Things I learnt in Japan
- Commercial airlines take the fun out of flying. Airports are often overcrowded and always have so much ‘dead-time’ waiting for check-in, security, boarding, take-off, baggage claim, customs…
- Heathrow is horrific and I’m glad Guernsey doesn’t fly there any more.
- When UK customs say one piece of hand-luggage per person they mean it. Handbag and laptops are a piece and taking liquid or gels is still a pain.
- It takes around 1h 20mins to transfer between Heathrow and Gatwick by coach.
- Seoul’s airport is impressive even under construction – shame about the one-hour delays on the runway.
- Korean Air’s fleet delivers interactive individual LCD screens with seat-to-seat gaming or ancient dodgy CRT projectors depending on the luck of the draw.
- The JR Rail Pass offers massive savings for those wishing to get around. As well as Shinkansen bullet-trains between major cities you can take slower trains between towns and JR lines inside cities.
- Show your JR Pass and ticket at gates instead of putting your ticket in the machine. Otherwise be prepared for a polite yet firm official to tap you on the shoulder.
- JR Pass doesn’t let you get on the Nozomi Shinkansen. The quickest you can ride is the Hikori which is the same speed but has more frequent stops often.
- Tokyo subway is quite easy to navigate despite the sheer size and number of people thanks to near-complete Romaji maps.
- Kyoto subway is a bit of a mess thanks to multiple operators and no unified map.
- Fukuoka’s subway is fast, clean and easy to navigate… it is also new.
- Buy a credit ticket that will be deducted per trip. It saves a whole lot of time messing around with machines and costs and lets you get on the last few trains when the ticket machines have closed.
- All Internet cafes should consist of cubicles you can sleep in with TV, workstation, bean-bag, unlimited soft drinks and a free comic library like Gera Gera.
- Mobile phones are everywhere with people texting and gaming in the street, on trains etc.
- Mobile phone system is UTMS/3G so a GSM-only phone won’t work. You’ll also need to make sure your operator has a roaming partner in Japan because you can’t buy pay-as-you-go SIM’s in Japan unless you’re a resident.
- Japanese people are incredibly polite and helpful whether it’s a stranger sharing her umbrella at a road junction, somebody helping you pick up the contents of your bag sprawled across the floor or somebody from a shop coming outside to help you get your map the right way up and point you in the right direction.
- Tiny Police stations (boxes) scatter Tokyo and are equipped with maps to help lost people – addresses are hard to find without one. Check the web-site for where you’re going and you’ll probably find a printable map.
- Emotion is all about the eyes and not the mouth in Japan. It’s not just anime but even emoticons are eyes-only. A sad mouthed-face here is tearful eyes!
- The street-tent Japanese eateries are a great place to meet people as locals of all ages and foriegners get chatting.
- Cheese, milk and chocolate are not common. Kit-Kat and Snickers are about the only recognisable brand chocolate bars.
- Eggs turn up in many many dishes. Boiled and dropped into soups, or cooked and laid upon practically anything or sometimes raw over rice dishes.
- Food is beautifully prepared, even supermarket sandwiches and lunch-boxes. Crusts are too ugly for their sandwiches.