Subject: Follow-up on food and accommodations in Japan
Fellow travellers,

Following up on my prior note with Sufi's recommendations on train travel in Japan, here is the rest of his message:

I'm afraid I can't be much help for hotels, the train stations often have a place to help - but we stay with relatives - or Keiko arranges it (in Japanese). Ryokan are expensive, but the experience is priceless. Make sure you go to the ofuro or onsen if you are so lucky. Business hotels are an option though they often smell like old cigarette smoke.

[me - Price wise these are the way to go, if you smoke ;~0. I have been reliably informed on the forum that single women are acceptable in these business hotels, that they are respectable establishments. Do not confuse them with the "Capsule" hotels for businessman.]

There are hostels, though not sure how easy they are without speaking any Japanese.

[me - from contacts on the japan-guide site: These hostels are also usually located far from the business and tourist centre of town]

Try contacting the Japanese Inn Group. Eating can be very inexpensive, from just a few dollars. Though it sounds as though you are not familiar with Japanese food. You can get canned drinks from machines everywhere - but you are renting seat space with that coffee in a cafe. I must say that I love Tokyo and could easily spend all my time there. One place I recommend seeing in the Kyoto area is Fushimi Inari (only a few minutes from Kyoto by JR Nara line) - I don't think there is much special in Osaka.

Food in Japan is usually more specialised than we are used to. A sushi place is not likely to serve tempura, etc. There are different sushi places too, the 'fast-food' types with circulating belts of different types & prices (called oshidori) these are not high-quality places, but fine for what they are - the cost for each plate colour/design is clearly shown. It is hard for me to imagine a newbie chopstick user, as here any Japanese or Chinese place worth eating at assumes you use them. Japanese hashi are quite different to Chinese, much more refined, in my opinion. If you can manage clumsy plastic Chinese chopsticks, you should do fine with shorter, pointed Japanese hashi - and waribashi (the break-apart single-use wooden ones) are easy as they are not slippery.

It is a bit hard for me to think what a new visitor to Japan needs to know - so if I have raised other questions or confusions - just ask! I would say Tokyo is easier for a non-Japanese speaker. The subway is really quite easy now, and it has always been assumed that if you underpay you are not trying to cheat the system! Buy the plastic cards for 1000 or more and use it to enter and leave. JR has its own set - but Tokyo Metro (as it is now called) shares the cards with many other railways.

The guidebooks usually have the etiquette stuff explained (how to have an ofuro (bath), where to take off your shoes...) foreigners are forgiven many things, getting soap in the bath, wearing anything in the water, or walking on tatami mats even with slippers, are unforgivable!

Debbie - Israel