Travelling in Japan

I thought I would add a few thoughts about travelling in Japan.  Our group travelled by public transport where that was possible, and that was most of the time.  There are very few places that you cannot get to in Japan by train, either bullet train (Shinkansen) or regional trains, some of which are called limited express trains.  Trains are very frequent and while we made a couple of 6 minute connections, you could book slightly longer connections.  We used a Japan Rail (JR) Pass.  You can use unreserved seats with the pass but you can reserve seats on most trains for an extra fee. The JR Pass was good for almost all trains except those on private railways.  It was also good for the JR ferry to Miyajima and for local JR “loop” trains in Tokyo and Osaka which get you to most sightseeing venues.  Big cities have a metro or subway system and it will get you where the loop trains won’t.  The biggest problem with trains is the lack of luggage space.  A couple of times  our luggage was forwarded to another city and we made do with overnight bags for a night or two. Luggage forwarding is common in Japan and inexpensive – about $15.00 per trip.  There are overhead bins on Shinkansens if you can manage to get your bags up, but not enough space for every person in a particular row of seats to do so.  There is a lot of legroom between seats on those trains and a short person like me could easily sit with the bag in front of me. Narita airport trains apparently have a baggage car.  On other trains it is more difficult.  On my trip from Kyoto to Osaka which was 28 minutes long, I stood by the door and propped my luggage against a seat.  It was standing room only and people were packed in like sardines.  Fortunately 28 minutes goes by pretty quickly.  There are secure luggage lockers in stations where you can store bags while you sightsee, if you have to check out of a hotel or are just stopping en route.

We stayed at Japanese three and four star hotels and a ryokan.  Only in Tokyo, Kanazawa and Osaka did they have BBC or CNN on the TV.  The rest were limited to Japanese channels.  The rooms are small but well equipped otherwise, with a kettle for making tea. Coffee was not always supplied though green tea was.  A western breakfast was offered in all places and it was always acceptable and in some places actually quite good. Except for the ryokan at Hakone, the hotels all had free LAN in the rooms with a cable supplied.  Only a couple  had wi fi in the lobby and I think you had to pay for it in one case.  There is no wi fi on trains or practically anywhere else for that matter including coffee shops.  Some of our group had only wi fi capable equipment such as i pads and i phones.  They were useless most of the time. The situation may be different in more expensive hotels.

No Japanese banks are connected to international banking networks so you cannot use their ATMs.   The Japan Post Office has ATMs that are connected, but they are not open all the time.  However, 7-Eleven has set up a bank (7 Bank) that does connect to the networks and they have machines in all their stores and they work well.  There are lots of 7-Elevens in Japan so there is not a problem. They also have machines in some hotel lobbies.  I guess they knew a good business opportunity when they saw it.

We were told that we could expect to feel earthquakes or tremors during our trip, particularly in the Tokyo region.   We did not feel any during the two weeks of our tour and I have not felt any so far in Osaka. 

English is not spoken much.  However, people are generally friendly and will try to help.  People dealing with tourists usually have a few words of relevant vocabulary e.g. they can provide a basic menu translation.  English maps have the Japanese on them so if you are lost you can point to where you want to go and the person can point you in the right direction.  If you start with ‘sumimasen’ which means ‘excuse me’ and end with ‘arigato’ which means ‘thank you’, they will be quite pleasant about it.  Those were the two words I used most often here.

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