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Published: April 1st 2018
Japan has been the highlight destination of this trip - the piece de resistance before heading home at the end of April.
But yikes. Reading about it beforehand took the anticipation I was feeling, slapped it around and dosed it with an almost scaredy-cat tinge. Perhaps not the best country to wing it. Perhaps early in the year to arrive with tans, shorts and cotton short-sleeves. From Bali to Tokyo is a climatic shock.....from 35C to 15C kind of shock.
Some heads up bits:
. Stating the obvious, Japanese was based centuries ago on the characters in the Chinese language. As their independent culture developed, so did the Japanese written language. Some areas, like Tokyo, will have English on some signs, many others will have none.
. Addresses are not precise, mostly because buildings are numbered in the order in which they were built. An address may get you to the general neighbourhood, but alot extra time to get lost. Imperative to have your addresses in Japanese so locals can help.
. Most young people have had six years of English in school, though most have not heard it spoken by a native English speaker. Advice is to use few words, write your question down in English, or reverse the mannerisms of native Japanese speaking English. For instance, ask for a ’kora’ if you want a cola. (Japanese pronounce the letter L as an R sound). Don’t expect hotel staff to speak English fluently. Fair enough - likely the reverse experience is true for Japanese travelling to North America.
. The train and Metro system is large, well developed and complex. Great. And for me, confusing. Taxis started at $10 for 2km and another buck for every 250m thereafter. Time to learn the train system.
. When I’ve booked accommodations in say, Hakone, based on my usual routine of reviews, it turns out that I’ve been booking in what is something like the region (like confusing Halifax Municipality with Halifax city proper). Some of my picks have been an hour out of town with no easy means of transport. Discovering this early was good, but added to my daunted state.
We arrived at Tokyo Narita airport at about 5 pm, picked up a SIM card for the most-needed GPS support, got in line for train tickets into town (about an hour‘s ride) and off we went Into the darkness. The hotel sent, upon request, detailed instructions to find them. A change of Metro lines, some last minute handy directions from two chaps talking outside of a gun store, and a 15 minute walk over a bridge at night (beautiful full moon with us all the way) brought us to MyStays Asakusa.
Our room itself is a wonder. Almost every review of any Japanese accommodation refers to the tiny room sizes, or relative sizes like “small, but pretty good for Japan”. John helpfully adds that you couldn’t swing a cat in the room. This mini marvel has been designed with the discipline of a cruise ship. Every corner has some purpose, often two, and they’ve thought of everything. A microwave, bar fridge, phone, kettle, are all here, tucked, stashed or hung. The bathroom is a step up (literally), the toilet tank is no more than 3” from the wall and the toilet itself tucks in at an angle. The tub is deep and short, the ceiling low and I tried out kneeling with the shower wand first time. We’re asked to close the door as the steam may trigger a fire alarm.
As slippers are waiting as you enter the room, they have also provided a shoe horn to assist in putting your shoes on as you exit. Just remember to back in.
Welcome to Japan! Acclimatization in progress.
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