese cities are a nightmare. Based on numbered wards and blocks, you literally have to go in circles to find an address. If taking taxis, get a map (with Japanese on it) for each location you plan to shoot. Google maps can be a great help. It's easy to get lost in narrow side streets, not to mention one-way roads. It may look close on a map yet take ages to get there.
Beware of rush-hour traffic. It could take 45-minutes if you leave at 6:30am, and more than twice that if you start out at 7:30am. Double-parking (in the road) is prohibited; when planning, you’d best inquire about parking at or near the shoot locations.
The train and subway systems are easy to figure out. Fares are set by distance. For local trains you can buy a ticket for the minimum fare at the entrance, and pay the difference before you exit. The Shinkansen express is well known for speed and comfort, and you can fit gear behind the last row of 3 seats if you board before other passengers (i.e. line up early). There are reserved and non-reserved seats on most Shinkansen. A JR JapanRailPass, valid on many local and long-distance lines, is worthwhile only if you plan a lot of travel. Don’t have it validated at a JR station until you need to use it.
Locations offer challenges for foreign crews. Local colour is gotten easily enough, outdoors. For places like temples and shrines, shoot permission is best secured in advance, not on the fly (though foreigners sometimes do it Paparazzi style). You will likely need a local fixer or interpreter. Even what you might think of as "public" space could well be private property. You may need to fill in request forms (e.g. outside the Imperial Palace) or even have to pay (in some parks).
World famous Tsukiji wholesale fish market now charges a lot for crew access. Tripods are often not allowed in busy public spots, as they can be an obstruction. Shooting indoors can also be a challenge. Some buildings require advance notice even if you are shooting inside a rented office, and you will likely have to clear security. Small rooms are the norm. Worse, companies, governmental and educational institutions seem to think bland meeting rooms are where interviews should take place. You may need extra time to find interesting objects for the background.
Television standards & electrical power
Japan is NTSC. It is an island country, cut off from the outside world for more than 200 years until the mid 1870s. South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines are also NTSC. Most of the rest of Asia is PAL.
Electricity in Japan is 100VAC. Video AC adapter / chargers should work in ANY country (up to 240V); but if you’re not sure, check with your dealer about yours before leaving home.
North American 650W tungsten lights lose 20% of their brightness here, becoming 540W, and the colour temperature will drop to around 3000K. Wall receptacles are flat, two-pronged, both small-sized. You will need adapters to plug in, and possibly a step-down transformer for European devices, depending on the gear.
"East Japan" (which includes Tokyo) has 50Hz electrical current like Europe. "West Japan" (Osaka, Kyoto, etc.) is 60Hz, like North America. The reasons are historical. When using PAL cameras under fluorescent lighting and mercury-vapour lamps in West Japan you'll get flicker, so set the electronic shutter at 1/60. With NTSC cameras in Tokyo, use 1/100 shutter speed (or 50.1 scan if you can, to save one stop of brightness), and/or add lighting.
Japanese interviewees generally like to know the questions in advance if possible, so they can prepare answers (or have knowledgeable staff do so). Many company execs don't like ad-libbing. Watch out for the dreaded "Kan-pe" (cunning paper = crib sheet).
On the street, Vox Pops news style interviews may not be easy. Schooling used to discourage self-expression, and the Japanese language itself is indirect. Criticism is considered ill-mannered. Although educated Japanese may read and write English, they likely do not speak it well. Older executives may make blatant mistakes and have an accent in English that the average viewer has trouble understanding. Have a native speaker check the interviewee’s spoken English in advance. If it’s in Japanese, find out whether framing for sub-titling or voice-over is required.
Generally we do not get Japanese to sign interviewee releases, the kind that give all rights to the production company and none to the signee. If it’s translated into Japanese, the terms may be even more frightening to a lay person. Verbal agreements are the norm, not complicated legal texts. Let them know what you are shooting for, how it will be used, etc. If your client insists you get signatures, simply explain “it is standard procedure” indicating they agreed to be interviewed, and they’ll sign.
Shipping HDDs from Japan faces time warps. If you get them to FedEx in Tokyo before 5 pm on Friday, the package goes out that night. If you can't make the Friday deadline, the package leaves Japan Monday night. When Monday is a national holiday, it leaves Tuesday night. Uploading to ftp sites and dropbox type sites at night can take hours, due to Internet traffic.