2016 - Observations from a trip to Japan

Visited Japan after seven long years, here are my observations from the trip.

Japan is a very child friendly. We took our four year old everywhere and had no problems whatsoever. The Japanese are very patient when it comes to helping gaijin. When I made a restaurant reservation over the phone, the lady at the other end was very patient.  

There were more tourists from other asian countries from my previous visits, especially in Kyoto. I was able to identify people from China, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea. Some of the tourists were dressed up in traditional kimonos and yukatas. There even are  specialized services that cater to these tourists.

Here are some tourists from China, posing for pictures dressed in traditional japanese clothing.

Here are some tourists from China, posing for pictures dressed in traditional japanese clothing.

 

The Shinkansen

The Japan Rail Pass, a.k.a. the JR Pass is an excellent value. The cost was repaid in 3 trips, we made 9 trips on the Shinkansen on 5 different days on a 7 day pass. We would have paid more than double otherwise. This freed us from worrying about the schedules and costs, we made an extra trip to Kyoto which would have cost us $500 if we had to buy tickets.  It is very easy to book tickets on the high speed trains on an ad-hoc basis. We were able to get on the trains, getting tickets just 10 minutes in advance in some cases. 

The Shinkansen make 1000 km rounds trips (500 km each way) possible on a daily basis. These trains average an incredible 200 kms an hour or more. We travelled from Tokyo to Kyoto (513 ks, 2 hours and 40 minutes on the Hikari Shinkansen, the Nozomi with fewer stops, but not usable on JR pass takes 25 fewer minutes). Tokyo to Sendai (350 km) takes 90 minutes on the Hayabusa or the Komachi Shinkansen.

The trains are punctual to the minute. When a train leaves at 09.04 AM it leaves at 09.04.00, better be there by 09.03 if you want to get on. 

Food

There are few options for breakfast. The day we landed in Tokyo, we had breakfast at “French Kitchen” in The Grand Hyatt, Roppongi. This incidentally was the most expensive meal on the entire trip.

We spotted this restaurant in Roppongi, where men were charged more.

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I ate a lot of yakitori.

We carried Ekiben when on the Shinkansen.

The cost of food outside Tokyo is significantly cheaper. This sashimi platter in Sendai for set us back by 2000 yen (USD 20).

No trip to Japan is complete without ramen ..

.. or a giant bowl of udon ..

.. or soba.

Lunch for four: soba, tempura, a bowl of rice and pork was less than 2000 yen at Omiya, Saitama (40 kms from Central Tokyo). 

Lunch for four: soba, tempura, a bowl of rice and pork was less than 2000 yen at Omiya, Saitama (40 kms from Central Tokyo). 

 

Trash, recycling and plastic bags

There are no trash cans on streets, people carry trash home with them. In public places like train stations, where there are trash cans, there are 3 boxes, one each for cans/glass bottles, PET (plastic) bottles and other burnable (non-recyclable) items. 

 

In the basement of our AirBnB apartment which was a multi-story unit, this was even more elaborate with separate containers for PET (plastic) bottles, glass bottles, cans, plastics and packaging materials, paper and packaging, and hazardous items. There is a word for the separation of rubbish when recycling “bunbetsu".

For a society which is so environmentally conscious, plastic bags are still in use everywhere. When food shopping at different shops in the basement of a department store, I ended up with 3 different plastic bags when one would have sufficed.

In restrooms, after washing your hands with water and soap and dry them using air blown dryers. There was no paper to wipe my hands with.