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Japan Tour Review

21 days Grand Tour of Japan

photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch

In Japan, everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch. Employees are expected to appear at work much earlier than their scheduled time. Punctual appearance at the scheduled work time is perceived by the employer as being late, something that he will not tolerate. Two late appearances to work without justification and their jobs are lost.
Japanese trains called, "Bullet Trains," run extremely fast and accurate to the second. If something unusual happens on the way to work, such as a delayed train, the employee must provide a justification form from the relevant authorities confirming the incident; however, the employer still calls to check whether or not the specific case incident actually occurred. Trains consist of 20 cars with each car having 100 seats, extremely spacious, clean and comfortable.
Only the last car in the composition has unmarked seats, intended for General Admission. Since the launch of Bullet Trains, which happened during the Olympic Games in Tokyo more than 60 years ago, there have been no accidents noted on the railways.

photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch

Train stations act as the center of each city. In the station basements there are kilometers of􀀁passages & arcades lined with hundreds of shops and restaurants. Persons working in the offices are called "salary men."

Crowds of people; men and women dressed in suits are seen rushing to work in the morning through the streets. Most of them wear masks covering their mouths and noses either to protect against bacteria fostered by others, or to prevent spreading of any illness of their own. Reportedly, women put on masks when they do not manage to put makeup on their faces before leaving home. Out on the street, a woman without makeup is an offense against society and a sign of carelessness. After fixed working hours, no one dares to leave the job until the employer has given authorization. Usually the so-called "Boss," that is, the employer, invites male company employees for dinner along with alcoholic drinks after work hours.

Husbands come home late in the evening and in the morning run to work again. After Saturday's good sleep and rest from an entire work week, on Sundays, the wife can discuss with her husband all kinds of family issues. If the wife's husband returns home at the normal time, she immediately suspects him of losing his job. The husband gives his earned salary to his wife, who rules household spending with pencil in hand. The husband keeps a small allowance of money for his minor expenses. Amounts and the sum which are fixed by custom depend on age and length of work experience. Only older men receive decent pocket money of their own earnings, of course, from their wives.

While staying in our Tokyo hotel, Hotel New Otani, I could not connect to the protected Internet from my Tablet computer. As I did not want to use a public connection, I asked for help at the front desk. A young man dressed in an elegant suit came to our room and tried to solve the problem; but, unfortunately, he could not cope. He told me that it was probably the fault of my specific e-mail address. I agreed with his opinion. Despite this, the man fell on his knees in front of me, folded his hands as if in prayer, and began to cry and apologize that he could not help me. In his eyes, he had failed his customer. If his employer discovered that he had failed his mission, he would be personally disgraced. I had to reassure him that nothing happened, everything was fine, and that I wouldn't tell the hotel manager about the incident. He calmed down, and humbly bowed out of the room. I felt very embarrassed by this whole situation, as I am sure he did as well.

Surprising to the visitor is the politeness of the Japanese citizens, who gladly provide any advice if asked, as well as lend their own mobile phone, if the person does not have his or her own. We experienced a similar situation when we arrived in Osaka, and were not sure which way to go to reach Hotel Granvia Osaka. We encountered a young girl on the street, who immediately tapped the address of our hotel into her cell phone. It turned out that we were standing in front of the hotel for which we were searching. It may seem to be a small thing to the Japanese locals, but to the visitor, it means much to receive such an extremely helpful tip from such a generous gesture of this young, foreign girl. We were very tired after a long journey, and dreamed of a hot bath and relaxation at a comfortable Japanese hotel.

photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch

Japanese dishes consist of an assortment of pickled vegetables, roots, beans, ginger, etc., and are served in tiny cups at each meal; all of which are eaten with chopsticks. Curiously, dessert is ice cream flavored with fish and crabs, which is completely at odds with the idea of dessert in our culture. The rice dish is especially respected in Japan. A tip: Do not leave a single grain of rice in a bowl! If you do not intend to consume it, you'd better refuse it immediately, as the rice will be used by others. Thailand and China could glut Japan's market with their rice, but in rice will be used by others. Thailand and China could glut Japan's market with their rice, but in Japan, the interests and work effort of its farmer are respected. No Japanese will buy imported rice because the public is told that Japanese rice is the best and tastiest. This tradition leads to variety of absurdities. Even a small melon costs $80.00, and people buy them only as a gift for others. Hardly anyone can afford such a rarity; therefore, people do not eat a sufficient amount of fruits, causing dysfunction of the gastrointestinal tract.

photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch

Meat, such as Kobe Beef, comes from cows which are given beer for drinking, are massaged with a rice wine, and are exposed to classical music during feeding & massage sessions.
Japanese beef is eaten in small amounts cut into thin slices, and only occasionally, such as at Japanese New Year (called 'o shogatsu'), a Japanese time similar to traditional Western Christmas. New Year is the period where families get together, have a special meal, pray and send greetings cards. New Year is celebrated over five days from December 31st to January 4th and is a very busy time.

Kobe beef comes from the Tajima-gyu breed of cattle found in Japan’s Hyōgo Prefecture, of which Kobe is the capital and the meat’s namesake. Introduced as work animals in the rice cultivation industry during the 2nd Century, Tajima-gyu became isolated from other breeds in the small pockets of arable land within Japan’s mountainous landscape. Herd isolation and distinctive feeding techniques are said to have led to unique differences in taste and texture.
Kobe beef is renowned for its superior flavor, tenderness and high amount of intra-muscular fat, giving the meat a marbled appearance. Japanese highlanders survive the winter mainly due to a diet of fermented beans, dried roots, and powdered soups, from which freshness can be retrieved by adding hot water.

In the spring, the whole country shines from flowering cherries, which grow wild everywhere, and do not bear fruit. The branches bend under the weight of white and pink flowers, in parks, along roads and in the woods. The views are beautiful, making the viewer want to sing. The visual beauty of cherry blossoms is also extraordinary. With its sensitive pink color, the petals shine elegantly in the daylight and are illuminated gloriously at night. Even at the end of blossom-life, the petals fall so beautifully that they appear just like very light pink snowflakes.
These flowers are so fragile that a warm spring rain can easily cause the petals to fall. This ephemeral beauty symbolizes the transience of human life, as the blossoms also are beautiful but short-lived. The end of blossom-time is sentimental for the Japanese. The belief that life is brief and beautiful, just like the cherry blossom is translated into the traditional Japanese Samurai spirit.

photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch

Japanese people are eager to use volcanic hot springs, which are located at hotels and spa facilities to relax and warm-up their bodies. At each of the hotels, where we stopped for the night, we had a chance to soak in the natural hot waters. In the hotel closet always waiting for guests were "Yukata". Yukata are Japanese gowns consisting of a long gown without fastening, a very long wide belt, which wraps around the waist several times, a vest and mandatory slippers. This type of light dress, made of cotton was used in ancient Japanese times as a homemade costume and for bathing, while attending public baths (furo). Currently it is worn during the summer holidays, festivals and various events. It is a basic outfit in resorts with hot springs (onsens). In ryokans and hotels, rooms are equipped with Yukatas, serving as bathrobes and pajamas. Entering a hot spring is allowed only after taking a bath in designated rooms where participants are given personal hygiene products such as soaps, shampoos, conditioners, etc. Clothing is left in lockers, the key to which is hung on the wrist of the bather. conditioners, etc. Clothing is left in lockers, the key to which is hung on the wrist of the bather.
The bather immerses into almost boiling springs in the nude, a choice of the bather. Smokey steam from the onsens drifts into the open air and under roofs. After bathing and retrieving personal items from a locker, all go to salons to improve makeup, drying and hair styling, moisturizing face and body with cream, and "voi·la," you're done. Straight from the bath, you can go for breakfast, lunch or dinner; as no one changes clothes for such occasion. Meals in the restaurants are consumed in comfortable Yukatas and slippers on guests’ feet.

As a side note, the Western-style toilets are now more popular in Japan than traditional ones, at which standing on porcelain over a hole in the floor is required. The new toilet is a combination toilet with bidet, popularly called a washlet. The seat has several additional features such as dryers, heated seats, a pencil sized bidet nozzle placed under the toilet seat, and even playing music. Some tourists say that they won’t go home without a toilet seat. The Chinese tourists are buying them in masse. Of course, after returning from Japan, in our house in two bathrooms we fitted the "washlets" from TOTO Company, which is the world's largest toilet production company.

photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch

We traveled the entire Japan from South to North and from East to West. We started from Osaka by Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Beppu, Oboke George, Kyoto, Takayama, Oizumi Kogen, Tokyo, Kinugawa Onsen, Matsushima, Towada, Hakodate, Noboribetsu, Sapporo, and ended in Chitose.

We traveled in the most modern, luxurious coaches of All Japan Tours. All Japan Tours is a Japanese owned company with international sales offices, which brought Australians, American- Germans, Canadian-Vietnamese woman, American-Chinese, American-Poles,(Jerry and myself), and Americans born in the United States together, greatly enhancing our travel experience of meeting people from across the globe.

America's Texans broke the participation record, as 13 women, wives of busy doctors, dentists, lawyers, and other professionals from the small town of Gainesville in Texas joined our group. Initially, it was hard to understand them, as the Texan accent of English language is different from New York's English, which my husband and I acquired. Since arrival from Poland almost 40-years ago, until recently, we lived in the heart of New York City, Manhattan. The Ladies from Texas turned out to be very nice and cheerful. After a few days of joint travel, we all formed a good team.

photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch

Kim-san, our guide, Chinese-Mongolian Japanese, born in English-speaking Singapore, sang Japanese songs for us on the bus. Two bus drivers, Nakayama-san and Kuji-san, smoothly operated our great coach. Here, I need to explain why the suffix "san" is added to Japanese names. San (􀊙 􀍞􀎜􀊣" is the most common title, a title of respect. It means all of "Mr.", "Mrs.", and "Ms." We were very fortunate that Kim-san, who has a Japanese mother and Chinese father, now a citizen of Japan, spoke great English. In Japan, only a handful of people speak in other tongues, as the children under 12 years of age learn their own complex languages. Only when they become 12 years of age can they then start learning foreign language.
By then, the kids have good control of their own two difficult languages, Hiragana and Katakana. This combination of languages is called Kanamoji, a generic name for the characters of Hiragana and Katakana consisting of both languages.

Kanamoji is the Japanese equivalent to the English alphabet. The kanamoji character has the 46 standard phonetic characters. Kanamoji is the first step of Japanese language learning. Japanese consists of three different character sets. Many persons say, "Japanese language is difficult". One of the reasons might be the kanji. However, the Kanji can be written in Kana characters; but the Kanji is unnecessary when talking. Japanese language education starts from the study of Kana characters. All Kanji are not mastered by all Japanese. In short, if one mastered the "Kana character" which is the alphabet of the Japanese language and know the words, you can communicate to some extent.

photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch

To check whether a Japanese young person properly understands a foreign language, the teacher accompanies a group of students to a public place where they can meet foreign tourists, and where students can ask questions; for example, in the English Language. If the student's question was answered by the tourist, it indicated that they sufficiently learned a particular language. Being told by our guide of this student practice with tourists, I eagerly answered questions of students who stopped me in the square of a town to test their skills. Very happily, they shouted with joy and applauded, because they had been understood. Proudly boasting her successful teaching, the teacher emerged from the crowd, longing for praise as well.

Japanese drivers drive very carefully. If a driver causes a deadly accident, he or she could lose their driving license for life, and thereby lose their job. Definitely, if the perpetrator of the deadly accident were under the influence of alcohol he or she would lose their license for life. Prisoners causing a deadly accident are reminded with the frequently played funeral video of the victim. Young drivers, for 2 years from obtaining a driving license must mark their cars with special stamps visible from the front and rear of the vehicle. A similar provision applies to older drivers, those who completed 65 years of age. Both driver categories enjoy the indulgence of other road users.

Strange rules apply in Japan when someone intends to purchase a car. To buy a car, one must prove to the local authorities that they have a parking space. After petitioning at a local police station the desire of buying a car, the inspector is sent to the parking address to administer the measurement spot intended for parking the car. Then, it is decided whether the person concerned can purchase a car, and what size car. If a person does not have a parking place in front of his own house or building, they can buy a spot anywhere, but it is not easy. Because the country is small and densely populated, land is a precious and pricey product. Apartments are also very small. Mats and mattresses, on which the Japanese sleep on the floor at night, are put into the closets for the day, a practice which expands living space.

photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch

In Himeji, in Hyōgo Prefecture, we visited a complex consisting of two castles, White Egret Castle and White Heron Castle. Both castles are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The complexes are surrounded by 1,000 blossoming cherry trees and are regarded as the finest surviving examples of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period.

Hiroshima is a part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. At the Museum of Atomic Bombs are displayed pictures and personal belongings of the bombing victims, an awful view. The ruin serves as a memorial to the people who were killed in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Over 70,000 people were killed instantly, and another 70,000 suffered fatal injuries from the radiation. The Japanese government does not inform its citizens about the fact that Japan provoked this terrible war; however, tourists familiar with the story know the details of its creation. Despite this knowledge, anyone who watched the photographs of those horrific times swirled tears in their eyes. Information about the fact that the Japanese Empire itself provoked this war is only displayed at the exit of the museum.

Later in the trip, awaiting for us were temples, gardens, bridges, mountains, Lakes, parks, zoos full of monkey families, hot springs (onsens), traditional theatric shows, rides by water and land, and many, many various curiosities. We noted that endless tunnels cross the entire of Japan. The Islands are small and mountainous, with little arable land, and the Japanese people are accurate, fast, and obligatory.

While traveling throughout the Japan we crossed mountains and oceans to witness a perfect system of communication between Japanese towns and villages. The famous mountain Fuji is visible in all its glory approximately 70 days a year. This time, Mt. Fuji revealed to us his face. Ah! We were so happy! Japanese Mt. Fuji is an active volcano located about 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, commonly referred by the Japanese as “Fuji-san," which is the country's highest peak, measuring 3,776 meters. It is considered one of the three to four sacred mountains of Japan and hiking to its summit remains a popular pastime of visitors. Mt. Fuji's distinctive profile is the subject of numerous works of art.

In Tokyo, we ascended (by elevator, of course) 333 meters high the Tower of Tokyo for a spectacular view. The tower is about 13 meters higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. From the top, are revealed the sights of the city while flyovers wind through the sky like strands of pasta. Historic, stylish temples decorate the entire Island of Japan. They are so numerous that it is impossible to mention each of them individually.

They appear in the mountains, at the lakes, and in the cities and small villages. All of them are so beautiful, haughty, usually the color of rust, but always with a dignified look to interest the crowds of visitors. In every temple you can buy "a piece of the future." Throw a coin and a piece of paper pops up with some prophecy of your future. If the sign says something that you do not like, you must tie this piece of paper on a suitable tree designed for this purpose. Only then that prophecy won't be fulfilled. Many Japanese as well as tourists tried to get rid of bad omens in this way.

photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch

The great surprise for the whole group was the possibility of dressing in a traditional Japanese Kimono, arranged by the owner of All Japan Tours especially for our group.

Several Japanese dressers appeared to cleverly bustle up our group of about 50 people into beautiful silk kimonos. Our group contained only a few men. Because of this situation, I promised all Texans to lend them my husband, Jerry, but only for the photos with him. In these beautiful kimonos, I didn't want them to feel abandoned by male company. And so it happened, all the ladies from Texas lined up in the queue for photographs with Mr. Jerry dressed in an elegant, dark-gray-charcoal Kimono. Women's costumes from our group were very colorful and very fit toned for taking picture with my husband, whose kimono was in one toned color.

Dressed in evening kimono attire, we paraded in the Japanese city, hotel, and restaurants that evening. Kimonos had to be returned the next morning, before going on our way for our journey through the Japan.

photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch photo of everything works like in the proverbial Swiss watch

At the end of the stay in Japan we "blurt" each of their beers in the brewery museum of SAPPOROO. Beer tasting, of course, was preceded with suitable instructions by a lovely girlguide on how to pour, serve, and consume this golden beverage. And I was there, tasty beer I drank, and what I saw and heard I here told.

Written by Eugenia Anna, Edited by Helen Lock