Subject: Re: Japan?

It's been about 5 years since I visited Japan, so some things I tell you may have changed.

When we traveled to Japan, the railpass could only be purchased outside Japan. It was sent to us before our trip. I have no knowledge of being able to pick it up once in Japan. If you didn't have it when you got to Japan, you could not buy one there. Whether we took our ticket and then exchanged it at the airport for a pass is something I honestly don't recall. I'll ask my husband when he gets home tonight. However, the most important thing is that it was very easy to use and saved us a lot of money.

Using it to/from the airport and then for the bullet train to/from Tokyo/Kyoto saved us a bundle. Everything after that was a "free" ride. So, yes we used it for train rides outside the cities. It is not good for the subway rides within the cities - however, those are quite inexpensive anyway.

Kyoto is much more mellow than Tokyo and much prettier too. On one trip we saved Kyoto for last and had a night flight home from Tokyo. So on our last day, we took the bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo and then changed in Tokyo station for the train to the airport. Narita airport in Tokyo has fabulous shopping and restaurants, so it's easy to kill hours there quite pleasantly. All the trains have space for luggage at the front & back of the cars. On another trip, my husband was working in Tokyo, so we sandwiched Kyoto in between two Tokyo visits. When we did that, we left one of our suitcases at the hotel in Tokyo until our return. Check out the Miyako Hotel in Kyoto and stay there if it's in your budget. It's a lovely hotel in an excellent location.

Nikko is a lovely town (about an hour outside Tokyo) famous for their "Hairpin Turn Mountain", lots of monkeys who'll come right up to your bus, delicious rainbow trout and a gorgeous park with acres and acres of buddhist sculptures. Generally, we're inclined to travel to places on our own but in this case, I felt the organized tour from Tokyo was better and glad we did it that way.

There were western style toilets on the bullet trains used mostly by women. The men's urinals only had a curtain closing them off and the curtain only hid the body from about the chest to the knee's. Quite an unusual site! LOL!

Oh another useful tip for Japan. Don't wear shoes with laces or buckles. You'll be taking your shoes off a lot, so wear shoes that you can get on and off easily.

The food courts in the dept stores in Tokyo were a life saver for me, especially when I was not asked to join my husband for his business dinners. I'm not a big fan of dining alone in restuarants, so at the end of my day of visiting sites, I'd go to one of the stores, like Mitsokushi, go to their food hall and buy great things to bring back to the hotel room. During the day when I was on my own, I found some sushi places that charge you by the color of the plate. The little plates roll along a toy train track and you just pick the plates you want. When you're finished, the waitress counts the number of your plates and the color and hands you a check. One of the popular ones is called Genroku sushi. We used to have one of them here in NY when I was in high school, so I was very familiar with the custom. It's an easy place to dine if you're alone, it's also inexpensive. The dept. store restaurants also have set lunch plates at very reasonable prices. Noodle shops are pretty cheap too, but in many of them you have to stand, which I don't enjoy at all. Vending machines are all over Tokyo selling hot and cold beverages, including sake, orange juice and coffee. These are much cheaper than buying in a store.

Maybe you have trouble with chopsticks because they're not the right size for you? If you go to the chopstick dept in the store in Japan they'll be a chart that you put your hand up against. You measure your hand on the chart and then it tells you which size chopstick is right for you. Perhaps if you buy a pair suited for your hands, you'll have an easier time with them?

Candice NYC