Frank R. Hall and Associates
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I 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 later.

We were in Tokyo four nights. One of the days in Tokyo was spent on a tour bus to Nikko, about 100 miles north of Tokyo.

On 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.

We 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.

JAPAN 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.

Our 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 are
traditional in Japan they tend to be chiseled in stone:

HOW 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.

It 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.

RELIGION: 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.

Buddhism 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.

Unlike 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.

The 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.

The 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.

On 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.

The Japanese simply take the best from each religion and seem to have no problem justifying it.

THE 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 mountains.

As 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.

We 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.

THE 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.

We 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.

Japanese 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.

The 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.

CHERRY 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.

PRICES: 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 $40.

Even 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.

Only 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.

FOOD: 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.

SPORTS: 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.

Then 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.

But - - 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 a clue.

TELEVISION: 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.

As 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.

CNBC 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 Fidel Castro's
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 they aren't

THE 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.

Remember 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.

DID WE HAVE A GOOD TIME: Yes, indeed, and we can hardly wait to bore you silly with our pictures.


Frank and Pat



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