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the other half of
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Japan



Maskit Monskirs

Everything Works

Japan is the cleanest country we even visited - except for the air, maybe? I picked up a nasty infection, bronchitis and rhinitis, no less. Thick mucus emerging from my nose, throat and ears, not to mention more privately held bodily openings. Ugh. Took me out for two solid days, but I could have gotten the bug in that awful AirTran flight Atlanta-Los Angeles. By the way, our cheapest flight (less than AA Curaçao-Miami and six times the distance) was LAX-NRT by Korean Air - and it can only be described as marvelous. Nicest jet flight I ever had, if a bit long. We saw four movies... At least, it finally got through to me why all movies are over-long these days. One longs for the cutter's surgeon's knife. It's because they have to entertain a captive in-flight audience for so much time.



follow that link
time to go - to your health - nice people - No Trash - language - it's expensive - not so good - getting around - hotels - you're too large.


Carefully pick your time to visit. We were lucky that there was hardly any rain. Also, our planning to arrive when the cherries started to blossom and traveling north with them worked out very well. Nothing short of amazing, actually. And best, we had left before the infamous Golden Week broke loose. Remember, by far most tourists in Japan are from Japan!

clean stationclean subway
Did you ever in your puff see such clean railway and subway stations?
The subways don't even smell!

From then on, Willy and I joined many of the natives by walking around with these masks; you can buy 'em everywhere. Only, it seems they wear them to avoid infecting you.

Maskit MonskirMaskit Monskir

This is because the Japanese are the most kind, obligingly polite, friendly and considerate people you could hope to meet. If you are surprised at this, thinking back to the notorious Bushido code of WWII days (alas, years), I have always thought they really learned their lesson then.
They are always quiet, too. When you hear someone talking obnoxiously loud in a cell phone, you bet it's a foreigner. (The Japanese act like they don't notice.) No one will bump into you, either; and their traffic must be the safest in the world.
A fire fighting truck upon approaching an interception will, humbly polite, ask over a PA system if traffic would please be so kind as to let them by. Profiled sections in railway platforms and in sidewalks for the blind to find their way are everywhere, as are audio signs (mainly bird calls) at traffic lights.

trashtrash
Up North, in the country, we did manage to find some trash.

You will see no trash. But don't think this is because of the popular Western misconception to put trash bins everywhere. There are hardly any around. Matter of fact, there was a terrorist subway scare going on and even in the Tokyo trains and stations all trash bins had been removed. Result? No trash.

trash trash sushi lunch
just compare Kingston, Jamaica with Sendai and Willemstad, Curaçao

One thing you have to take into account, people away from the regular tracks really have a very vague idea that are such things as foreign languages. When I stuck up two fingers for the Sendai lady to the right, below, to indicate how many I wanted, she thought this a very clever and original solution to a problem that had never even occurred to her could come up.

trash

Tokyo may well be the most expensive city in the world. You'd better shop for hotel reservations and car rentals before you leave. And don't forget to buy a Japan Railway Pass before you arrive there - then it's too late.)
Those giant Tokyo camera shops have really turned into computer shops, with prices for batteries, chargers and memory cards maybe half (or less) what you'd pay in New York.

leeksfruitsfruits

Food, on the other hand, is much cheaper to get than you'd expect. Of course, it's easy to go overboard and spend a fortune on fruit; or even leeks. But they do look inviting, and are presented as neatly as absolutely everything is in Japan.

neatneat

Having raved about all that, some things I definitely did not like.
One: the gambling halls. They are all over - you walk past and a cloud of tobacco smoke is pushed out by the pressure of very loud music. You will also find them along the highways. The countryside, where it's flat, is just one giant New Jersey, or Belgium. Industry and commerce line the roads wherever you go, rice paddies inbetween. Driving into a town you'll get insanely distracted in the form of giant animated screens pushing commercials down your throat.
Really good about the roads are the robots that take over the task of waving red flags to slow you down, and other things humans are too expensive for. Looks like a human life in Japan is worth more than in the West, contrary to popular superstition.

gamblehall
come in and gamble
in my fun parlor

Coming back to moving around, it's easy to drive in Japan even if you're not used to their left-hand system. Taxi drivers, buses and Mother Truckers® are always ready to yield, rather than smash into you. Just like the clerks in a bank, gas station and parking lot attendants will literally run for you. Roads are very well laid out and if you have a good sense of map reading, you will have little trouble. There's a GPS in every rental car; even in Japanese it's a big help. (One thing you have to figure is that Japanese maps help explain why they lost WWII.)
Why Oh Why do the Japanese car makers refuse to export those wonderful box-like cube models? That Mazda used less than 1 liter per 16 kms, airco and all. We just fell in love with 'em.

Nissan CubeMazda AZ Wagon
Nissan Cube - Mazda AZ Wagon

This concept may be the best idea the car industry has come up with in the last ten years. I want one!

Trains are equally easy - you'd take one for your pleasure. They stop exactly with the doors at the spots indicated on the platform. There's always an attendant next to the automated station doors who will tell you what price ticket to get from the vending machines to get to your destination. They show you on a calculator, as practical as the Americans. In a Shinkansen Bullet Train, clamor for a reserved seat in the upper compartment or you'll spend most of your trip looking at a wall speeding by.
Re the story about people being pushed into full Tokyo subway trains by special attendants, I haven't seen this myself. It's quite possibly possible. What they never omit to mention, though, is that these guys wear white gloves, as if that somehow makes it worse. But almost every professional wears white gloves in Japan! I also remember when one of the first Japanese movies was made on location in Amsterdam, how the word went round that the camera crew wore white gloves. This easily helps explain the very superior quality of Japanese movies as compared to the Dutch product.

You probably feel you owe it to yourself to stay in a ryukan, the traditional type of hotel. Do so, by all means. If nothing else, it will make you understand why the Japanese prefer a bed over a tatami and would rather sit at tables, on chairs. The cheapest deal is the business hotels. There are several chains; it seems best to reserve in advance.
Final warning: The country is really designed and built for smaller people than we are. To most Japanese, a >1.85m guy like me appears like a giant and it really is appreciated if you make an effort to shrink. You may bump your head getting in and out of buses and subways, or on stairs. A hotel bed definitely is on the short side. I really had to bend over to shave or to look through the peep-hole in the door. And the rooms can get so small, they would be downright claustrophobic if they had not been designed so cleverly. Elbow room in (eating) bars is confined, not to say cramped.

peep holeroomshave

All toilets have a built-in bidet, even in a ryukan. All business-hotel rooms have free broadband internet, a refrigerator and mostly a safe. When a bulb blows, the receptionist will run up to change it. When it rains, you will be presented with a free umbrella upon going out.

Picture Book

Willy's Gang
Willy & Her Faceless Boys' Band



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