Monday, November 22, 2010

Japanese Electonics: Plugs, Voltage and Wattage Guide

When bringing electrical goods back and forth across international borders, it is important to keep different countries' electricity standards in mind.

Not only can the socket shape be different, but different countries use different voltages and wattage, which means some appliances could fail to work in one country's outlets and cause a fire when plugged into another's.

Regarding shape of sockets, Japanese plug sockets accept plugs from the following countries (and vise versa):
American Samoa, Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Cayman Islands, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guam, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Japan, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Maldives, Mexico, Micronesia, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, Nicaragua, Niger, Okinawa, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, St. Vincent, Saudi Arabia, Tahiti, Taiwan, Thailand, United States, Venezuela, Vietnam, Virgin Islands (U.S.& British), Yemen.
Beat the three-pronged system
with a 100 yen adapter!
...just be sure it's safe.
Apparently some places in Japan use the non-UK three-pronged socket. But, if you travel elsewhere in Japan and can't find that kind of socket, but you desperately need to plug in your three-pronged, say, camera charger, it is possible to remove the third prong or cleverly use a thin adapter to just plug in the top two prongs. I've done this to my laptop and it was (and is) fine. The exceptions to this work-around are appliances that require a ground--that's what the third prong is--for safety. This is generally limited to stuff like microwaves, refrigerators, and dishwashers, or in other words, stuff that most people do not ship around internationally.

However, you must make sure that you use the correct transformer for vastly different voltage/wattages. Also note that if you use an item at a higher than rated voltage, you can no longer claim the product's liability for any fault or incident.

Usually, for electronics from/to the US, there shouldn't be a problem not using a transformer, but be especailly careful with things involving heat: Hairdryers, straighteners, and stuff like that. Running a Japanese one of these back in the States will result in a lot more heat being generated; this will either blow a fuse or be a fire risk. Consult the manual or item itself for a rundown of the acceptable voltage and wattage.

American products used in Japan will be slightly (but reportedly not significantly) cooler. (From Steve: I use a travel-sized hairdryer that I bought in the States. The fan is a little less peppy than in its original country, but I have used in Japan without any problems for more than 3 years.)

For the UK, remember that bringing heat-related items to Japan is almost pointless - they do crazy unpredictable things. They are not really more expensive to buy here, and you'll just have to bite the bullet on this one.

Usually, laptop chargers, phone chargers, camera chargers, etc., are designed to work at many different wattages. Check the rear of your product or manual for the range. The same often applies to TVs, etc.

Here's a comparison of Japan vs. the major ex-pat exporting states (taken from this extensive list), also including plug types (ABC etc):

Japan 100 V 50/60 Hz* A & B *Eastern Japan 50 Hz (Tokyo, Kawasaki, Sapporo, Yokohoma, and Sendai); Western Japan 60 Hz (Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Hiroshima)
USA   120V 60 Hz A & B
UK 230 V 50 Hz  G  
Australia 240 V 50 Hz I
New Zealand 230 V 50 Hz I
Brazil 110/220 V* 60 Hz  A & B, C *127 V found in states of Bahia, Paraná (including Curitiba), Rio de Janeiro, SÃo Paulo and Minas Gerais (though 220 V may be found in some hotels).  Other areas are 220 V only, with the exception of Fortaleza (240 V).  Outlets (click for more) are often a combination of type A and C and can accept either type plug.
Philippines 220 V 60 Hz A, B, C

Although Japan and the US look very similar when compared to some of the others, I'll say again to be careful with items involving heat. A Japanese product designed to work at 100V will be 44% hotter at 120V. However, I have heard that more basic items such as rice cookers and denki pots will usually be fine.


  1. Will a US "115/230V 50/60Hz" powered speaker work in 100v Japan? Any tips/advice welcome.

  2. That shouldn't be a problem, but consult your manual/manufacturer for confirmation.

  3. What type of speaker? A while back I had a pair of little 115V computer speakers I'd brought over from the U.S. and I used them for a year with no problem.