promised you all we would send you a description of
some of our experiences on our trip to Japan with our
friends the Misens and the Lees. Here's a brief itinerary:
We left LAX on Saturday, April 1st on United nonstop
to Tokyo. We arrived Sunday evening at Narita Airport
where we were met by the Lees who had taken a different
flight. The 90 minute bus ride to the hotel took nearly
3 hours, because traffic was so bad. More on traffic
were in Tokyo four nights. One of the days in Tokyo
was spent on a tour bus to Nikko, about 100 miles north
Thursday we traveled by Bullet Train to the mountain
resort town of Hakone where we spent one night before
traveling to Kyoto, again by Bullet Train.
were scheduled to be in Kyoto 5 nights, but, Pat became
ill on the 4th day and I became ill on the 6th. We have
a mild family disagreement as to whether it was the
Flu or Food Poisoning, but, whatever it was, we were
down for the count and ended up skipping a stop in Kurashiki
which both the Lees and Misens enjoyed. We did manage
to make it back to Tokyo in time to catch our flight
home on Saturday the 15th. We're fine now, but there
was a time when
neither of us thought we would ever make it home. We
had a wonderful time the first ten days, so, this will
concentrate on those from this point forward.
IS CROWDED: There are over 100 million Japanese living
in a country smaller than California. There are 12 Million
souls living in Tokyo alone. One of our tour guides
told us that most young people live at home with their
parents and commute to work in Tokyo because they can't
afford to live in the city. A 450 Sq. Foot Apartment
(two small rooms) will run $3,000 a month in the city.
Every level piece of ground is either under cultivation
or has a building on it. Traffic is terrible.
tour guide explained that they have freeways they call
"Expressways," not because they go fast, which
they never do, but because there are no stop lights.
She said you haven't seen anything until you see the
traffic jam on the 4th Thursday of the month when every
working individual in the entire country gets their
only paycheck of the month. I asked why they didn't
have some employees paid on the 1st Thursday, some on
the 2nd Thursday, etc. She said because, "The 4th
Thursday is the Traditional Payday." When things
traditional in Japan they tend to be chiseled in stone:
DO THEY MANAGE TO GET ALONG IF IT IS SO CROWDED? Because
the worst offense a person can commit is to disturb
the "Wa" or "harmony." Tokyo is
the quietest big city you will ever see. There are no
horns honking. No cabbies yelling at each other or their
customers. In fact all cab drivers wear coats, ties
and WHITE GLOVES and never speak unless spoken to. People
bump into each other, but, there is no confrontation,
only apology. In the Subway there is a paid "Pusher"
whose job it is to shove as many passengers as possible
onto each subway car, but, nobody gets mad about it.
There are no
blasting Boom Boxes, no earsplitting low-ridder cars
with stereos. People are universally polite to each
other and to you. It's wonderful.
is also clean. No graffiti anywhere. No trash on the
ground. Japanese smokers, who comprise the majority
of adults, carry their own little ash tray and you will
never, ever see a butt on the ground.
Shinto is the ancient religion of the Japanese. It is
Polytheistic, and acknowledges that a different god
is responsible for nearly everything. There is a Volcano
God, An Ocean God, and a Fertility God. There is even
one for "Traffic Safety," although Japanese
drivers seldom get up enough speed to hurt themselves
in an accident. These gods love a little grog, too,
so every Shinto Shrine has a special section for barrels
of the traditional rice wine, "Sake" dedicated
to the gods of that particular Shrine.
came to Japan in the year of Buddha's life, the 7th
Century. It is a monotheistic religion that claims only
the one true Buddha is God. Heaven is the "absence
of being" or sweet peaceful "Nirvana."
Until you are a perfect person, however, and ready for
Nirvana, you will keep getting reincarnated until you
get it right. Soon all Japanese were Buddhists, but,
that didn't keep them from continuing to pay honor to
the Shinto Gods.
Christians who tried to drive out the Pagan Religions
of Rome, Egypt, etc., Buddhism just sort of merged with
Shinto in Japan and so, now, whenever you find a Shinto
Shrine you'll find a Buddhist Temple nearby.
Portuguese temporarily brought Catholicism to Japan
in the 16th Century, but, Christianity was outlawed
by the Shogun in the early 17th and except for a few
Dutch Lutheran Churches around the trading port of Nagasaki,
Christianity was pretty much wiped out for 400 years.
But, about 1% of the Japanese managed to maintain their
customs in secret and are Christians by heritage.
Japanese are pragmatists. We were told that about 30%
of young people are now being wed in Christian Churches.
Is it because they are becoming Christians? No, it is
because it is cheaper to wed in a Christian Church.
Traditionally all the family members and guests bring
cash gifts for a young couple who will need every bit
of it to pay rent on a tiny Tokyo flat. In a Shinto
Ceremony the Bride and Groom must traditionally lavish
gifts on all the guests at the wedding, which can wipe
out the cash received before the wedding day is over.
Buddhist weddings are the most expensive of all, so
Shinto weddings are favored for those that can't bring
themselves to violate tradition and get married in a
Christian Church. Now, being married abroad in Hawaii,
Australia or Las Vegas is popular because the only expense
is the trip.
the other hand, since neither Shinto tradition or Christianity
promise reincarnation, nearly all Japanese funerals
are done in the Buddhist Temple where a return to life
within 40 days is assured.
Japanese simply take the best from each religion and
seem to have no problem justifying it.
THREE MONKEYS When most of us were little, we were told
about the three monkeys, "See No Evil, Hear No
Evil and Tell No Evil." I was surprised to find
the three of them originated in a 400 year old Shinto
Shrine in Nikko, a beautiful mountain resort high above
Tokyo. They are carved into the wood ornamentation of
the Shrine. They depict real monkeys who live in these
we were driving to the nearby Lodge for lunch, we saw
a real monkey about the size of a Chimpanzee sitting
on the side of the road staring at us. They are known
as "White Monkeys" because they are sort of
a grayish white color. Our tour guide told us that they
were harmless unless you stare one in the eye. This
they take as a challenge
and are liable to charge and attack you.
saw many other roadside monkeys during our visit to
Nikko including one who was sitting on the hood of a
parked Toyota staring into the windshield while the
frantic family inside tried desperately to look away.
EMPEROR: The current Emperor of Japan is the 125th in
his line going back more than 25 Centuries making it
the longest sitting Royal family in the world. The Emporer
has little power, having lost it to the Shoguns 600
years ago and has never regained it.
visited the Imperial Palaces in Tokyo and Kyoto which
are very austere and plain places, though they have
beautiful gardens. Like many traditional Japanese, the
Emperor and Empress sleep on the floor and are not surrounded
by anything remotely like luxury. One visiting European
Monarch is said to have staid in the Palace only one
night before moving on the Miyako Hotel.
can earn the right to meet the Emperor by volunteering
to work for several weeks on the grounds of the Imperial
Palace. When their volunteer stint is over, they then
sign up for an audience with His Highness which takes
a month or so to schedule. Then the citizen is granted
10 minutes with the Emperor, who presents the guest
with the gift of a pack of cigarettes whether he or
she smokes or not.
Japanese are a bit worried that the current Emperor
has no male issue, nor does anyone else in the Royal
family. Leaving the possibility that the next ruler
may have to be a WOMAN, the first in a thousand years.
However, that thousand year old tradition calls for
that WOMAN to be Emperor, she won't be an Empress.
BLOSSOMS. If you go to Japan, go the first two weeks
in April as we did. The blooming of Cherry Blossoms
particularly in Kyoto is really spectacular. Strolling
along the river or several canals that run off it, was
among the very best experiences of our lives.
The bad news is that everything is expensive in Japan.
EVERYTHING. At Breakfast, the orange juice is $8 and
the Coffee is $5. Once Pat and I had toast and juice
plus coffee for me and tea for her and the price was
Japanese goods are more expensive in Japan than they
are in the States, automobiles for example. A watch
Pat saw in a jewelry store in LA for $450 was $1,000
in Tokyo. No wonder Japanese tourists cram the Gucci
stores from Honolulu to Venice.
two things were cheaper: Cigarettes which are about
$2.50 a pack for Marlboro or other American Brands which
now cost with taxes about $4 in the States. The other
smaller expense is Tipping, which you simply don't do
in Japan. In fact some Japanese will be affronted if
you offer them a tip.
We Americans don't know how lucky we are to have the
variety of Ethnic Fare available to us. In Los Angeles
you can get authentic Mexican Food that tastes like
it does in Mexico and French Food made as it is in Paris.
Raw Fish in the form of Sushi is a staple in Japan.
That which isn't raw, is pickled so that everything
you eat in Japan tastes vaguely like fish or pickles.
The food wasn't our favorite, though the Lees and Misens
enjoyed it more than we did.
I wanted to see a professional baseball game while we
were in Japan, but, for various reasons couldn't. That
isn't to say I couldn't have. Nearly every recreational
space in Japan is set aside for baseball. In the United
States as you pass through a town you will see football
stadiums for the big kids and endless soccer fields
for the youngsters. In Japan you will see only Baseball
diamonds. There they are, boys and girls, young and
old, on the field and waiting in line to be next, baseball
dominates youth sports.
there is golf. Wherever we went we saw driving ranges,
every teeing space full and people waiting in line.
We saw them in Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as along the
route of the Bullet Train. Day or night, every tee spot
contained an eager golfer. One driving range near Hokone
had a line of tee markers on a cliff with eager hackers
driving off into a 100 yard void.
- - We never saw a golf course. The tour guide told
us that the average Country Club costs $1 million to
join. Do they just play on the driving range? I haven't
There are 6 Japanese television channels in Tokyo, 3
show baseball games in the Evening. They also carry
the BBC International Channel, CNBC and CNN. All you
get in Kyoto is CNN.
far as we could tell, the only thing that happened in
the United States during the two weeks we were gone
was the Elian Gonzalez fiasco and the Stockmarket crash.
at least gave us "Squawk Box" and "Market
Wrap" so we could watch as our stocks tanked. BBC
International gave us a reasonably
balanced view of world news. CNN International featured
official version on events in the States. We noticed
the same kind of
Anti-US bias on CNN International when we were in France
last October. Foreign Hotels think they're doing us
a favor carrying CNN, we need to let them know that
PEOPLE Japanese people are extremely friendly and polite.
You don't have to worry about being mugged or murdered,
there was one homicide in all of Japan last year. They
are honest and will give you change you didn't expect
to get. Service is terrific.
the last time you went into the May Company? You couldn't
find a clerk and when you did, they didn't know anything
about what you wanted to buy? That won't happen to you
in Japan. Every counter has two bright intelligent clerks
dying to wait on you. That is partly why everything
is so expensive.
WE HAVE A GOOD TIME: Yes, indeed, and we can hardly
wait to bore you silly with our pictures.