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.

Flights

Today’s nugget will deal with flight arrangements.  When you book flights through third-party sites such as Expedia, JetAbroad, Priceline, Travelocity, or AirTreks, they become the party that the airlines will deal with.  If you have an issue with a flight, the airline will not work with you, only the company that booked the flight for you.  And that company will usually have a logjam of customer problems, especially if many flights were cancelled due to a large weather disturbance (or a global pandemic!)

We had booked flights from Buffalo, NY to Cairo, Egypt in 2021 through a company called JetAbroad.  A week before the flight, Royal Air Maroc canceled the leg of the flight from  Marakesh, Morocco to Cairo.  They rebooked the flight, but we would have had to stay at the Marakesh Airport for 25 hours!  That would have caused us to miss the first day of our tour in Egypt.  They said we could accept the change or request a refund.  We booked our own flight on Delta and canceled the Royal Air Maroc flights, since we would have missed our tour.  It took about 19 months, a dozen emails, quoting the FAA’s rules on flight cancellations, and an email to a consumer assistance program before we received our refund!  We contacted JetAbroad, but they just said that we were in the Royal Air Maroc queue.  We contacted Royal Air Maroc, but they said they would only deal with the company that booked the flights.  It was very frustrating!  We are sure that without our constant pressure, we would not have ever received our refund.

Now, the airlines can sometimes fix minor issues.  I had a client who booked his flights through Expedia.  The night before his flight, he noticed that the boarding passes and their passports did not exactly match names.  Some had middle initials, some had middle names.  Calling the airline did not help, nor did calling Expedia.  Both pointed fingers at the other.  I suggested he go to the airline counter at the airport to see if they could resolve the issue.  They drove there that night and the ticket agents said they could fix the problem, but only when they checked in the next day.  When they checked in, the ticketing agent resolved the problem, but only for the outbound flight.  They had the same problem on their way home, but it was resolved at the ticket counter when they arrived at the airport the day they flew home.

The moral of the story is to always book your flights directly with the airlines, or you are setting yourself up for frustration if there is an issue.  You can always book the land-only portion of a group tour if you go that route.