Online Guidebook

Japan-US Creative Artists Program Fellowship Online Guidebook for Living in Japan

This document is currently being updated – please check back for the most recent version.

(Most recent update: July 23, 2014)


In this fellowship program, five US-based mid-career artists are chosen to spend three months in Japan immersing themselves in the Japanese culture and meeting artists from their particular fields. This program is sponsored by the Japan-US Friendship Commission with assistance from the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts). The Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs (Bunkachô) provides visa sponsorship and the International House of Japan provides logistical support in Japan. If you are not on this program, but would like more information about the program and how to apply, please refer to the Japan-US Friendship Commission homepage here

For those of you who have been chosen for this wonderful fellowship, here you can find basic information about the responsibilities of the fellowship, how much stipend you will receive, tips for getting set up and other pertinent information to help make the most of your time in Japan.


These are the conditions of the grant, a copy of which you have probably already received.

A. Grantee agrees to spend three months in Japan without lengthy interruption except for unforeseen emergencies. If Grantee is to be absent from Japan for more than seven consecutive days, Grantee must first seek clearance with the Commission’s office in Washington. If Grantee spends a period of longer than three months in Japan, it is mutually understood that that time will be the responsibility of the Grantee.

B. A grant award in the amount of $20,000 will be provided to each artist to cover housing, living, and professional expenses. Artists will be responsible for converting their dollar award into yen. Disbursement of the grant and financial responsibilities of the grantee will be outlined when awards are made and are included below under “Handling your Stipend”. Fellows are strongly encouraged to discuss management of funds in Japan with his or her bank well in advance of departure. Up to $2,000 for round-trip transportation will be reimbursed to the artist to cover the cost of airfare.

C. The activities financed by this Fellowship are expected to be carried out for exactly three months, beginning from the Grantee’s arrival in Japan.

D. The Grantee shall submit a program report describing and evaluating the activities undertaken pursuant to this Agreement within sixty (60) days of the completion date of the Fellowship, or at such times as requested by the Commission. The format of the report is up to the artist.

E. The Grantee shall use United States flag carriers or code share affiliates for international travel for all travel supported under this agreement.

F. During the period of this Fellowship, the Grantee may not be concurrently receiving any other fellowship award.

G. During the period of this Fellowship, the Grantee may not work for pay.

H. No person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color, creed, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, political preference, labor organization/or non-affiliation, marital status, or parental status be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program receiving Commission assistance.


All Creative Artists Program Fellows must submit a final report on his or her fellowship within 60 days of the completion of the grant. This report is vital to the continuation of this unique fellowship. It is the testimony of each individual artist that speaks to its success and helps insure that funding will continue. The form or style of the report is up to the individual artist, but we urge you to be as specific and thorough as possible. The inclusion of photos, drawings, journal entrees, blog reports or other media that helps to document your experience is welcome. Please send the report to the Japan-US Friendship Commission in Washington DC, the NEA and the International House of Japan, addresses as follows:

Margaret Mihori
Japan-US Friendship Commission
1201 15th Street, NW, Suite 330
Washington, DC 20005

Guiomar Ochoa
National Endowment for the Arts
Room 514
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20506

Sawako Nakayasu
International House of Japan
5-11-16 Roppongi Minato-ku,
Tokyo 106-0032 Japan


Japan is an amazing country where one can experience a mixture of the traditional and the contemporary, the East and West, freedom and restriction. Compared to Western countries, Japan and its people have evolved from completely different cultural, linguistic and geographical backgrounds, yet as urban centers, Tokyo and other major cities of Japan share much in common with other great cities of the world.

The amount of preparation you undertake before arriving and the effort you make upon arrival can have a profound impact on the quality of your stay. We urge you to undertake as much research on the country and culture as possible before your departure. This pamphlet provides a few details about the workings of the fellowship, what to expect upon arrival, and generally how to set up house in Japan and plan your stay.

The majority of artists coming to Japan choose to stay in Tokyo, which is the center of most artistic activity, both contemporary and traditional. Furthermore, the International House of Japan, which acts as advisor and curator of this fellowship, is located in Tokyo and is best able to assist those artists who remain in that city. Nonetheless, this fellowship contains absolutely no strings or conditions on location, and artists should determine for themselves where to stay. The suggestions and hints given here are more or less applicable throughout Japan. For those who have lived previously in other countries or traveled extensively, these notes may seem redundant, but these pages were designed to make your transition easier and to lessen the intimidation of moving to Japan.

There are numerous publications available about Japan ranging from very scholarly, detailed studies, insightful personal reflections, helpful hints for the newly arrived to the official and non-official tourist guides. Here we recommend a few books which are helpful, if you can find them. If you are unable to locate them in the US, they might be available in Japan.

♦ Tokyo, A Bilingual Atlas, Kodansha Inc. A detailed map of Tokyo written in both in romaji (Romanized letters) and kanji (ideographs). The index contains addresses and telephone numbers of embassies, hotels, etc. There is also a version for the whole country: Japan, A Bilingual Atlas (Nihon Nikakokugo no Atorasu).

♦ Your Life in Japan, (Volume 1 Daily Life, Volume 2 Leisure) Japan Times, Ltd. This book gives basic but important information for first-timers in Japan.

♦ Japan, The New Official Guide, The Japan Travel Bureau. A revised edition of one of the most respected and complete guidebooks.

♦ Japanese for Busy People, Association for Japanese Language Teaching, Kodansha Int. A thorough yet easy to use introduction to the basic of Japanese speaking, reading, and writing.

 Japanese Literature, An Introduction for Western Readers, Donald Keene, Tuttle Books.

♦ A Reader’s Guide to Japanese Literature, Thomas Rimer, Kodansha International.

 A Lateral View, Donald Richie’s collection of essays providing a sensitive insight into the workings of the Japanese society and interpersonal relationships.

 A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics, Donald Richie’s musings on Japanese aesthtics (by the way, any book by Donald Richie on Japan is worth reading).

 Japanese Aesthetics and Culture, A Reader, edited by Nancy Hume, SUNY. This collection contains 12 essays by leading scholars covering literature, noh, kabuki, martial arts and modern sensibilities.

 Art Space Tokyo–an Intimate Guide to the Tokyo Art World, Chin Music Press, Seattle–Tokyo. As the title suggests, this book provides detailed information to a number of distinctive Tokyo galleries through interviews with the gallery directors and art critics.

 G 12 Twelve Gallery Owners, Interviews written by Hiroyasu Yamauchi, Tokyo Chizu Publishing Co. Ltd. This guidebook, also taking the form of interviews with gallery owners, covers some of the more avant garde galleries that the above book leaves out.

There are also a number of English language periodicals that are helpful. The Tokyo Journal is a quarterly magazine that, along with interesting feature articles, lists all the important cultural events: concerts, movies, theater, etc. events in Tokyo, plus want-ads listing apartments available for rent and other opportunities. The Kyoto Journal is the counterpart, albeit more literary, for Kyoto. The English language dailies: Japan Times and The Japan News can be found online or at news-stands, while the above magazines are available at major book stores. Many of their leading stories are now online. There are two or three magazines (Tokyo Notice Board, and Metropolis) given away for free in areas where foreigners congregate. These, along with Tokyo Craigslist, are often used to advertise apartments for rent, garage sales, moving sales, and other items for sale or give-away. It is a good way to find cheap, used items like appliances and furniture to use during your stay. There are also personal and commercial ads that can be helpful in locating services or goods.


Since 1987 the I-House has sponsored an Artists’ Forum series where the fellows can show/ perform/read their work and meet their local counterparts. The I-House will, upon request, arrange a forum for you during your stay in Japan, as it will help you make contacts and share your work with other artists. The Artists’ Forums have presented such diverse artists as film-makers, musicians, mime artists, video artists, computer musicians, poets, visual artists, and craft-artists. Be thinking of the kind of presentation you might want to make. Participation in the forum is not mandatory, but it is a good way to widen your contacts.


As a Japan-US Creative Artists Program Fellow, your work here involves cultural exchange.  Therefore you must obtain, before coming to Japan, a visa enabling you to engage in “cultural activities.” This type of visa is valid usually for 90 days, but some artists get a visa lasting 180 days, depending on the local consulate. The Commission and Bunkachô (Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs) will provide the necessary papers for obtaining the cultural visa, but you need to begin the process at least 4 to 6 weeks prior to your departure. Please note that on this grant it is NOT possible for you to enter the country with a Tourist Visa, nor will you be eligible for the Japan Rail Pass. You are welcome to remain in the country as long as your visa allows, but you will be responsible for all your expenses beyond the dates of your fellowship.

The grant does not provide airfare for spouses or partners. If you arrive in Japan with family, they will have to enter the country on a Tourist Visa (available at the port of entry) and their stay will be limited to 90 days.

Immigration at Narita should give you a Residence Card. If your visa is for 90 days, then you don’t need to register at the local ward office. If you have a longer visa, however, you will need to take the residency card to the local ward office at the place of your residency within 14 days to register your address.

If, for some reason, they don’t give you a residency card at Immigration, they will stamp your passport stating that you will be given the card later. You will then have to go to the Tokyo Immigration Office to get this card before you can register your address.

Soon after your selection as a Creative Artists Program Fellow, the I-House will send you a questionnaire requesting information about your work, activities, any special needs or problems you might have. It would be helpful if you could let the I-House know your arrival plans as soon as possible. You should keep in mind that time-wise, Japan is one day ahead of the United States. Your arrival date in Japan will be one calendar day after your departure from the US.


You will receive a stipend totaling $20,000 that will be transferred to your US bank account electronically, based on the bank information you provide. This money will cover your living, housing and professional expenses while in Japan. In addition, the Commission will reimburse your airfare up to $2000.

The best way to access your stipend funds is to use an ATM card to access your US based account. Because of safety reasons, we strongly advise you to limit the amount of cash you physically carry to Japan. Use of ATM machines in Japan  will of course involve transfer fees, so be prepared for this. It is critical that you consult with your bank well before leaving to determine the best approach for managing your funds during your stay in Japan. You might also need to increase your daily ATM withdrawal limit. There may be an affiliate of your bank in Japan and/or you may be able to make arrangements for international wire transfers at specified times. Please do not wait until the last minute to consider this aspect of your fellowship!

Japan is still mostly a cash-based society. Personal checks are not accepted in Japan, but internationally recognized credit cards are accepted. Many small stores only deal in cash. The following websites contain information on money in Japan.

Depending on how you arrange your finances before you leave, you should bring enough cash to tide you over before you can access your account. You should change a few hundred dollars at the airport on arrival. You can change more later, and the bank exchange rate is the same throughout the country.

The grant doesn’t provide special funds for shipping your effects back to the US, and shipping charges beyond your baggage allowance can be very expensive and have strict limitations. Keep this in mind when you come; you might want to keep your baggage to a minimum. See also the “shipping” section below.

Although you won’t need to pay Japanese taxes on your grant, you will have to report your grant income to the IRS. Please keep any receipts that may relate to professional expenditures, since you will have to account for them to the Friendship Commission after your return. It is best to make a note of them in English so you can keep track of them later.



The truth about Tokyo is that it can be one of the most expensive cities in the world, depending on how you use your money and how you shop.

The grant is sufficient but not luxurious, especially if two or more are living together on one grant. The prices of goods in Japan can be daunting, but it is necessary to get the feel for the local currency and economy and not try to convert all prices into dollars in your mind. Years of deflation in Japan has brought down prices, so that many goods and services–like clothing or eating out–in Japan are now cheaper than ever before.



Previous artists have used both the postal service and private shipping companies to send extra luggage to and from Japan. Air Postal rates are very expensive, and surface mail is slow. Yamato Kuro Neko (Black Cat) has offices in the US and can arrange shipping to and from Japan at reasonable rates. Weight limits are strictly enforced and you must declare a detailed listing of all contents. When shipping to Japan, you can send your articles C/O the Arts Program, International House of Japan and we will hold them for your arrival.

For shipping from Japan to the US, the Japanese post office is reliable and easy. Air mail is quick but expensive and limited by weight. Surface mail is cheap but slow and sometimes the boxes can get fairly beat up. Other shipping companies are listed below (this is a list for your convenience only; we cannot recommend nor attest to any of these companies):

Japan Luggage Express

Yamato Transport Company

Economove Japan

You also might want to consider bringing your extra bags or boxes along with you on the return flight home. Although the airline will charge their standard excess baggage fees, they may be cheaper than shipping companies, and it will certainly make clearing US customs simpler.


Most of you will be arriving at Narita Airport, which is about an hour and a half outside Tokyo. Narita has two terminal buildings, but the arrival process is the same for both. Unfortunately, the airport itself is so far away that essentially only heads of state and ambassadors get met at the airport, so you’re on your own. Don’t despair, the transportation folk at the airport usually go out of their way to help first time arrivals at the airport, and it usually turns out to be a very simple though time-consuming process. What follows is a detailed outline on how to get from the airport to the International House of Japan, assuming you will be staying there for the first few days. The Narita Airport site also provides detailed information for arrivees.

After deplaning you will go downstairs, past the quarantine checkpoint, past the immigration officers (who will check to see you have the right kind of visa, take fingerprints, photograph you and give you the Residence Card), to the luggage pick-up and then through customs.  All in all, this process is quite simple, compared to many American ports of entry. Carts are provided for heavy suitcases. After customs, there is a money-changing desk. If you haven’t brought yen from the states, take the opportunity to change or withdraw from an ATM machine several hundred dollars at this time (the exchange rate at Japanese banks is the same anywhere in Japan, though hotels tend to charge more)

At the end of the arrival lobby are a row of baggage handlers’ desks. For a reasonable fee, they will ship your heavy bags and packages to the I-House or any other destination. As the luggage will usually arrive the next day, this service is highly recommended. It means you won’t have to lug the large cases by yourself into Tokyo. You can also use this service when you leave to send your luggage ahead to Narita.

There are several ways to get into Tokyo from the airport, but if you are even thinking of taking a taxi to Tokyo, be forewarned that it might cost up to $300! That leaves the trains and buses. The following methods are the recommended ways to travel to Tokyo from Narita. The URL links will provide fares and times.

The Narita Express (NEX) is the fastest and most comfortable way to arrive at Tokyo station, taking just one hour and costing about 3000 yen. Trains leave on the average every 30 minutes during the day. You need to buy a reserved ticket before you board, but there is a JR desk at the arrival lobby where you can obtain schedules, reserve a seat and purchase a ticket.

Keisei Railways operates the Skyliner, which runs from Narita to Ueno in less than 40 minutes. Ueno is a little further away from Roppongi than Tokyo Station, and for this reason we recommend the Narita Express. If you go to Ueno, however, you can take the Hibiya subway line to Roppongi.

If you prefer buses (or arrive at off-hours when the train doesn’t run), right outside the customs door is the Airport Limousine desk (with signs in English) where a bus leaves for the Tokyo City Air Terminal (TCAT) every 15 minutes. The fare is slightly less than JR, but if the traffic is bad (and it usually is), the bus can take over 2 hours to reach Tokyo. Whether you arrive at the TCAT or Tokyo station, you should take a taxi to the International House in Roppongi. Hand the driver the map that is reproduced here, or, if you don’t have the map, just say “Kokusai bunka kaikan, Roppongi.” The taxi fare should be around 3000 yen. Don’t worry about being cheated. Most taxi drivers, and most Japanese as well, are very honest and conscientious.

One marvelous thing about Japan is that there is no tipping of taxi drivers, waiters, or bell-persons. One last thing about the taxi–the driver controls the opening and closing of the passenger door, and he doesn’t like it if you try to help. When you alight from the taxi, ask for a receipt (reshiito or ryôshûsho). Since you will need to account for professional funds, you should get into the habit of asking for receipts.

Some US air carriers operate flights in and out of Haneda Airport, which is much closer to Tokyo. If you can arrange a flight to Haneda, you will save both money and time when you make the trek into Tokyo. The Haneda Airport website provides detailed information on ground transportation.


The International House of Japan (IHJ) is a highly respected, private non-profit membership organization dedicated to furthering understanding between Japan and the rest of the world. With its own endowment and support from foundations, corporations and individuals, the I-House sponsors various academic and cultural programs and activities, fellowships, scholarships, conferences and research. The grounds contain a hotel, conference rooms, a beautiful, all-purpose hall, a stunning Japanese garden, restaurants and a very extensive English language library, all of which are available for exchange scholars, researchers, artists and members. The library maintains an excellent collection of recent English language works on Japan in the area of the social sciences, humanities and arts. As a Creative Artists Program Fellow, you are eligible to join as a library member. The librarians will help you locate any books which may not be at the I-House library. The area around the I-House, Roppongi, is high-fashion and a mecca for models, thrill-seekers and night clubbers. Not exactly quaint old Japan, but it is convenient to the rest of the city and a good place to start.

In order to show its support for the artists who arrive on the Japan-US Creative Artists Program, the IHJ will offer two nights of free lodging (single room) for all the artists. You may prefer to use the first night upon arrival, and the second night on the night before departure, or combine both nights for use at either the beginning or end of your residency. Any additional nights can be made available at a 20% discount (member’s rate). Rooms can sometimes be scarce, so we urge you to make reservations as soon as your arrival plans are confirmed.

The IHJ Program Department, which is in charge of your fellowship, is open only on the weekdays during regular office hours and is closed on national holidays (see appendix for listing of Japanese national holidays). It will be helpful if you keep this in mind when planning your arrival.



11-16, Roppongi 5-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032, Japan

Phone/Fax Numbers:
Program +81-(0)3-3470-3211/+81-(0)3-3470-3170
Information/Reservation +81-(0)3-3470-4611/+81-(0)3-3479-1738


1.  Hibiya Line, Roppongi Station (Exit No. 3) 10 minute walk
2.  Nanboku or Oedo Lines, Azabu Juban Station (Exit no. 7), 3 minute walk.

From Shibuya or Shinbashi, take bus No. 1 Get off at Roppongi; 10 minute walk


The International House, or IHJ, is your host and ‘window’ into Japan and will help with the mundane but necessary aspects of life and getting started with your fellowship. They maintain on their staff experts in the arts scene in Tokyo to help facilitate meeting and exchanges with people in your field. IHJ Arts Programs Advisor Sawako Nakayasu is a part-time staff member who is involved with literature and dance, while  Arts Program Associate Manami Maeda is an expert on theater and dance. These two help the artists in both professional and everyday matters. Although the I-House has built up an extensive network of artistic connections, thanks in large part to the contacts made by previous fellows, it is helpful if you can bring names of people you specifically want to meet or have had previous contact with. The day after you arrive (depending on the day of the week and whether or not it is a national holiday), you will have an orientation with the I-House artists’ assistance staff. They will help you with ordering calling cards (meishi), letters of introduction and other questions you may have. Housing can also be discussed, if you have not previously arranged for it. Please refer to the list in the appendices below for a description of the responsibilities of the I-House toward the artists (e.g. what we can and cannot do for you).


Your first order of business, if you haven’t already arranged something, will be to find a place to live. This usually happens smoothly, but it takes some time and effort. Many artists choose to live in Tokyo, but many also choose to live elsewhere–Kyoto, Kyushu, or in the countryside: it all depends on what you want to accomplish during this fellowship and what environment will be most conducive to your research. Some fellows have used the grant to do extensive traveling around the country, but even in such cases they have found a need for a place to return to and store baggage while away.Unfortunately, most of the housing contacts the I-House maintains are centered in Tokyo, so if you decide to live outside the greater Tokyo metropolitan area you will be mostly on your own.

Tokyo apartment prices vary according to location, space, building quality and environment. Prices within the center of Tokyo are understandably expensive but become cheaper further out from the city center. Some artists have found wonderful, spacious places in nearby suburbs which are reasonable and not too far away from Tokyo. You will have to consider how often you need to commute into Tokyo.

There are several possibilities in apartment searching: short-term rentals, word of mouth, personal introduction, or classified ads. Often apartments are available because a previous artist is vacating, or word of a vacant apartment comes into the I-House office. Most of the fellows now arrange housing before arrival through their own contacts. Searching apartments through a Realtor is not really feasible for this fellowship, since most landlords require at least a year-long contract. 

There are also short-term furnished rental apartments (called weekly or monthly manshon) available without the key money or Realtor fees. Several of the artists have opted for these kinds of lodgings. They are small but clean and furnished with the basics: bedding, kitchen utensils, TV, video, telephone, etc. You can look these places up online and get an idea of their size and location. Some even allow for online reservations. We have listed a few of these short-term apartments in the appendix below. The various free classified ad magazines mentioned above list reasonably priced apartments. If you have any questions or need guidance on the housing situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us; the sooner the better. It will depend upon where you stay, but you should budget about 20 to 25% of your stipend money for housing.

As mentioned above, the I-House has few housing resources outside of Tokyo. Most likely if you choose to live in Kyoto you will have to arrange a place before you arrive or just go and look.

One resource in Kyoto is the Kyoto International Community House. This center, run by Kyoto City, offers various resources for the foreign visitor, including information on housing, reference services, Internet service and rental halls. Their web site also has a housing search feature.

Former artists who lived in Kyoto mentioned  two arts organizations in Kyoto that were also helpful: the Kyoto Art Center and the Kyoto Society of Inter-Art Exchange. 

Purchasing and signing up for a cell-phone plan is not really feasible for a short term stay, but it is possible to do short-term rentals. Rentafone Japan seems to be a reliable company that several of our artists have used. You can reserve a phone in advance.

Internet service providers are abundant in Japan. Most of the artists just continue to utilize their home account, with connection provided in the apartment through cable or an ADSL line. Public wireless access is not so available in Japan, though it is getting better. The I-House offers wireless service in the lobby and LAN service in the guest rooms (the front desk will provide the cables as well).

Most everything in the way of utensils and kitchen tools can be found in Japan. Almost all neighborhoods have hardware stores, and inexpensive utensils can be purchased at supermarkets or the ubiquitous 100 Yen Shops. You might want to bring any particular appliance or items which you feel you cannot do without, but keep in mind your amount of luggage and also the fact you will probably acquire considerable amounts of goods during your stay and shipping to the US from Japan is very expensive.

Local ‘mom and pop’ restaurants scattered throughout the city are very good and inexpensive, as they cater to students and singles who eat out every day. It is oftentimes cheaper to eat out at one of these places than to purchase a lot of food and cook for just one person. There is much variety in the food here, including a large availability of European and ethnic foods.

Vegetarians fare well here, but avoiding fish products may not be so easy. Nonetheless, an increasing number of organic vegetarian restaurants are opening up, and the vegetables available in the shops are usually very fresh and delicious. Recently, some supermarkets have begun selling locally produced vegetables, with the name and location of the farmer written on the package.

Smoking in public places may feel like a problem to some people, although the situation has improved somewhat in the last few years. An increasing number of restaurants include non-smoking tables, but they are in the minority and are not necessarily able to control the smoke spreading from nearby tables in the smoking section. Some good options for smoke-free venues include family restaurants, hotel restaurants, and chain restaurants. Check out this site for a list of no smoking restaurants: No Smoke Tokyo.


While on the fellowship, you’re essentially on your own when it comes to meeting people and getting on with your work. You were chosen for this fellowship partly because you appeared independent enough to get things done without a lot of support. Although the I-House and its staff will help arrange meetings and facilitate your work, and the Bunkachô or American Embassy might take an interest in your work, no one will act as your manager, promoter, or secretary. If you are interested in meeting a lot of people here, try to find out as many names as possible before coming. Ask other fellows who’ve been here (see address list of previous grantees) and the ones in Japan now.  While the staff at the the International House will share whatever contacts they have, there may be none in your particular field. It cannot be stressed how important is laying this sort of groundwork. Leave no stone unturned, because, more so than any other country, Japan runs on a “whom you know” basis. Most Japanese artists are warm and open, and once contact is made and trust established,they are usually willing to open their world and acquaintances to you–though it might take more time than you initially suspect. Tell your Japanese friends the things you would like to see and do; they are understandably proud of their culture and will go out of their way to help you.

The arts scene in Japan is somewhat of a paradox. The highly refined and artistic aspects of the traditional culture give rise to a fertile avant-garde art scene, but public and private support of artists and musicians, especially young, contemporary artists, is almost non-existent. In spite of this lack of general support, however, there is a very thriving arts/music scene, both traditional and contemporary. Grantees have taken classes in noh, butô, traditional dance, tea ceremony, calligraphy and shakuhachi; just to name a few. Most teachers are more than willing to share their time and expertise with a foreign artist, but one can’t expect to go too far with any of the traditional arts in Japan during a three-month visit, and very few artists or performers, especially those in traditional fields, speak English. The experience of taking lessons in a traditional art or craft can be invaluable, however, as an integrating part of your own work.

If you want to collaborate with a Japanese artist or theater group with whom you have a connection, try to arrange it before you come. Some artists have been disappointed because the time here is too short to arrange extensive collaborations. On the other hand, many of the artists have laid the groundwork for future collaborations during their three-month stay.

You cannot work for profit while in Japan, but you are encouraged to give readings, performances, or showings of your work (you may accept travel and per diem remuneration from the sponsoring insitutions). When you come, you should bring portfolios and examples of your work in as many media forms as possible: CDs, DVDs, slides, publications, reviews, etc.

The American Cultural Attachè and the staff of the US Department of State at the American Embassy are always interested in knowing about visiting American artists, and you should consider making contact with them soon after you arrive. They may be able to arrange performances, exhibitions, or presentations at the American Centers in Tokyo and other major Japanese cities. If you are interested, mention this early since planning can take a while.

Mr. Richard Mei
Program Development Officer
Cultural Section, U.S. Embassy
1-10-5 Akasaka
Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107-8420
Tokyo Tel: 3224-5242; Fax: 3588-0749


The bad news: for those who speak Indo-European languages as their native tongue: Japanese is a difficult language. You know this if you’ve already begun language classes. The good news is that all Japanese have had at least six years of schooling in English, so you are unlikely to starve or get hopelessly lost. Japanese language training, however, centers on reading, writing, and university entrance examination abilities, so they usually don’t feel too competent in conversation. If you’re really in trouble, try writing things down. Learning the katakana and hiragana syllabary alphabets before you come makes it much easier to read signs and generally get around.

Any effort that you make to speak Japanese will be met with the utmost kindness, if not somewhat overabundant praise. At the very least purchase a phrase book and try to remember the basics greetings, but if at all possible take some Japanese classes before arrival. Even a two-week Berlitz intensive course will be helpful. The language book, Japanese for Busy People, recommended above, seems one of the best all around language primers. Once here, you will be able to take Japanese language classes as part of your professional expenses. Spouses or partners can usually take for a reduced rate if you have classes together. Continuing your studies of the language once you come here is highly recommended. A knowledge of the language gives depth to your experience of the Japanese culture.


It is impossible to reduce any culture into a paragraph, or try to predict how any one person will react to being here. Perhaps the most meaningful way to experience the culture and pick up the language is to make friends. This may seem elementary, but it is the creation of personal relationships with individuals in Japan that will determine the quality of your stay. You will meet people through your work, or at your favorite eatery or drinking place, or through introductions. People here are fascinated with foreigners, and many want to make contact, though they may seem, by Western standards, to be at first overly shy. They will try their beginning English on you, and you your beginning Japanese on them. It is a wonderful experience. In Japan, it is easy to live a rarefied existence and associate only with other foreigners, or Japanese who are integrated into the foreign community. Although these internationally-experienced Japanese and the expatriate community in Japan contain people who know the ropes and can be of help in providing guidance and advice, it is important to make friends with Japanese who don’t particularly stand out or who speak only Japanese; doing so will be a rewarding experience.

Living and travelling in Japan is obviously different from living and travelling in America, Europe or even other Asian countries. The views, both of the landscape and society, are fantastic. The blend of an incredibly long historical tradition and modern super-power status gives Japan an atmosphere unique to the world. People are paradoxically fascinated with foreigners yet remain ethno-centric.

The general notion is that the Japanese are a homogeneous race. That is false. There are important minorities of other Asian nationalities (Korean, Chinese, etc.), and even minorities of other races (the Ainu, for example). The official dialect, culture, education system, and central government are very homogeneous and centralized, however, for both good and bad. The trend toward homogeneity makes anyone who isn’t Japanese feel like an outsider, even though people may be very friendly toward you. Japan is very much an “insiders” culture, consisting of groups and cliques who have created a network of cozy relationships with each other. The feeling of being exclude is not only felt by foreigners, but by many Japanese as well.

The word for foreigner is gaikokujin, or literally, “outsider.” This is often shortened to gaijin, and non-Asian foreigners in Japan tend to hear this word a lot. It is not pleasant to be constantly reminded that one is an “outsider,” especially when one works hard to assimilate the culture, language and make Japanese friends. On the other hand, the Japanese have a label for everyone, for example omawari-san for the policeman, oyakusho-san for the bureaucrat and unten-san for the driver. To the Japanese gaijin is just another label describing the most salient aspect of a person. There is a label and place even for the outsider in this society.

As for the problems of outsiders, however, artists are exceptions and tend to be a special class unto themselves. On the surface, this may make the Japanese artists you meet seem more open and international, which might or might not be the case. You will probably feel uncomfortable from time to time; just accept that as part of the process and try to avoid the critical, judging habit which is so easy for Americans here to fall prey to: “Why do they do things this way? It would be much easier to…”

Asian Americans, although racially like the Japanese, will experience different problems, but will still be considered as gaijin or outsiders. They might be expected to speak the language better than a non-Asian American, however.

Traditional sex roles tend to be clearly defined in Japan (it is still a very male-dominated society, though slowly changing), but then again, the artists tend to be different. The Japanese are more reserved than Americans, and at first shyness may seem like coldness. While in Japan, one has to suspend their cultural habits and language and learn new ones.

One aspect of the Japanese art world, and all of Japanese society, is that vertical relationships tend to be much stronger than horizontal ones. That is, there is much exchange of information and friendship between teachers and students of the same genre, but very little cross-genre collaboration. A dancer is not very likely to know a painter, etc. This is slowly opening up, but still discouraging for those used to a varied artistic community. Keep in mind, however, that it is the participation of such artists like yourself in the Japanese art scene which will bring about a more eclectic and fertile artistic community in the long run.

One of the beautiful aspects of this fellowship is that you are not required to produce. You needn’t create any work of art or music, nor undertake any significant goal-oriented projects. All that is asked of you is that you write a simple report on how you spent your time in Japan. This report will be used to evaluate the program for future artists and funding possibilities. Therefore, these three months are, essentially, for observation and for taking time out of a busy schedule for an entirely new and life-changing experience. Most of the artists find that the three months go by very quickly, but the experiences garnered during the fellowship take months or even years to fully ripen and come to fruition in their art. Observation, listening, and receptivity are the keywords to penetrating Japan.


This is a wonderful country to explore. The train system is superb, with frequent, on-time service to almost anywhere you might want to go. The average delay of the Shinkansen Bullet Train, for example is around 20 seconds, so expect the trains to leave on time. However, the same efficiency and magnitude of the system can make your first visit to the station frightening and confusing. Here are some clues.

JR (Japan Railways), the former national rail system, is divided into six corporations: JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR West, JR Shikoku, JR Central and JR Kyushu, each one serving a different geographical area of Japan.

Tokyo and the Northeast are serviced by JR East, which also runs the numerous JR commuter trains in and around Tokyo. The main commuter line, the Yamanote sen (sen=train line) makes a complete circle around Tokyo, taking about an hour. Generally, the subways are within this circle, and the private lines operate outside the loop. Tickets for both train and subway are sold at machines, near the entrance. First, you find on the systems map your destination and the fare. You put your money in (any amount) and push the appropriate amount. Your ticket and change, if any, will automatically come out.

In general, the train and subway lines here are separated as to color. In Tokyo the Yamanote circle line is green, Chûô Line orange, Sôbu Line yellow, etc. In addition, the subway stations in Tokyo are all numbered, so if you can’t remember the name of the station you can ask by number.

You must pay separate fares for the different lines (one fare for JR destinations, one for subway destinations, one for private line destinations, etc). Life is much easier if you carry English subway maps with you. When in doubt ask, in Japanese if possible, but in English if all else fails. All stations names are written in English somewhere (unless you’re really out in the sticks). If you are uncertain on which track to board your train, ask any station attendant. Wickets are automated and will read your ticket when you enter the system and collect it when you leave. Even the Japanese get confused about fares, so if there’s doubt, buy the cheapest ticket and pay the remainder when you get off. There are automatic fare adjustment machines near the exits that will tell you how much more to pay.

A single pre-paid IC card can be used to ride all the JR lines, private lines, subways and buses in Tokyo. This card, called PASMO or SUICA, is available at any station for a refundable 500 yen deposit fee and can be recharged whenever it runs low. The PASMO is highly recommended, since you won’t have to fumble for change or try to figure out the byzantine fare structures each time you ride. There is a similar prepaid card used in Osaka called or ICOCA, but now the Pasmo or SUICA can be used nationwide.

For longer distances, buy tickets at the “green” window or a travel agent. The easiest way to do this is to write down your destination and indicate whether you want katamichi (one-way) or ôfuku (round trip). Express trains (kyûkô) and limited express trains (tokkyû) require special surcharge tickets, as does the Shinkansen super express. At large JR stations there are automated ticket machines–with English guidance–where you can purchase reserved, long distance train tickets. Sometimes  discount excursion tickets to certain areas of Japan are available as well.

Although on a cultural activities visa you cannot purchase the Japan Rail Pass, you can purchase an Inter-Japan Air Pass from Star Alliance that will allow you to add extra destinations in Japan to your round  trip ticket.

If you need help in making a reservation, or anytime you’re stuck and need English language help in a hurry, you can call the Japan Travel phone service between 9:00 am and 5:00 PM, every day (see listing at end of pamphlet). They are very helpful and will go so far as to tell you exactly what to say to get the ticket, or even talk to the station master themselves.

There are many types of accommodations in Japan, from high-class Western hotels to tiny, family-run Japanese style inns called minshuku. The minshuku are very economical and a nice way to experience rural Japan. The I-House can help make hotel or minshuku reservations. In the larger cities there are inexpensive hotels called “Business Hotels,” which cater to the businessman-traveler. They are small and simple, but what they lack in luxury and space they make up with very reasonable prices.The Japan Travel Bureau can also help you locate accommodations fitting your budget and needs.

Generally, you pay per person, not per room in Japan. Also, you don’t have to be a ‘youth’ to stay in Japanese youth hostels, so if that appeals, get a membership card from the Youth Hostel Association before you come, or get an international guest card from the national headquarters in Tokyo. One note: only the more expensive hotels provide towels for their guests. It is best of you bring your own. Neither are washrooms are equipped with towels. That is why Japanese always carry clean handkerchiefs.

The street system in Tokyo was designed in such a way that invading hordes would be confused and unable to locate the central castle. It was very effective. Even taxi drivers get routinely lost. Tokyo, for all it hugeness, really only consists of numerous villages grown together in a great urban sprawl. Each village has its own bank, shopping street, station, local government, and community flavor. It takes a long time to get anywhere in Tokyo, though, so allow more time than you think it should take.


Terms of the fellowship require that you are covered by some sort of medical insurance while in Japan, and you must submit proof of coverage. Sometimes your own health plan can be extended to include overseas coverage, but it may be you have to purchase separate coverage. Below are some companies that offer travel/overseas health insurance. This is a listing for your convenience only: we can’t recommend a particular company nor can we be aware of what they offer. You may also want to do an Internet search on your own. And be sure to read the details–often the coverage is limited.

International Medical Group (IMG)
Interglobal in Japan
Legend Travelers LLC
Global Health Insurance

In order to qualify for the Japanese National Health insurance coverage, you must possess at least a six month visa (most of the artists on this program arrive with visa good only for 180 days). You can access information in English about the national plan here:

Over the counter medicines, including vitamins, are readily available in Japan, but they are labeled differently from the US, and imported items, like aspirin, antihistamines, Alka-Seltzer and body lotions, are much more expensive than in the US. Some over-the-counter drugs in the U.S. require a doctor’s prescription in Japan. If you are taking prescription drugs, it is best you bring everything you need during the fellowship.

On the positive side, medical services here are good and reasonably priced. Consultation with doctors, especially in the larger hospitals, usually involve long waits, however, and you need to search to find hospitals whose staff can speak English.

The staff at the I-House will be able to introduce you to doctors or hospitals should the need arise. A clinic nearby the I-House, Tokyo Medical and Surgical Clinic, is staffed by doctors and nurses who speak fluent English. They will complete your insurance claim forms without charge and sent to you within a week after the consultation.

In addition to hospitals and Western medical practices, there are many traditional Eastern health practices available; shiatsu, acupuncture, and herbal medicine. These alternative practices are not covered by insurance.

HIV infection has spread in Japan, as in every other country. Since the condom is the main method of contraception in Japan, high-quality condoms are readily available, but, like clothing, Japanese sizes tend to be, well, smaller.


Temperatures over most of Japan range from extremely cold in the winter to extremely hot in the summer, so keep this in mind when packing for your fellowship. For summer stays, cottons and short-sleeves are the most appropriate wear for the Japanese hot and extremely humid summers. The city streets in summer are like ovens, but public spaces trains, buildings, offices, etc. tend to be over-cooled, so some sort of simple jacket or wrap is recommended for air-conditioned spaces. Winter in Tokyo is relatively mild, but an overcoat and sweaters are needed. If you live in the countryside it can become much colder. Spring and Fall are the most pleasant times of the year, but the temperature can vary significantly during these periods. You should consult a guide book for average temperatures and general weather conditions throughout Japan, but the climate in Tokyo generally tends to parallel that of Washington D.C.

The fashion industry in Japan is on par with the best of Paris and Italy. Clothes are well-made and very attractive. Unfortunately, if the high prices don’t deter you, the lack of appropriate sizes will. Japanese sizes are smaller than Western sizes and items like shoes, socks and shirts with sufficiently long sleeves can be hard to find, though with the advent of discount clothing stores like the ubiquitous Uniqlo, shopping has become much easier and prices more affordable. Since footwear is removed in Japanese homes, the condition and cleanliness of your socks will be apparent. As the average Japanese body size has increased over the years, clothing sizes have also become larger, but it is still difficult to locate standard American large-size clothing.


Although your grant won’t cover the expenses of bringing family members and three months is relatively short, some fellows bring along their children to share the experience of living in Japan. We are often asked about the availability of Japanese schools, either international or local, where children can enroll for short periods. There are a number of International Schools in Tokyo and other large cities that will accommodate the needs of short-stay students, but tuition tends to be expensive. Some public schools will allow temporary matriculation, but in such situations language can be a problem. The International House cannot take on the responsibility of locating or contacting schools for the fellows, but if you are interested in enrolling your child in an international school, you may want to refer to the following publication: Guide to International Schools in Japan. The site Japan with Kids also has a section on international schools and much other practical advice for living in Japan with children.


If you search enough, you can probably find anything you want or need in Japan, but some Western goods tend to be quite expensive. Listed here are some items that previous artists wished they had brought and other information of which you should be aware:

1. Stationary for writing thank-you notes is important particularly for those planning to engage with traditional art communities in Japan.

2. Small gifts. Gift-giving is an integral part of the workings of this society. The gifts needn’t be expensive, but be prepared to give and receive a variety. Souvenirs with local color, liquor, T-shirts, novelties are all appropriate, as are prints, postcards, tapes, CDs. or other examples of your work.

3. Voltage here is 100 v, which means that any American appliance will run on Japanese current without a transformer, albeit somewhat slower. The plugs are the same shape. Personal computers (Macs etc.) can also be run here just as you do at home, and spare parts are readily available.

4. If you want to rent a car here, you will have to obtain an international driver’s license from the AAA before you come. The steering wheel is on the right, as in England. If a child is riding, child seats are mandatory. Car rentals are reasonable and all necessary insurance is included in the basic price.

5. The Japanese postal system is highly efficient and fast. They have a wide range of services from letter and package carrying, banking services, international money transfers and various insurance plans. Their informative website in English details their services and prices:

6 .Bringing pets to Japan. With a three-month residence in Japan it is not possible to bring pets to Japan.






Online museum, art, music guides:


  • ♦ RealTokyo A general guide to arts exhibits, concerts, events in Tokyo.
  • ♦ Artist in Residency Programs A site, compiled and sponsored by the Japan Foundation, listing all of the artists in residency programs available in Japan.
  • ♦ Association for Corporate Support of the Arts The official website of Mecena, an organization that helps corporations support the arts.
  • ♦ Japan Information Network As the name indicates, a variety of information on Japan.
  • ♦ Tokyo Food and Architecture architecture, arts, restaurants, shops, etc
  • ♦ Artscape Japan An informative site in English with interesting articles on arts related activities in Japan. The site has an extensive data base of Japanese museums and galleries as well as reviews of current exhibitions and shows. They also offer a free monthly mail magazine.
  • ♦ Tokyo Travel Guide This rather funky site provides some suggestions for a few walking tours of Tokyo.

Tourist & Living Information:


  • ♦ Metrohomes is an inclusive housing site that automatically sifts through dozens of realitor sites to help you find the right apartment. It then directs you to the realtor.
  • ♦ Sakura House A monthly efficiency apartment rental agency.
  • ♦ Monthly Chintai A monthly efficiency apartment rental agency.
  • ♦ Kimi Information Center a site with reasonable apartment and accommodation listings for many areas in Tokyo, some without key money.
  • ♦ Leopalace A monthly efficiency apartment rental agency with units in Kyoto, Osaka and around the country.
  • ♦ Vivre le Japon A French agency that lists spacious and reasonably priced short term apartments available in Kyoto. The information is all in French.
  • ♦ Fontana, Inexpensive, clean apartments for rent throughout the city.
  • ♦ Azabu Court, A bit higher end, located in the posh Azabu district, close to Roppongi and the I-House. Several of our artists have stayed here.
  • ♦ Tokyo Tourist Information Center (TIC) 03-3502-1461, 03-3201-3331
  • ♦ Kyoto Tourist Information Center (TIC) 075-371-5649
  • ♦ Narita Tourist Information Center 0476-34-6251
  • ♦ TIC Outside Tokyo or Kyoto (toll-free, from Western Japan) 0120-444-800
  • ♦ TIC Outside Tokyo or Kyoto (toll-free, from Eastern Japan) 0120-222-800
  • ♦ This site is geared towards those coming to work in Japan, but it contains a lot of basic information and useful links.
  • ♦ Hyperdia Japan Homepage This amazingly helpful site will give you the departure and arrival times between any stations in Japan, along with the quickest routes, fares and platform numbers. It is invaluable for planning travel within Tokyo or around the country. Searchable in both English and Japanese. Some other sites which do the same are:
  • ♦ Tokyo Subway Map is a very useful subway map for Tokyo and general information about the reticulated rail system underneath Tokyo.
  • ♦ Japan Travel Bureau 03-3201-3331
  • ♦ Narita Airport
  • ♦ info-japan An English telephone directory (yellow pages only) for Japan
  • ♦ Guide to Japan
  • -About 200 pages with illustrated, general information about most aspects of modern and traditional Japan. Sections include: Arts and Crafts, Computer, Current News, Entertainment, Etiquette, Food, History, Language, Living in Japan, Politics, Regional, Religion, Sports, Tourism, Tradition and Transportation.
  • ♦ Japan Postal Service Answers any question you might have about the Japan postal service and provides rates, weight limits, etc.

Online Maps:


  • ♦ Yahoo Japan has a very good map interface (though mostly in Japanese), and of course if you have a smart phone you can usually enter the address (in English or Japanese) and get a readout. There are also other online maps available. While they are only provided in Japanese, it is fairly simple to use if you know the address of your destination. In addition to a Japanese Map site,
  • ♦ Mapion In Japanese



  • ♦ When traveling overseas, you may find Time Zone Converter useful.
  • ♦ Japan with Kids
  • ♦ Tokyo Food Page. A complete guide to Japanese cuisine and eating in Tokyo, with recipes, culinary travel tips, restaurant listings and more.
  • ♦ Tokyo’s no-smoking restaurants. In spite of the fact Japan is still in the dark ages concerning the health risks and rights of non-smokers, more and more restaurants are providing non-smoking sections.
  • ♦ Foreign Buyers Club of Japan. Importer of products from the U.S. from books to food, catering to expats seeking goods otherwise too expensive, or difficult to find, in Japan. Catalog and home delivery available.


English Magazines & Newspapers


      • ♦ Tokyo Journal
      • ♦ Metropolis. This monthly free rag contains an extensive listing of events and classified ads.
      • ♦ Japan Times. The oldest and most respected English language newspaper in Japan.


Japan’s National Holidays

(When the holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday becomes the holiday)

      • ♦ January 1 (Ganjitsu) / New Year’s Day
      • ♦ Second Monday in January (Seijin-no hi) / Adult’s Day
      • ♦ February 11 (Kenkoku Kinen-no hi) / National Founding Day
      • ♦ March 20 or 21 (Shunbun-no hi) / Vernal Equinox Day
      • ♦ April 29 (Midori-no hi) / Greenery Day (Late Shouwa Emperor’s birthday)
      • ♦ May 3 (Kenpô Kinenbi) / Constitution Memorial Day
      • ♦ May 4 (Kokumin-no Kyûjitsu) / National People’s Day
      • ♦ May 5 (Kodomo-no hi) / Children’s Day
      • ♦ Third Monday in July (Umi-no hi) / Marine Day
      • ♦ August 15 (O-Bon) / This is not an official holiday, but many Japanese take several days off during mid-August to visit their ancestral homes.
      • ♦ Third Monday in September (Keirô-no hi) / Respect-for-the-Aged Day
      • ♦ September 23 or 24 (Shûbun-no hi) / Autumn Equinox Day
      • ♦ Second Monday in October (Taiiku-no hi) / Sports Day
      • ♦ November 3 (Bunka-no hi) / Culture Day (Former Emperor Meiji’s birthday)
      • ♦ November 23 (Kinrô Kansha-no hi) / Labor Thanksgiving Day
      • ♦ December 23 (Tennô Tanjôbi) / Present Emperor’s birthday

Outline of the responsibilities of the I-House toward the USJFC Creative Artists Program Fellows:

The fellows on this program are basically on their own, and our main objective at the International House of Japan is to help facilitate the fellowship and make sure that artists have the support and assistance they need to work smoothly in this culture, but there are limits to what we can do. Previous fellows have mentioned that it would be helpful if the I-House’s responsibilities toward the fellowship artists were made clearer so they could know exactly what to expect. We enjoy the interaction with the artists and try to do as much as we can. For that reason, each individual artist is treated on a case-by-case basis, according to their needs and time. However, below are listed some examples of what the I-House can and cannot do for the artists who come to Japan.


Things we can do for the artist

1. Answer specific questions or concerns before arrival. Make reservations at the I-House and hold parcels or cases sent in advance to Japan.

2. Provide a comprehensive orientation upon arrival, including assistance in ali-en registration and opening a bank account (if necessary), application for I-House library card, explanation of Artists’ Forum, respond to any questions or provide advice on living in Japan and ordering business cards for the artist.

3. Assist in the search for housing. Provided the artist has contacted us in advance with his or her needs, we will do what we can to help find suitable housing and try to line up several possibilities before the artists’ arrival.

4. Provide general letters of introduction, in Japanese, explaining the nature of the grant and briefly introducing the artist.

5. Assist in making contacts and introductions. Although the artist should do their best to make contacts on their own, oftentimes it helps to have an official organization, like the I-House request meetings and interviews on the artists’ behalf.

6. Set up an Artists’ Forum, if requested.

7. Be available for consultation on matters ranging from the arts to daily living and respond to any emergency situations (personal, medical, etc.) and be available for emergency help.


Things we cannot do

1. Act as agent or secretary for the artist, including helping the artist to set up any commercial contacts or profit making activities.

2. Act as translator or interpreter on the artists’ behalf (except for official events like the Artists’ Forum).

3. Guarantee housing. The I-House makes no promises or guarantees housing for the artist, nor can they act as guarantor for rental contracts (houshô rentai nin).We cannot sign a housing contract on the artists’ behalf.

4. Provide professional assistance or support to the spouse or partner of the JUSFC artist.

5. Assume any kind of personal responsibility to the artist or provide legal support. In the event of an accident or legal problems on the part of the artists, all we can do is refer you to Citizens Services at the US consulate in Japan.

Contacting us:

The International House of Japan, Inc.
11-16, Roppongi 5-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032, Japan
Phone/Fax Numbers:
Program +81-(0)3-3470-3211/+81-(0)3-3470-3170
Information/Reservation +81-(0)3-3470-4611/+81-(0)3-3479-1738


This guide is based on previous versions written by former Artistic Director Christopher Blasdel (2013), as well as Susan Spencer and Nancy Karp (1986). We try to keep the links as up to date as possible, but if you find any missing or broken links, please let us know.