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I'm about to travel to Japan (from UK) and can't seem to buy a mains adapter that specifically says it can be used in Japan. However, the internet (e.g. Wikipedia) tells me that Japanese power sockets "appear physically identical" to US ones (although they use a different voltage), so I'm wondering whether I can use an "international adapter" (e.g. this one, with very a useful USB charging feature and multiple socket types) that can be used in the USA, or whether I'll have to wait til I get to the airport and pay more money for it.

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Do you already own such an adapter or are you planning to buy one? In my experience this stuff is likelier to be cheaper in Japan than in the UK. Transport and accommodation are expensive there but a lot of other things are surprisingly reasonable, some things are even cheap! –  hippietrail Oct 30 '12 at 10:46
    
I was planning to buy one - I'd prefer to buy before I go even if it's a bit more expensive, because my phone and computer both have short battery lives, and I'll need to charge them when I get to my hotel in the evening, before I'll have a chance to go shopping. I'll bear that in mind though! –  Nathaniel Oct 30 '12 at 11:00
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Travel adaptors, especially ones that make claims about "wordwide" or "universal" ought to work everywhere. Look for reputable companies, or sites giving reviews of such products. But I'd expect unless it seems like a pretty junky item it should work fine especially with gadgets that are also designed to travel like laptops, phones, tablets, etc. –  hippietrail Oct 30 '12 at 11:07
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What devices are you going to plug into it? –  Random832 Oct 30 '12 at 15:10
    
@Random832 just chargers for my phone, laptop, hair clippers and ebook reader. I checked that all of them can handle the 110 volt supply; one slight complication is that most of them have a UK plug but the hair clippers have a European one. I already went ahead and bought the charger I linked to in the question, as the people in the shop said it should work in Japan, and it can do everything I need. –  Nathaniel Oct 30 '12 at 15:38

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

You need to distinguish between the physical plug shape and the voltage requirements of the device that you want to plug in.

If you have an adapter that is made for the USA, then yes, in most cases you will be able to plug in that adapter in terms of physical shape into sockets in Japan.

However, you will have to check with each device that you want to use if they support the voltage that you get in Japan out of the power socket. If the label on the device says for example 100-240v (as it says on most laptop power supplies), it WILL work in Japan. If it says 110... or only 240v, then there is high chance that it will NOT work in Japan.

The good thing when going from Europe (240v) to Japan (100v) is that you most likely will not ruin your equipment if you plug it in and it cannot work with 100v. The other way round would fry your device in most cases. If you plug it in, it will simply work - or not. If not, you can still try to get an alternative device in Japan for the time you are there. As a very basic rule of thumb: items that have a high ampere requirement (hair driers, toasters etc) will not work. Items that are made to be portable or for travel work in most cases. Check the sticker on the power supply for the "input power" requirements.

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Just to confirm for future reference, the international adaptor I mentioned in the question works perfectly in every Japanese socket I've ever came across. –  Nathaniel Sep 28 '13 at 12:17

In practice, the answer is "yes, usually." If it's OK in the U.S., there's a very good chance it will work without issues in Japan.

Japanese sockets are (mostly) physically compatible with American plugs, and although the nominal line voltage is lower in Japan (100V), the vast majority of modern electronics goods intended for American line voltage (110V) work just fine in Japan. Most DC power supplies have enough latitude that they handle the difference without problems. I've even corresponded with an electronics maker who confirmed this for his product, saying that most power supplies are intentionally designed with a big safety margin to handle brownouts and out-of-spec power anyway, and that the U.S.-Japan difference easily falls within this margin.

The other issue, frequency, is not a problem for most electronics, as they generally convert to DC immediately anyway (it may be an issue for older clocks or anything with a motor driven off of AC).

I've lived in Japan for a long time and used tons of U.S. electronics products here without problems. I think I've only ever had one thing which didn't work properly (an analogue synthesizer with a rare AC power supply that depended on the line voltage for tuning... the digital bits worked fine, but the sound was out of tune).

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The item you linked to is a socket adapter, not a voltage converter. It will not convert Japanese standard electricity to UK standard electricity. Therefore, you can only use it with equipment that works over a wide range of voltages. Higher end electronic equipment (e.g. a laptop) and equipment designed for travellers (e.g. a travel hairdryer) might be okay, but you need to check carefully.

By the way, not all USB sockets are created equal. The USB socket of the travel adapter you linked to has a maximum output of 1A. That's not bad but if, say, you charge your iPhone from it, it might take longer than you expect.

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What I do when I need confirmation is to check this website:

http://users.telenet.be/worldstandards/electricity.htm

It has an EXHAUSTIVE list of each and every type, the voltage and the countries that use them. It's been handy for some of the stranger countries I've been to and hasn't failed yet.

Myself, I have a multi-adapter. The only country it doesn't seem to handle is South Africa, which has 3 giant prongs - bigger than the UK ones!

It's worth noting that:

** Although the mains voltage in Japan is the same everywhere, the frequency differs from region to region. Eastern Japan uses predominantly 50 Hz (Tokyo, Kawasaki, Sapporo, Yokohama, Sendai), whereas Western Japan prefers 60 Hz (Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Hiroshima).

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"Each and every type" of plug/socket? Or of adaptor? The info on the plug/socket on Wikipedia seemed adequate but left open a question about certain devices - and an adaptor is a kind of device \-: –  hippietrail Oct 30 '12 at 13:22

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