Things to know about Japan

Things to know about Japan:

  • There is no smoking allowed on the streets. Very few people in Japan smoke, but if they do, they have to go into the designated smoking rooms which are in all of the train stations and even in sections of each city.
  • You should consider carrying a small hand towel. There are no air dryers or paper towels in most public restrooms.  Many Japanese carry a small towel to dry their hands.
  • Speaking of restrooms, we have not found a toilet yet that is for the technologically faint of heart. All of them have at least 8 buttons.  Fortunately, most also have a flush handle on the side.  Don’t press the wrong buttons without being seated or you will enjoy a shower as well.  The shower is only for your derriere.  Most of them have enough English (and diagrams!) to avoid too many problems.
  • Although Japan has a reputation for being expensive, we have found that most food, and even souvenirs, is pretty inexpensive. Even the ubiquitous vending machines charge less than one US Dollar for things like a bottle of Coke.  And the vending machines sell many, many types of beverages, as well as some food, coffee, and even alcohol and cigarettes, although these last two are not common.
  • Bowing is very common. It is a way to say hello, goodbye, thank you, and excuse me (and we’re sure many other things.)
  • Japanese people do not usually exchange money hand-to-hand. They have a small tray where you put your money and into which the vendor puts your change.  They take credit cards in most, but not all, places.  Many places are also automated where you put your cash into a slot and it will count down how much is still owed.
  • A wet towel (nice, heated, cotton ones in fine restaurants and smaller, packaged ones at other places) are provided prior to each meal. The expectation is that you need to clean your hands prior to eating.
  • Japan is very clean. And that is pretty amazing considering it is very hard to find a garbage can anywhere.  The reason for the lack of trash bins goes back to the sarin gas attacks on Japanese subways in 1995.  The domestic terrorists placed the chemical weapons in garbage cans.  You can still hear and read warnings to today’s passengers to be on alert for unattended packages.  I guess the lesson here is the same as for hiking in the wilderness:  Pack it in, Pack it out!
  • In every city that we have been to so far, every sidewalk has yellow ridged tiles in a line. They are also in every subway station and at airports.  There are also round dots at places like street crossings and at the bottom of escalators.  When I asked about them, our guide said that they were for blind people to help navigate their way around.  We actually did see a person using them.  What a great way to include them so they are not shut in.

Better late than never

04/13/2024 Better late than never

Our last day in Japan saw us visit Miyajima Island, a small island off of the city of Hiroshima.  The island, known for its iconic giant “floating” torii gate, is a short ferry ride from the mainland. Meeting our guide, Chiyo, for the second day in a row, we headed off to enjoy our last full day in Japan.  The trip to the island started like an episode of “The Amazing Race”, as we were walking, taking a bus, then a train, and lastly a ferry.  By the time we reached the island, we felt we hit almost type of transportation available in Japan. Coming off the ferry, we immediately set off to see the giant torii gate. The gate is so iconic, that recently the G7 summit was photographed in front of the gate. G-7 Leaders Group Photo at Miyajima Shrine | . We, on the other hand, had our photo taken – just not quite as picturesque as was the G7 summit photo.  We then took the two gondolas up to the top of the island mountain.  The clear skies and bright sunshine afforded us the opportunity to see for miles and miles. What a great way to end our last day.  Heading back down, our guide dropped us off in the middle of nowhere at a sandwich shop and washed her hands of us. Being navigation experts now, we managed to find our way out of the maze of streets to the dock where we found a ferry. Luckily, it was the right ferry and we headed off the island.  We then hopped on a trolley and rode it back into the city. Disembarking, we headed off to our hotel and plopped down in the room, sighing in relief. Yes, we did it all on our own! (Okay, Google maps and asking many people lot of questions aside!) Heading to the executive lounge for a few canapes and wine for Kathy and water for Dave was a great way to end our day. Tomorrow we head home and we are preparing for the long flight and the process of adapting to the time change.


04/10-11/2024 Two-fer

Today’s post is all about the last two days: yesterday and today!  Yesterday can be summed up pretty simply, last bullet train, last hotel for the trip, and last few days in Japan. We found our last train going from Kyoto to Hiroshima without too much problem, but we did have to ask a couple of times for direction.  Seated, we chilled and enjoyed the quick trip to the coast of Japan. Arriving in Hiroshima, we took a taxi to the hotel and dropped our luggage off.  Then we were off to explore the surrounding areas. We discovered a park and walked the beautiful paths and tried to discover what the various statues were.  The pedestals were there, but the bronze statues were missing.  Google Translate did not help, as we just got “bronze statue”, but no names attached. Heading back to our last hotel we breathed a sigh of relief: the bed was not on the floor! Nor was anything low as we are on the 22nd floor with an amazing view of the islands and the Pacific Ocean.  Deciding that a day of rest would be a welcome relief, we ate at the hotel.  We did head out to after dinner to find a pharmacy to get Dave some medicine for his unrelenting cold. Just down the block was a HUGE grocery store and we wandered to the pharmacy where we had some issues with a failure to communicate.  Dave showed the pharmacist a Google-translation for “Do you have decongestants?” Instead of something for the nose, he got eye drops.  Do people in Japan have problems with their eyes becoming congested?? Going back, we tried again and we think he now has the right medication!  Settling in, we tried to sleep, but that proved as difficult as getting the right medication.  Tomorrow, though, is another day!

Look! It’s tomorrow already and we are awake!  We also had our breakfast, and it was more recognizable. Kathy had awesome French toast with maple syrup and whip cream – yep she is happy!  Dave is, too, as he found some granola cereal and juice. The only issue was the hordes of people.  Many of them were part of a tour group from India, and they had little sense of space. Meeting our guide, Chiyo, for the next two days we started our last tours of the trip. The private tour saw us head towards the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.  We visited the grounds and the museum that honored the victims of the first atomic bomb used in human history and reminds us of the importance of peace. The visit was solemn and sad and the pictures and stories told a horrendous story about death, survival, and hope for peace.  We were glad we went and the museum was reminiscent of the 9/11 Museum in NYC with its somber story told so that we may never forget.  It was very interesting to see the A-bomb from the Japanese perspective.  We then took a bus and a trolley to visit a traditional Japanese garden.  We soaked in the tranquility of the location in juxtaposition to the epicenter of the bomb blast.

Having the afternoon free, we found lunch which was quite interesting and good. While our sandwiches were pretty typical, dessert was chocolate bread with whipped cream and bananas for Kathy and chocolate bread with whipped cream and strawberries for Dave.  It was an interesting dessert and Kathy is all about trying to duplicate the dessert when she gets home. Rest, relaxation, another walk will round out our day. Tomorrow we visit Miyajima, our last iconic stop on an unforgettable trip!

ADDENDUM:  We just had dinner here in Hiroshima and it’s worth writing home about, or at least adding to our post for the day.  We can’t tell you the name of the restaurant or the style of meal we had, but it was a hoot.  We ordered a 70-item buffet.  They leave a little tablet with you and you scroll through and check the items you want brought to the table.  Once you are ready, you submit your order.  A few minutes later, out it comes, ready for you to cook it over the gas grill in the middle of your table.  Yes, that’s right, you cook your meal at your table.  They do have a little bucket of ice.  This is for outting out the fire if it gets too bad.  We ordered things like kimchi, sweet potato w/ honey and butter, big toro Kalbi, pork skirt ShioTare, basil chicken, chicken with pepper & Garlic, and beef toro Kalbi with Shio Tare.  Oh, yeah, and for a vegetable…an onion.  It was all very delicious!  Our compliments to the chefs.  A perfect way to end the day.

Shopping Trips

04/09/2024 Shopping Trips

We had a free morning, at least time wise, but we are determined to find our home souvenir. During our travels abroad, we have bought a cuckoo clock from Germany, brass and glass lanterns from Venice, Italy, an African mask from Zimbabwe,  place mats from South Africa and Peru, hand painted tiles with our name for our house from Spain, spoon holders from Turkey, and a hand tied Egyptian rug from, you guessed, it Egypt. Today we headed off to a stone quarry store where they make stone lanterns for gardens, Buddha statues, and gravestone markers, to find a lantern for our garden. After a 2 mile walk, we finally arrived at our destination.  We perused the selection and opted for the less expensive and portable option that will be a nice addition to our butterfly garden.  (We decided against the $560 lantern which required shipping, more than doubling the cost!)  We are sure our children will have the time of their life cleaning out our home, wondering what the heck were we thinking, after we pass. The store owners made sure it was safely wrapped with lots of padding and fashioned handles for us to use to carry it on our travels. The lantern will not be transported in the luggage hold, but hand carried from Kyoto, Japan to Lockport, NY.  Feeling accomplished, we raced back to the hotel to drop if off before walking another 1.5 miles to Kyoto Station to begin our afternoon tour to Nara. Bonus, we got our exercise heart points today!

The tour with Sunshine tours started out chaotic and confusing. When we checked in, we were given stickers indicating we were to be in “Bus #2”. We followed our guide who said “Bus #2 this way.”  We got on the bus.  Then, they said we were on the wrong bus and so we got kicked off the bus.  The staff took a few minutes to figure out what to do before they told us to get on another another bus.  The guide there called off names, but not ours, so she kicked off that bus, too.  The staff could not figure out how to rectify the fact that our names were on one sheet, but not the sheet that the guide had for that bus and her bus was full.  They finally got us on a third bus which apparently was the charm. Finally on our way, we settled in for the 45 minute drive to Nara. Nara is home to both a Shinto Shrine and a Buddhist Temple and famous for its “friendly” deer. The deer mill about, waiting for a cookie from the tourists who delight in feeding them.  It was kind of like a large, unfenced petting zoo. Kathy opted to buy some cookies to feed the deer. Completing the obligatory bow to the deer (who bow back like good Japanese), she fed a deer. She then turned to feed a different smaller deer when the big brute bit her on the thigh.  Chicken that she was, she just tossed the rest of the cookies to the deer from a distance and vowed to NEVER FEED THE WILDLIFE! Learning her lesson, she instead focused on viewing the beautiful shrine lined with its ancient stone lanterns.  What made the area different from the others we had visited were the 1000 stone lanterns covered by moss, as well as the ancient cypress trees.  Since the time that the shrine and temple were built in the 8th Century, no trees have been cut in the area and hunting the deer has been illegal.  We then began our journey back to Kyoto on the bus.

For dinner, Kathy and Dave tried a new restaurant called the Royal Host.  Stepping inside and getting seated, we had the sensation of being at a Denny’s restaurant in America.  Even the menu was Denny’s-like and we ordered the “meat and green” meal, which was some roast beef on top of a thin layer of mashed potatoes and a salad.  It was good comfort food.  The piece de resistance was the strawberry “sundae”, which had the teenager in the booth next to ours very jealous.  Finally sated, we went back to the room to get ready for our last train ride of the trip.  We were heading to Hiroshima the next day.

Nippon or Land of the Rising Sun

Happy Total Solar Eclipse Day back in Lockport, NY from us here in the land of the rising sun. How appropriate that we are missing a once in a lifetime viewing of the solar eclipse to be in Nippon, which is the name the locals use instead of Japan. Nippon means land of the rising sun. So, as the sun rises in Lockport, we are settling in the room to watch the sun set.  (It was Marco Polo who gave this country the name of “Japan.”)

We ended up having a great day! Our guide, Koji, picked us up bright and early. Prior to leaving, we started out by having a history lesson on Japan or Nippon. This included looking at a map and Kathy tried very hard to pay attention. At least she knows we are on an island! Koji is a former teacher and we made sure to pay attention in case we had a quiz at the end of the tour. Today we are heading to Himeji Castle, the only original castle of the 12 built which is still standing in Japan.  As such, it is included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The castle, recommended to us by Kyoko (our local friend), was well worth the bullet train ride to get to the castle. The castle is a beautiful white color and sits upon a hilltop and was surrounded by flowering cherry blossom trees. The castle is nicknamed the “White Heron Castle” for its beautiful color and graceful lines. Koji, through the entire journey, took the time to educate us about how they built the castle and its many uses through the centuries. At one point it even housed troops to train them to prepare for WWI.  The castle has two parts, the princess’s quarters and the main castle. You can enter both, and for both you go up a lot of narrow wooden stairs in stocking feet.  The views, though, for both are well worth the slippery climb up and down.  Oh, and watch out for the low ceilings that if you don’t duck under, you will hit your head. (Yes, Kathy was again unaware and hit her head.) We briefly stopped off for “lunch” and we say that in quotation marks, because out came 5 little pieces of meat on a stick, like really little pieces, that were fatty, boring, and totally did not hit the mark. Oh well, so far we have had great luck especially as we had a 90% chance of rain and there was not a cloud in the sky! After “lunch” we headed to the gardens surrounding the castle and again got to enjoy the artistry of Japanese landscaping.  Hoofing it back to the train station we continued with our history lessons. Koji, spelled our names in Chinese, and in two forms of Japanese.  He wrote both our first and last name so that we can have a wooden placard made for our house. He discussed the various local foods, including our shuba-shuba, which we had already tried, and the differences in houses and various sports and theatrical styles. Luckily, no test was given to us. Finally back at the room we chilled, and then tried to order a pizza for delivery using the front desk staff.  Fail!  After all the work of explaining the order, finding the restaurant’s phone number, calling the order in… the restaurant said they weren’t delivering today!  We finally resorted to again walking to find dinner in the rain which had just started. Still, all and all, it was a good day. As we listen to the rain hit our windows we feel lucky, all is well on the island.


Philosopher’s Path

04/07/2024 Philosopher’s Path

Today again started out early, but the good news is we went to bed sometime before 8 pm, so the early am did not seem as early.  Good thing, too, as today’s tour is a ½ day walking tour along a stone path called the Philosopher’s Path.  We were greeted by our hostess, Noriko, and as usual she was on time. We headed off by taking a couple of subways to get to the start of the path.  The path is lined by hundreds of cherry trees and, boy! have we lucked out on this trip.  Normally the cherry trees have already bloomed by this date, but they seemed to want to wait for us to arrive.  They are in absolute peak here in Kyoto!  The Philosopher’s Path runs between Ginkaku-ji Temple in the north and Eikan-do Temple in the south and we, of course, started at the first temple and ended at the last. Along the way we were treated to the visual site of thousands of cherry trees in full bloom.  Along the path we met a man making boats out of flowers and weeds and he encouraged Kathy to gently drop hers into the canal below. If it lands upright, it is supposed to be good luck. Good news is, it landed upright and we continued to have a great day with great weather. Kathy and Dave stopped and tried a cherry blossom ice cream that had hints of cherry, but it was very subtle in its flavor. We did a little shopping, a t-shirt for Dave and our grandson Hunter, and were soon off. Walking along we found ourselves at the end of the tour with two hours to spare. Noriko said, “You two are fast walkers.  Do you want to see something else?”  Deciding to head back, we were relieved to be back at the hotel by lunch time which allowed us some time to be with just each other. Finding lunch, though, was an adventure and we ended up in a restaurant sitting on the floor with our shoes left at the door and having the daring food of a hot dog for Kathy and an egg sandwich for Dave. Living dangerously in Japan! Strolling back, we visited again another temple, this one to a branch of Buddhism not related to Zen Buddhism. Kind of like two Baptist congregations, each similar, but each just a tad bit different.

Heading back we settled in for some quiet time and just relaxed on the floor.  Oh, we mean the bed on the floor. We miss chairs! Dinner was again another walk to find a restaurant. Finally finding something, we had a choice: McDonalds or Curry, and we decided upon…….curry it was. It was great, delicious and inexpensive.   That pretty much summed up our day.