Japan 2017 – Culture Part I

I worked for Mitubishi Electric America (MEA), which is the parent company to Mitsubishi Electronics (MELA) who make televisions, stereos, monitors installed in cars and airline seats; Mitsubishi Electric Sales (MESA) which is the retail outlet group of MELA, Mitsubishi Semiconductor, Diamond Vision and DV Electronic Marquees (ribbon boards in sporting venues).  We had many Japanese nationals in positions of power and management in our location … and workers from both the U.S. and Japan took various culture and leadership courses to understand our respective countries.  Even at that, the shock and confusion was somewhat unexpected at times among both the Japanese and American workers.

For example:  A Mitsubishi vice-president went through the requisite 3-month training and passed his driver’s license test in the U.S.  About 2 months later, he was given a ticket for speeding on CA91.  The posted speed: 55 … his speed: 89.  When questioned he said:  “But sign say 91.  I was smaller than 91.”  (facepalm)  A co-worker said: “Well thank God he wasn’t on I405 or I5!”  After having traveled on Japan’s roads and trains, I can relate to his frustrations not only with respect to the language, but also the laws.

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Here are some of the more obvious cultural and etiquette differences between America and Japan (from various internet sites and person experience) …

Culture

In Japan, there is a word, omote, which refers to the public, formal, and conventional aspects of behavior.  This can refer to ingrained patterns of behavior, such as how close to one another people stand, or who shakes whose hand first at a meeting.  It also can allude to behavior in business affairs and events in a business setting.  I experienced this formal judgment at Mitsubishi during my annual employment review.  The Japanese value outside appearances very much. This is not to say that they do not value what is private and hidden, but much importance is placed on one’s presentation and appearance in the work environment.

I was in the Law Department and I dressed as anyone else in the legal field dressed at that time … 3 piece suit, 2 inch heels, hair short or pulled up, minimal jewelry and makeup.  During my first annual review, I was given a perfect score of 10 in the area of appearance, and another 10 in manners.  Neither of these had anything to do with my abilities or inner-company activities or productivity level or continued education toward my Bachelor’s degree.  The only issue noted on that review was I wore fairly expensive tailored suits and watches in comparison to those at my employment level (aka secretary).  I was told specifically to place those items in my locker, or even better, avoid wearing them.  In other words, I was complimented on my appearance but told to dumb it down (more on that in the next section).  Whatever the case, I was given a 50% raise based on appearance and attitude alone.

Ura, which is more valued in Japanese culture, refers to the private, informal, and unconventional aspects of social life.  Japanese people see this mode of behavior as more valuable and meaningful; however, a person only acts this way with close friends or family members.  My Vice-President broke convention in this regard as a member of my bowling team and as a member of my 4-man/woman darts league.  He invited me to his house to dine with him and his wife and children.  His demeanor changed completely when outside of the work environment; but once in his confidence, he never faltered and always treated me as family.

Social rank

As I mentioned, social ranking and status play a part in many major institutions that the Japanese go through in their lifetime.  In Japan, everyone is aware of everyone else’s age and occupation level.  In many companies, newsletters that display the ages of employees are produced for internal distribution, as an example of pride and recognition.  Vertical ranking determines everything from the location of desks in a classroom or office to the order in which cups of tea are distributed.  These rankings are even pervasive in the language where there are different ways of addressing others with respect to their age, whether older or younger.

Traditionally, the Japanese place great importance on the concept of wa, or group harmony where the value of the common greater good is more important than valuing one’s own needs.  This principle is applied in schools, as well as social groups and, later in life, the workplace.  The inferior partner in a relationship, whether personal or business, must allay their own wants, thoughts, and opinions to that of the superior, so as not to cause the superior to lose face or be humiliated.  The appearance, or tatemae, is more important than the reality, or honne.  Although this may appear as hypocritical or negative to the eyes of westerners, to the Japanese this is completely normal.  I experienced this many times at Mitsubishi.  As a non-management worker I was expected to keep quiet unless asked a direct question, sit in a particular place, and never make myself look smarter (or more wealthy) than my superiors no matter how incompetent.  Poise and protocol were tantamount.

Hard work; hard education; hard life

Omote, ura, wa, tatemae, and honne are part of the daily education of every Japanese citizen, and that education is compulsory at the elementary and middle school levels.  The school year is April through March with 6 weeks off in summer and 2 in winter; however, many students take tutoring courses or travel related courses during those two breaks.  Most students attend public schools through the lower secondary level (8th grade), but private education is also available for those who can afford it.  Not all children attend upper secondary and university levels, opting instead to go into trades that require apprenticeships.  Each of the upper-educational facilities are also funded publicly or privately, and neither public nor private schools are free at any level of education.  The annual family expenses for the education of a child in a public high school is about US$5,000 and private upper-secondary schools are about twice as expensive.  University studies run about US$11,000 tuition plus at least that much in housing and food for public education (with private universities costing two to three times as much).  What this means is parents take the financial brunt of educating their children, and those parents often work 7 days a week, sometimes 10 to 15 hours a day for over 40 years to meet those costs.

Sadly, this results in less family time, and increased suicide rates not only among adults, but also children under age 18 who are expected to meet an individual minimum testing score in order to move up the status ladder, all while “fitting in” to the group culture.  Japan has one of the highest suicide rates, according to a World Health Organization report, at 60 per cent higher than the global average.  There are an average of 70 daily suicides (25,500 or so per year).

Manners, customs and the Japanese way

Manners and customs are an important part of many facets of Japanese life.  Japanese people grow up picking up the subtleties of this unique culture as they go through life, respecting the invisible and varied societal rules.  There are many aspects of this seemingly complicated culture that as a foreign visitor you will not be expected to know, but there are some things that will be easier to grasp than others.

Respect

The suffix “san” is often used when you refer to someone else and is a term of respect. If referring to Mr/Mrs Suzuki, you would say, “Suzuki-san”.  However, you would never refer to yourself as “-san” and would only use your name on its own.

Bowing

One of the most obvious social conventions in Japan is the bow.  In a country where people are packed together like sardines in trains, there is a sort of irony with respect to bowing and non-contact.  Everyone bows when they say hello, goodbye, thank you or sorry.  Bowing is a term of respect, remorse, gratitude and greeting.  If you meet someone in Japan you may wish to give them a little bow, but you do not necessarily need to bow to everyone who bows to you.  Many Japanese have adopted the hand-shake with respect to business dealings.

There are several forms of bowing:

  • Head nod:  Entering a shop or restaurant for example, you will be greeted with irrashaimase (welcome) and a bow from the staff as a sign of respect to you as the customer.  As the customer, you will not be expected to bow back as you could be facing a long bow-off as the staff will feel it necessary to bow back to you.  You may prefer to adopt the casual head-nod version of the bow as a sign of acknowledgement when thanked for your purchase at the end of your shopping experience. Many Japanese people use the head-nod in more casual everyday situations.
  • The eshaku 15-degree bow:  This bow is semi-formal and used for greetings when meeting people for the first time. You may have more use for this bow during your time in Japan, but you will not be expected to use it.
  • The 45-degree saikeirei bow:  This bow is used for moments for sincere apology or to show the highest of respect; and
  • The 30-degree keirei bow:  This bow also shows respect to superiors. As a visitor to Japan you will probably have no use for either the 45- or 30-degree bow, but you may need them if you are on a business trip.

Footwear

This is something that confuses many visitors to Japan, but is so easy to understand. It is customary in Japan to take off your shoes when entering a traditional ryokan (guesthouse), a home, temple or the occasional restaurant.  Traditionally, the Japanese took off their shoes when entering homes as people would sleep, sit and eat on the tatami-mat floors and footwear worn outside would spread dirt across their living area. Today people still take off their footwear, partly to keep the inside of the building clean, but also as a sign of respect.  As a visitor to Japan, you will be expected to take off your shoes.  As soon as you step out of your shoes, step up straight onto the main floor and to be polite, you might like to turn around and position your shoes neatly or put them in the appropriate place.

Also, many westerners have no issues wearing open toed flip-flops in public, but many Japanese see the act of showing one’s feet as rude.  This is why you rarely see people without socks underneath their sandals in Japan.

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Eating and Drinking

Before eating a meal, the Japanese put their hands together and use the term itadakimasu (I humbly receive).  After the meal, it is polite to say gochiso sama deshita (thank you for the meal).  Japanese people will understand if visitors do not have proficient use of chopsticks, but there are some dining rules you should try and follow:

  • Do not stick your chopsticks into your bowl of rice or pass food around with them. As well as being slightly uncouth, these actions have relevance to the Japanese funeral ceremony.
  • Do not douse your rice in soy sauce. The Japanese are very proud of their rice and this seemingly innocent action may surprise and even offend some restaurant owners.  Once traded as currency, rice has been a staple food for the Japanese for over 2,000 years and still accompanies or forms the base of many meals. Harvesting rice is very labor-intensive and the Japanese are reminded of this from a very young age, which is why rice is rarely wasted and leftover rice is put to good use.
  • It is not common practice to walk and eat/drink in public; and is considered bad manners or low class.  You may sit down in a public place, like a park, and eat/drink or stand at tachi-gui restaurant/shops, but walking and eating/drinking is not polite, except during festivals.  However, there is approximately one vending machine for every 23 people in Japan which dispense almost every type of food and drink, and even though there is no law forbidding drinking beer on the streets, many cities no longer allow alcoholic drinks in public.

Tipping

There is no tipping in Japanese restaurants or other places that many westerners will expect to tip.  The Japanese will always give the best service they can and do their jobs proudly.  A waiter or chef would certainly not accept a tip for doing their jobs and if you tried to leave one, they would awkwardly return your money, so … don’t tip.

Recycling and Environment

Although the Japanese like to think of themselves as attuned to nature, much of urban Japan is an industrialized, built-up, extremely dense mess.  This does not mean they do not stop recycling, nor do they discontinue environmental awareness.  A couple of examples we saw and experienced:

  • Since there is very little space inside a home or apartment, many residences have stacked washer and dryers, or a shared laundry room with a washer only.  Many, or not most, line dry their clothing on balconies which saves energy.  The “bad” part of this is the clothes are at the mercy of the weather.  Wind, rain, fog can mess this process up, and considerably slow it down.  (picture from TheJapanGuy.com)
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  • There are recycling cans EVERYWHERE … train stations, street corners, shops … for everything (paper goods, metal and cans, and even umbrellas!)  It can be a bit daunting standing in front of the recycle bins, but it’s actually very simple:  There is a can for just about everything, and the 5 most common cans are: 1) glass, 2) plastic, 3) metal, 4) paper, and 5) other.  (picture from japantourlist.com)
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  • Green Coins in hotels.  Hotels are very, very generous with respect to their amenities (aka “freebies”).  They offer slippers, robes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, shower caps, Q-tips, and many more items.  The Green Coin program, as outlined in tokyohotelsjapan.com, aims to lower the damage to the global environment by decreasing the number of toothbrushes and razors used daily in hotels.  Guests who do not use the amenities can return a Green Coin for each amenity to the front desk (usually a maximum of 2 per day) and receive a discount on their accommodations.  The coins that are collected help fund various forest and low income programs throughout Japan.
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Japan 2017 – Hakone

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Hakone and Mt. Fuji

Hakone is the name that refers to the whole area, surrounding Mt. Hakone (a double caldera) – and which is part of the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park.  Hakone is an internationally known holiday resort that includes many renowned spas and Lake Ashino-ko.  There are also many museums in the area, plus other interesting sites in the surrounding area including Hakone Sengokubara Shissei Kaen gardens, and numerous Buddha temples and Shinto shrines.  As I mention in other blogs, not all spas will accept people who have tattoos, nor are all temples/shrines open to the public (some Buddhist sects do not practice goshuin like (浄土真宗) Jodo Shinshu and (日蓮正宗) Nichiren Shoshu.)  We could have easily spent 2 weeks or more exploring this area.

Getting There

You can take the trains from Zushi to Hakone, but there are a number of transfers which take about 3 to 3 1/2 hours one-way.  If you are planning on spending the night along lake Lake Ashi, this is a good method.  The route from Zushi is:  Yokosuka Line west to Ofuna; transfer at Ofuna to the Tokaido Main Line west to Odawara; then transfer from Odawara to the Hakone-Tozan Railway, which is the only mountain railway in Japan.  The Hakone-Tozan Railway is a beautiful trip, but has many switchbacks where the driver and the conductor change shifts and the trains switch to reverse travel direction.  At the end of the Hakone-Tozan railway in Gora there is the Hakone Tozan Cableway, which then leads to Zounsan Station and the Hakone Tozan Ropeway/Tramway, ending at Lake Ashi and a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji.

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Another route is via automobile, which is what we did.  This was mostly done by following the coastal route along Seisho By-Pass (a toll road) to Highway 1 (Tokai-do Highway) to Highway 138 (Hakoneura Highway) and the winding road to Gora then local road 723.  We returned to Ikego/Zushi along the Tomei Expressway, then through Yokohama and south toward Yokosuka.  It cost us about $100 to rent a 6-seat van for the day, plus the gas and tolls, and it was 2 hours or so one way (versus the 3 1/2 by train).

Open-Air Outdoor Museum

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We were unable to see Mt. Fuji on our day trip because it was overcast.  However, we did see a Mt. Hakone vent which was still steaming from the 2015 eruption.  We then visited the Hakone Open-Air Museum which has an entire building that focuses on Piccaso and his life’s work.

Entry, Shop and Restaurant

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Buffet lunch. So many selections.

Like everything else, this was quite a walk, and most areas aren’t easily wheelchair accessible, but there are elevators in most buildings.  There were a number of exhibits that were kid friendly, like the see through climbing geodome, underground and above ground mazes, movement study (in the Piccaso building), and koi feeding station.

The Picasso building was off limits as far as picture taking, except the lobby and movement-study areas.   Most of the exhibits were about Picasso’s early life and finding his “voice”.

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Other Interesting Works

Foot Bath

The foot bath was at about the 1/2-way mark.  The water is heated naturally via the volcanic activity of Mt. Hakone, then pumped into the rock ponds at about 105ºF.  You can purchase a towel for ¥100 (US$1) (the vending machine is shown here on the left).  There are obligatory scrub brushes and shoehorns hung on the walls.  The rocks are smooth and make a great massage medium.

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Gardens and Grounds

Japanese gardens are just awesome with respect to space use, light vs. dark, water vs. earth, and the types of plants.  Here are just some of the more interesting pictures at the museum (there were literally thousands but I ran out of space and camera battery):

Shrines

Kintoki Shrine

This is one of the smaller shrines in the area that does not accept goshuin except on larger holidays.   It enshrines Sakata Kintoki who is a motif of Kintaro, a boy raised in the mountains with animals as friends (similar to the Tarzan legend).  There are tales of him wrestling bears, running with deer, and chopping trees with his ever present ax.  Kintaro was raised in the area and as hikers ascend the mountain, they pass the shrine dedicated to his spirit.  The shrine is easily accessible from the main road with ample parking and a hiking trail to Mt. Ashigara (a low to intermediate hike which takes about 2 hours and gives you a great view of Mt. Fuji on a clear day).  There are public restrooms available at the trail head, but these are “pit” or “hole” toilets that are not necessarily stocked with supplies on a regular basis.  Since we were short on time, we did not do the hike.

Hakone-Sokokura Shrine

This is also a smaller Shinto shrine that does not accept goshuin, and little is known of when it was established.  It is dedicated to three gods …  Amatsuhiko-Hononinigi-no-Mikoto (Hononinigi),  Hikohohodemi-no-Mikoto (Hoori), and Konohanasakuya-hime-no-Mikoto (Sakuya-bime).

Like all shrines, the gods worshiped there have a story.  Sakuya-bime is the cherry blossom-princess and symbol of delicate earthly life. She is the daughter of the mountain god Ohoyamatsumi, and the goddess of Mount Fuji and all volcanoes.  Sakuya-bime met the god Hononinigi at the seashore and they fell in love.  Hononinigi asked Oho-Yama, the father of Sakuya-bime, for her hand in marriage. Oho-Yama proposed his older daughter, Iwanaga-hime (the rock princess), instead, but Hononinigi had his heart set on Sakuya-bime.  Oho-Yama reluctantly agreed, and Hohoninigi and Sakyua-bime married.  Because Hohoninigi refused Iwanaga, human lives are said to be short and fleeting, like the sakura cherry blossoms, instead of enduring and long lasting, like stones.

Sakuya-bime became pregnant in just one night, causing suspicion in Hononinigi.  He wondered if this was actually his child.  Sakuya-bime was enraged at the accusation and entered a doorless hut, which she then set fire to, declaring that the child would not be hurt if it were truly the offspring of Hononinigi.  Inside the hut, Sakuya-bime had three sons, Hoderi, Hosuseri and Hoori.  Hoori would later lose a fishing hook borrowed from one of this brothers, which led him on a quest to recover the hook, and during which he would meet and marry the daughter of the sea god Ryujin.  

The shrine has numerous steep steps and there is very little parking along the Sokokura main road.

Japan 2017 – The Great Buddha

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Temples and Shrines

One of the more interesting things on many military personnel’s “To Do” list is to visit as many shrines and temples as possible, and get a book stamped by the monks who oversee that temple.  Here is how this works:

Buy a Goshuin-cho (朱印帳), then carry it with you wherever you go (you can get these at the various temples or at shopping areas).  “Go” is an honorific title; “shuin” is the stamp/writing; “cho” means notebook.  When you visit a shrine, give your book to one of the monks.  He will then use black ink to hand write the name of the temple and date using traditional Japanese calligraphy, and then stamp the book with a large red stamp that is unique to that specific temple.  The cost of this is an entry fee of ¥200-¥500 (US$2 to $5) and a donation for the stamping of about ¥50 (US$.50).  You use the same book at each temple (there are 1000’s of them in Japan) until it is full (about 40 or so temples).  When you fill up a book you can get another and continue on.  By the end of your sailor’s duty, they will have a collection of original artwork that traces their journey through Japan.  Everyone’s notebook ends up being different based on where they visit and when.  Aside from the names and dates being distinct, each monk and temple also has a different style.  The best part is that the book unfolds like an accordion … it opens up like a folded scroll so that all the pages can be revealed at one time.

The origins of the temple visits is rooted in pilgrimages to sacred and holy sites.  These may be sacred natural destinations like Mt. Fuji and Mt. Koya; or they may be early single-site holy places like Ise Shrine.  The idea is that since no one temple is more important than the other, all of them must be visited.

Some of the larger temples are so popular that you will be given a ticket and will need to pick up your journal later (sometimes in a few minutes, sometimes in a number of hours.)  The larger temples also have upped the ante by offering a unique and more expensive notebook, or they charge more for a larger stamp and artwork.

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Getting there

This is one of the closer tourist sites near Yokosuka Naval Base and is easily reached via trains.  To get to the Great Buddha, we took the Ikego train (Jimmuji Station on the Keikyu Zushi Line) which was right outside of our sailor’s apartment building to the end point at Shin-Zuchi; then walked to the Zuchi Station of the JR Yokosuka Line (about 1/2 mile).  We took the Yokosuka Line to the Kamahura Station; then transferred to the Enoden Line and got off at the Hase Station.  It was about a 10 minute walk from Hase Station to the Great Buddha.

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Transferring from JR Kamahura Station to Enoden Line

The Great Buddha of Kamahura
(鎌倉大仏, Kamakura Daibutsu)

The Great Buddha is a bronze statue that was cast in 1252 and originally located inside a large temple hall. However, the temple buildings were destroyed multiple times by typhoons and a tidal wave in the 14th and 15th centuries. So, since 1495, the Buddha has been standing in the open air.  Entry fee was ¥200 per person; the interior tour was ¥20; and a book stamp was ¥50.

All temples have a main “gate” with minor gates at the sides and back.  The gates are guarded by Komainu (or “lion-dogs” in English).   These statues ward off evil spirits, and are almost identical except one has an open mouth (pronounced “a”) and one a closed mouth (pronounced “um”) which represent the first and last letters of the Sanskrit alphabet and mean the beginning and the end of all things.

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On entering the gates there are a few things you should know:

  • Behave calmly and respectfully. Traditionally, you are not supposed to visit a shrine if you are sick, have an open wound or are mourning because these are considered causes of impurity.
  • At the purification fountain near the shrine’s entrance, take one of the ladles provided, fill it with fresh water and rinse both hands. Then transfer some water into your cupped hand, rinse your mouth and spit the water beside the fountain. You are not supposed to transfer the water directly from the ladle into your mouth or swallow the water. You will notice that quite a few visitors skip the mouth rinsing part or the purification ritual altogether.
     

  • At the offering hall, throw a coin into the offering box, bow deeply twice, clap your hands twice, bow deeply once more and pray for a few seconds. If there is some type of gong, use it before praying in order to get the kami’s attention.
  • At some temples, visitors burn incense (osenko) in large incense burners. Purchase a bundle, light them, let them burn for a few seconds and then extinguish the flame by waving your hand rather than by blowing it out. Finally, put the incense into the incense burner and fan some smoke towards yourself as the smoke is believed to have healing power.
  • When entering temple buildings, you may be required to take off your shoes. Leave your shoes on the shelves at the entrance or take them with you in plastic bags provided at some temples. Wear nice socks.  Bare feet (wearing sandals without socks) is considered rude in Japanese culture.

Most shrines and temples have stone or wood lanterns on the grounds.  They represent important symbolic offerings to the Buddha and to Japan’s native Shintoism.  They also act as a way to light various main paths.

 

Inside the Great Buddha

You can go inside the Great Buddha to see how it was constructed.  Since the stairs are very steep and narrow, you may have to wait for people to come up to down.  There is a fee (of course) to go inside.

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Some Shrines also have market booths inside the gates which sell goods that are made at the Shrine by the monks, or are offered as a donation from groups who support the upkeep of the area.  These items include incense, Goshuin stamp books, umbrellas!, Dharma dolls and omamori (お守り) (protection amulets).  The Tokyo Weekender blog has more about these at Tokyo Weekender Omamori Guide

Outside the Shrine or Temple

After we toured the grounds, we walked back down the main road.  There were many “tourist trap” shops selling souvenirs (and umbrellas!), and quite a few places to eat.  We found a very nice local restaurant.  They spoke very little English so we ordered via pictures.  The food, service, and drinks were awesome.

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Can’t read Japanese?  An English/picture version of the menu was available.

 

American Airlines Sky Hag

Flying the Not-so-Friendly skies

Like every airline, American Airlines has a “slogan” or “advertisement tagline”.  The current one for AA is “The World’s Greatest Flyers Fly American”.  Various other AA sayings over the years include:  “Going for great”, “Be yourself. Nonstop”, “We know why you fly”, “The On-Time Machine”, “No other Airline gives you more of America, than American”, “Something special in the air”,  “At American, we’ve got what you’re looking for”, “We’re American Airlines. Doing what we do best”,  “Our passengers get the best of everything”, “It’s good to know you’re on American Airlines”, and “Fly the American Way.”

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Sorry American, but I don’t think you’ve delivered on those tagline promises … especially during my trip home from Japan.  Having a flight attendant yank my earphones out of my ears and then show no remorse for her actions does not qualify as “going for great”, “something special”, “what I’m looking for”, “the best of everything”, or “doing what you do best.”

Travel Etiquette

I have flown on numerous airlines since 1979 and put in over 125,000 business miles between 1990 and 2000.  I have another 50,000 or so personal or business miles from 2000 until the present day, so I am no stranger to flying or what flight etiquette is expected of not only me, but also from airline employees.  Many of my good friends and high school classmates went to work as flight attendants and pilots.  At no time have I EVER had an issue with flight attendants until today.

So how did this particular customer service fiasco start?   It happened on our return flight from Haneda to LAX — AA Flight 26 — which departed 4:45 p.m. (20 minutes late but time was made up in the air and landed on time). We were in seats 15A and 15B (premium economy).  I told AA in advance at the time of making the reservations via their on-line system that I was hard of hearing.  While boarding not only the flight from LAX to Haneda but also this flight home, one of the other flight attendants acknowledged my disability as we were seating. We were offered drinks and the freebie earphones as we reached cruising altitude. I typically don’t take the earphones and opt for closed captions on the movies, but I decided I’d take them this time in case hubby (who opted out) changed his mind or in case his personal earphones weren’t working.

An hour later, the drink and meal carts were rolled out, and I looked at the menu choices posted on the side of the cart. They said “Beef” or “Chicken”. Since I read lips, I responded back to the flight attendant’s question of “which one?” with “Beef, please.” She said “We don’t have beef”.  ummm … huh??!!  I then looked at my husband on my left and asked him to clarify (beef had been switched out for pork). Just as I turned my head toward him, the flight attendant yanked the earphones out of my ears and said “THERE! … MAYBE that will help you hear what I have to say!” I said “I am almost deaf on that side and my husband is my ears.” Hubby told her I wanted the Chicken, and she just dropped it down onto the tray instead of handing it to me with a nice “AA smile”.

About 2 hours later, I got up to use the restroom and she was by the mid-cabin exit door. I apologized for my hearing issue and she shot back “Not my problem. I’m so sick and tired of people like you.” She went back to the galley and we didn’t see her again until the second meal was served about an hour before landing.

What is a Sky Hag?

The Single Dude’s Guide to Life & Travel™ describes Sky Hags as “old, ugly, and ill tempered stewardesses” and “swamp monsters who staff our nation’s carriers.”  My flight attendant was somewhere in her late 50’s and ill tempered.  She was not necessarily physically ugly, but her attitude definitely was.  The reason these people are still in a customer service situation instead of in the unemployment line is simple … money and seniority.  “Since the industry is so strapped for cash these days, nobody ever hires stewardesses anymore.  Instead, they just keep the ones they already have, and when layoffs come they always fire the ones with the least seniority.  So every round of layoffs the average stewardess gets older and uglier.  Sky Hags have been flying for years, and seen all sorts of shit, and so after years of mistreatment by their employers and customers, they’re bitter and often nasty”, and because of that seniority, they often get to choose their routes.  Granted, Single Dude’s comments about “seeing a little eye candy” (aka young, good-looking females) are from an unmarried man’s point of view; but, the issue with angry employees who are responsible for your comfort and safety at 36,000 feet is more than disconcerting no matter their age, marital status, or gender.

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Airways Brewing concurs, and they describe their Sky Hag IPA beer as follows:

She hates you and her job. But, she gets to go to Paris twice a month. This beer’s as bitter as she is. An abundance of Northwest “C” Hops give this beer its bite.

With a description like that, it’s no wonder AA doesn’t serve Sky Hag on its flights.  Bitter is a good description of my flight attendant, and I have absolutely ZERO clue what set her off.  I was not disruptive, and there were no PA announcements nor turbulence at the time of the incident.  The poor drink cart flight attendant came around later and indicated her shock about what she had witnessed; and she said, “She’s been in a really bad mood all day.” I told her it wasn’t her fault, but now two of us on the plane (the Sky Hag and I) were in a bad mood.

I reported the problem to AA, and I gave them 7 days to respond.  I did not demand a refund, nor did I threaten them with a lawsuit.  My only request was that they do something about this particular flight attendant (reprimand, retrain, drop in seniority, termination, early retirement, … whatever works to get the message across).

American Airlines’ Response

8 days later … May 31:

Dear Mrs. S:
Thank you for contacting Customer Relations about the difficulties you encountered while traveling from Haneda on May 22. I have reviewed the problems you reported, and appreciate this opportunity to respond.

I am concerned about the flight attendant behavior you described and hope you will accept my apology for the disappointing service you received. We work hard to provide professional, courteous service to our customers, and it is clear we fell short when you traveled on flight 26 to Los Angeles.

In your email you mentioned our Reservations personnel was notified that you are hard of hearing. I have reviewed your reservations and our flight records and have not located this information. Nevertheless, we expect all of our colleagues to extend polite and considerate assistance to our customers. From what you’ve reported, it appears our flight attendant could have handled your situation more appropriately.

We take these matters very seriously. Let me assure you that your feedback is very important since it provides us with a measuring tool for customer satisfaction. Your comments have been documented and made available to the appropriate management personnel in Flight Service for an internal review. I am confident that improved service will be the ultimate result.

Mrs. Schoelles, while I know you are disappointed with our service, I hope you will give us another opportunity to prove traveling on American can be a pleasant experience. I know we can do a great deal better.

Sincerely,
Customer Relations
American Airlines

My Response to AA and the Sky Hag

Yes, you fell short in providing professional, courteous service; and your Sky Hag definitely could have “handled the situation more appropriately”; and, yes, you can do a “great deal better.”  Other than those admissions, and referral to Flight Service management for an “internal review”, what are you going to do about THIS particular flight attendant?  Allow her to continue flying knowing she has physically assaulted a disabled customer?  How many times has this happened in the past, and how many more times does it need to happen in the future before you say “enough is enough” and kick her to the curb with her luggage?  I understand there needs to be confidentiality with respect to personnel issues, but customers need to know that they will not have to worry about meeting up with this person should they fly on American (or any other airline for that matter).

Furthermore, what makes your apology hollow is your implication that I did not notify AA about my hearing issues when making my on-line reservations.  Per the AA website:

When booking on aa.com choose “special assistance required” when filling out your passenger details, there you can:

  • Request wheelchair service
  • Request individual assistance if you have a hearing, vision, cognitive or developmental disability
  • State if you’re traveling with any electric medical equipment or a service animal (notice is required within 48 hours of your flight

AND

Hearing assistance
Let a gate agent or flight attendant know if you need help hearing important flight updates. Also, open captioning for safety videos is available.

I did both of these (chose “special assistance required” and notified gate and boarding personnel), plus I utilized the closed captioning on all videos when available.  What you American Airlines don’t seem to comprehend, is there is a break in communication somewhere between your reservation system, flight services, and customer relations departments.  You did not indicate exactly HOW you are going to address this communication breakdown issue.

Although you are confident in your own ability to provide better service in the future, I don’t share your optimism.  Will this incident impact my choice of airline?  More than likely, yes … or at the least until you live up to your taglines and your own hype.

Japan 2017 – Pre-travel Stuff

The second in a series of our travels to Japan … these suggestions are for a trip of 7 to 10 days.  If you will be gone longer, expect more detailed planning and more time to carry it out.  Sorry so long here but these are where we spent most of our time …

First Things First – Pre-Planning

Number 1:  Get your crib (aka house, apartment, room) ready.  Its been a while since I’ve had to completely shut down the house, so it was a never ending “oh yeah!  I need to do that!”  Here’s a quick run down of “stuff”:
  • If you are gone for more than a week and/or have issues with mailbox theft or mailbox size, put your mail on hold.  You can do this on-line via the post office 30 days before leaving and for a maximum of 30 days while you are gone (more than 30 days, you can put in for mail forwarding).  However, mail hold is not necessarily available in all areas.  Here’s the link:  https://holdmail.usps.com/holdmail/
  • Lock up your jewelry and guns.  If you do not have a safe, rent a safe deposit box for your valuables.  Guns on the other hand have various “rulez and regz”.  Here’s a good site for various weapon storage information:  https://www.storagefront.com/therentersbent/storing-your-firearms-safe-options-for-gun-storage/
  • Refrigerator and freezer, and food items.  Move as many items from the refrigerator to the freezer as possible.  Trash the rest in the refrigerator that will go bad while you are gone … or better yet, throw a party and use as much as you can!  Turn off the ice maker (and for double security, shut off the water valve … and the water valve to the toilets and any unused water filters or appliances inside).  Look at pantry items that may attract ants and other pests, and either trash unused or give them to others.  There is nothing worse than coming home to a ant-farm or mouse-house that has set up residence in your food.
  • Turn off and unplug as many electrical appliances as possible … televisions, DVD and various game players, lamps, counter appliances.  This not only saves $$ but is also a fire prevention method.  Also, turn the temperature down on your water heater, and turn off any air conditioners (central or window or floor), and dehumidifiers or humidifiers (as the case may be with the season unless you need them to maintain a particular environment such as for animals and plants).  Do not turn off furnaces or home heating if you need them to keep pipes from freezing; otherwise, set thermostats to the “off” position for both A/C and heat.  If you are in an area and are traveling during a time when pipes freeze, winter prep everything including weatherstripping, draining pipes, putting up storm windows and shutters, etc.
  • Do NOT stop gardening or pool cleaning services.  The more your house looks like it is still being lived in, the better.  Reset any garden watering timers as necessary and double check the lines.  On the other hand, DO stop maid or housekeeping services since you will not be there to supervise or notice any issues right away.  However, DO clean to stop pests from taking over.  Empty all trash cans; dust; vacuum; do all of the laundry, and put it away so you won’t have a double issue with it AND your dirty travel clothing.

Number 2:  Your animals (aka pets, non-pets, critters you care about).  First figure out who and where your pets will reside with while you are gone.  We have a dog, cat and rabbit.  The dog is 9 years old and has separation anxiety.  The cat is 11 years old and is okay either indoors or outdoors, but she still needs “her people”.  The rabbit lives in a large enclosure outside but needs added attention during excessive heat or cold situations.  We opted to board the dog with a sitter we’ve used in the past for 1 to 3 days.  This entailed making sure her shots and medications were up to date, and giving the sitter the dog’s favorite toys, a rundown of her daily routine, emergency #’s, our Facebook info (to send us pictures of our little furball), and notifying the vet that she had power of attorney in the event of any emergency situations.  A neighbor took care of “Dave” (our houseplant), the cat and rabbit including watering, feedings and cleaning liter boxes.  In all cases, we had to purchase enough food and goodies for all animals for a two week period of time.  We also refilled the hummingbird and other bird feeders, checked the critter traps (gophers, squirrels, mice), and laid out ant-stakes as necessary.

Number 3:  Security.  Having a home security company monitor your house is the best bet.  Let them know when you will be gone.  If you do not have that option, set up timers to turn lights on and off at different times of the day; and have a neighbor, family member or friend check on the house at least once in 24-hours.  Also, a private camera system may deter many from even considering breaking in – make sure all cameras are working and set the record loop to record as many days as possible.  Lock ALL doors and windows, and don’t forget the garage access points.  Turn off auto garage door openers (unplugging them is best).  Depending on your area and how long you are gone, you may consider letting the police and fire departments know the house will be vacant.  Check with your local agencies.

Number 4:  DO NOT POST YOU ARE GOING ON A TRIP ON SOCIAL MEDIA!  As much as you want to tell people about your dream trip of a lifetime, there are two issues with you having “loose lips”:  1) OPSEC – it’s not a good idea to blab to the general public that your sailor will be in port during a specific time period and you will finally get to see him/her; and 2) there are “bad people” where you live who look at social media as an opportunity to rob you while you are away.  Post pictures and adventures to the public after you get home … otherwise, post to only those you trust during your trip who will not share where you are.

Number 5:  Work related headaches.  As much as we tried to prep for this, there was always that ONE THING that came up during the trip that we didn’t expect.  We gave everyone we work with and for notice of the trip, and our emergency numbers.  We also bought additional data time (see below) and checked our emails daily just in case someone “didn’t get the memo” that we were gone for a while.

Second Things First – Travel

Number 1:  Figure out how to get to and from the airport.  Shuttle?  Drive yourself and park?  Friend/relative who will suffer for 2 to 4 hours in traffic for you and keep track of their kindness for the rest of your life?  We had a HORRIBLE experience with the shuttle service from our area to Los Angeles International (LAX).  This was the first time we had used them, and I guarantee it will be the last.  Typically we park in long-term, or rent a car one way. More on our “fun” there at:  https://buzyw2.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/safe-and-efficient-shuttle-my-a/

Number 2:  Food and medication plan.  Face it … airline food can really suck, although I do give them points for it getting better over the course of the last 30 years.  Figure out your travel times and the meals offered by the airlines, then figure out what you are going to eat and when.  We got 2 meals plus numerous visits from the drink cart during our flight (booze was free!).  That also meant we had to visit the little girls/boys room 3 or more times.  We also brought a couple of protein/granola bars in our carry on.  Also, if you suffer from high blood pressure or other conditions that require medication, work that into your daily routine and the time changes.  Every 3 hours is every three hours no matter what.  From LAX to Japan is a 12 hour flight … so that would be 4 doses of meds.  Tell your doctor you are traveling and make sure you have enough pills for the trip, and ask about any issues taking them in a pressurized airplane.  Make sure you have them in the carry on and not your checked in luggage.  Some suggestions to avoid issues:
  • Avoid the high sodium airline meals and eat your own snacks if allowed to bring them on board.  Let your airline know of any dietary issues in advance and work with them.
  • You can’t bring water on the plane (per TSA rules) but you can get it from the drink cart.  Only drink bottled water … airline holding tanks are sort of gross.  Avoid alcohol and coffee and carbonated drinks.
  • Avoid foods that cause bloating and heartburn and bad body odors.  Do unto others as you would have them belch and fart unto you.
  • Walk around at least every 2 to 3 hours to avoid blood clots (drinking lots of water will help here since you will need to use the bathroom).

Number 3:  Luggage and packing lists.  PACK LIGHT!!  Most airlines allow 1 piece of luggage checked in (cargo hold) at no charge, but there is a weight limit.  Wear your jacket on the plane to serve as a secondary blanket (if you have one of those neck pillows, wear it around your neck or attach it to the outside of your carry on and then detach it before putting things in the overhead compartment).  Put a change of clothing in your carry-on along with small amounts of hygiene products (1 to 2 days most – 3 oz. or less) just in case your checked-in baggage doesn’t make it to the airport when you do.  I also carried on an eye mask, quality earphones, ear plugs, and a personal travel blanket (the airline ones are small and itch in my opinion).  I was going to pack a fold-down umbrella, but forgot, so I bought a cheap one at a local tourist site for about US$2 or ¥200 (you will definitely need one in Japan).  There are places along the way (restaurants, train and bus stations, etc.) you can “donate” unused umbrellas, which is pretty cool.

Japan1

You are also allowed an additional “under the seat” bag.  We used our computer bag which had our laptop, Kindle, iPad, and various charging cables as the under seat bag, but we never used those items since we were so busy, so I recommend leaving them at home and using your phone or tablet/iPad instead, and put those items in the carry on. That will give you a tiny bit more leg-stretch room.
EDIT:  As of today, June 3, many countries and airlines will not allow laptops or phones on board or in carry on luggage.  You may need to remove the battery from electronic items, and store them in your checked-in baggage.  Verify this with the airline and the countries you are traveling to and from.

Number 4:  Insurance (travel, additional medical, dental, life) and emergency numbers. We bought travel insurance through the airline in the case of last minute cancellations or problems … and we’re glad we did because it covered flight delays.  We sat on the plane for almost 3 1/2 hours during take-off check due to a faulty air conditioner.  Seven days later we received a refund of over $300 because of the delay.  Our medical and dental insurance is only good in our local area, so we purchased travel health insurance from our insurance carrier at a cost of about $50 each for 10 days … thank goodness we didn’t need to use it, but at least there was peace of mind that it was available just in case.  We also checked our life insurance policy to make sure we were covered (some policies do not cover air travel); and, not to sound fatalistic but, we made sure our Will and any Power of Attorneys were up-to-date.  We made a list of emergency contacts and phone numbers (you will need to give at least one to the airline) including where we were staying in Japan and our own numbers and email addresses; and we then gave the list to the various people who were watching our house and pets.  In that way, they could all be in contact with each other or us as need be.

Number 5:  Credit cards and other banking issues.  Call your bank and credit card companies to let them know you will be using your credit cards in Japan.  This avoids, somewhat, a freeze on your account for assumed theft or loss of your cards.  I say “somewhat” because about half way through our trip, our bank froze our accounts and said we had to call within 2 hours to avoid a permanent shut down.  When we called and told them we were approved to use them in Japan, they acknowledged that, but said, “We still monitor and shut down at our discretion.”  Oh good lord!

Number 6:  Phone and WiFi/Internet.  Laptops are heavy, and in retrospect we could have left it at home since we didn’t need it nor use it.  If, however, you cannot be without one, then take something smaller like a tablet/iPad.  We did almost all of our computing on our phone.  Remember to pack a multi-head charger (or go green and get a solar charger), and your power cord and earphones.  WiFi service is spotty in some places, but GPS works well.  You may need to check with your phone and internet service providers to see if you need additional data time (roaming and connection charges are about $2 to $10 PER MINUTE without pre-bought additional data).  We paid $85 for an additional 250 messages … and we used all of it by the end of the trip.  We also downloaded shows from Netflix to our phone and tablet (Amazon does this too).  More on this and some tips at: http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/139186-how-to-download-netflix-movies-and-tv-shows-on-your-phone-or-tablet.  By the way, appliances will work on the Japanese electrical system (which puts out 100 volts compared to our 110/120).  Some specialty equipment may need a transformer, but that’s not typical.  More about that can be found at: http://www.japanupdate.com/2015/02/japanese-versus-north-american-voltage-and-frequency/ 

Checklist and Packing List

I will post these later.  Not because I want you to keep reading but because I’m tired and falling asleep and being lazy.

Safe and Efficient Shuttle My A$$

We decided to do our first “vacay” for the last 18 years to Japan from May 11 to May 22. Instead of paying $35 a day for 11 days parking we opted to hire a shuttle van at $40 per person (3x there and 2x back) at a total savings of $185. Good deal? Good God no and a half! Here was the joke of a promise from Prime Time Shuttle:

“Peace of mind when you travel to Los Angeles International Airport – LAX. When you are traveling, whether it be for business or pleasure, you already have enough on your mind to worry about. A Shared Van is the most economical way to travel to and from LAX. Often half the cost of a taxi, and always a more professional and pleasant experience. Our computer assisted dispatch assures you that those riding with you are traveling to the same part of the city. You will always receive a safe and efficient route.”

BULLSHIT!! Professional my hind end. Pleasant my hind end.  Efficient my hind end. Kiss my hind end.

We arrived from Japan on time at 10:25 a.m. and cleared customs at 11:30 a.m. Our reserved shuttle was supposed to meet us at the curb by 11:45 a.m. At 2:00 p.m. we were STILL waiting. According to PrimeTime dispatch “we” were the issue since there was no one else except us traveling to the Riverside area. Oh well excuse me, jerks! I paid you and told you where we were going to and from months in advance. Not my fault your “computer assisted dispatch system” has its head up its collective URL. We did not leave the airport until 2:25 p.m. and arrived home at 4:15 p.m. … 4 3/4 HOURS LATER!  I could have walked this faster.

As far as “safe and efficient route” … ha and what a joke! Our driver ran 3 red lights, was texting while driving the entire 90 miles and almost hit 10 people while changing lanes at the last second in rush hour traffic. You sir are the reason I middle-fingered people during my 50 mile, one-way commute to and from Riverside to Fullerton/Orange for 15 years. In addition, you as an arrogant twatwaffle relied on GPS, but could have easily shaved an hour off of the time if you had known the area or at the least LISTENED to your passengers who drive the area daily.  (Flash to “Van” from the movie “Cars”:  I don’t need directions!  I’ve got the GPS.)  So Mr. Driver … thanks for that and a waste of my time.

Example re: a better way?  Were it me I would have taken the 105 to the 605 to the 91 (drop off 1 at Beach in Buena Park by Knott’s Berry Farm); back to the 91 to the 5 South to Katella to drop off 3 near the Anaheim train station and/or Disney area; then, take the 57 to Yorba Linda, drop off 2 more; then reverse back to the 57 to the 91 and use the toll roads to Riverside.  But nooooooo … instead, our driver flexes his collective steering wheel muscles and takes the 105 to the 110 to the 91 to Beach Blvd., back onto the 91 to the Brookhurst exit to Katella (and hits every light red along the way) to Anaheim Stadium past Disneyland (which is a tourist nightmare you want to avoid) to Kraemer to Yorba Linda to Imperial to the 91 (non-Express Lanes) to Green River; then proceeds to go 85 mph whenever possible because he screwed up. OMG … and he then gets mad at me when I give everyone the “Disney Tour Guide” program about the area:

“Hello all .. thank you for joining us today.  While we wait for the street lights to synchronize and our driver to get his act together, I’d like to direct you to the bowling alley to our right.  Linbrook Bowl was and still is a local hangout, and back in the day, Linbrook Hardware was a weekend escape for Do It Yourself weekend warriors.  As we travel down to Ball Road, you will see on your left Mama Cozza’s which is still considered one of the best pizza parlors of the area.  (turn on Katella) … and now at Katella and Euclid you will see on the right a shopping center that was Albertson’s and Payless drug stores, plus on the left the liquor store where many local children would ride their bikes and purchase penny candy.  As we approach Ninth, we enter the “Disney District”.  I lived about a mile north on Ninth and we would “bum” tickets from tourists leaving Disneyland from 1960 to 1980.  Many of my fellow classmates still work for Disney and the Anaheim (NOT Los Angeles) Angels baseball team.  As we approach the “Pond”, I hope you will all be cheering the Ducks to the Hockey Stanley Cup Finals this next week.”

Said driver told me to “zip it” and “stop with the crap”.  I was a tad childish and stuck my tongue out at him behind his back, and the woman in front of me from Fullerton-Placentia laughed and thanked me.  Later when I mentioned to the driver that the new 91 Toll Roads via Corona had changed the game commute-wise and that he needed to bear to the right at the 15, he proceeded to rip my face off for being a “back seat driving bitch.” Yeah buddy? Shove your steering wheel and your arrogant attitude.  You wouldn’t last two seconds in Japan … they truly despise American idiots like you.

I will NEVER again hire out Prime Time Shuttle. It would have cost me about the same for a private limo, and my blood pressure and sanity would have been the better for it.

Japan 2017 – Intro

Background

My youngest daughter, her husband (my son-in-law) and their daughter (my grand-daughter) are stationed in Naval Base Yokosuka, Japan (since November 2015).  We decided we would visit them at least once during her 3 year duty station stint.  Since Japan is so large and we only had 11 days to enjoy the country’s hospitality, we decided that we would focus our tourist travels around the Yokosuka, Yokohama, Tokyo, and Urayasu (Disneyland) areas (the southeast side of the main island).  Although I worked for Mitsubishi Electric America in the early 1980’s and knew some Japanese traditions and culture, this was our first trip outside of the United States, and we found it to be fascinating in comparison to what we’ve been told and have read.

Japanmap

I’ll try to cover as much of the culture, transportation, sites, food, and some of the military aspects via pictures and comments, plus a comparison of Disneyland Park and California Disney (Anaheim) to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea.  During this journal of our journey, I’ll also post up about a zillion pictures of my cute kids and grand kid.

First Things First – Planning

Number 1:  Get your passport.  You will need to carry this with you 24/7/365 when you are in Japan.  It is your I.D. to enter EVERYTHING … immigration and customs, hotels, military bases, and many tourist sites.   Subsection 1.1 … if at all possible, put in for Global and TSA precheck so you won’t have to deal with the lines.  However, Global is currently running 6 months or so behind schedule on interviews and this may not be doable.  Example:  We applied for it in March and the earliest interview we could get is/was August 2.  Since our trip was mid-May, we were SOL in that respect and had to stand in the cattle herd line.

Number 2:  Get all immunizations up-to-date.  You will not need any special ones if you are only there for less than a month or not in areas that have issues like rabies or Japanese encephalitis or amoebic dysentery or malaria, but you will need to be up to date on the basics like MMR, HIB, DPT, flu, CHxP/Shingles, or any others your doctor recommends for your age (like pneumonia).  If you are anti-vax, that may be an issue.  Start the immunization check at least 6 months before traveling since some (like HIB) are a series and you must have at least 1 or 2 in the series before traveling.

Number 3:  If you are staying on a military base or military housing, get your sailor ALL of your information (passport # and Date of Issue and Expiration, copy of birth certificate, social security #, immunization record copy, driver’s license, etc.) so he/she can put in for a gate pass for you during the period of time you will be entering the base.  He/she will need this information at least 3 weeks or more before traveling so the paperwork can be approved.  You will need to carry the gate pass with you (along with the passport) 24/7/365.

Second Things First – Travel

Number 1:  Pick an airport.  Narita is the largest airport in the area, but it is also the furthest away from Yokosuka.  Haneda is about an hour closer and near a direct Express train line to Zushi (near Ikego Housing).  Haneda’s immigration and custom’s process flowed well and they complete the check in to gate waiting process in less than 2 hours.  If your sailor is in Iwakuni or Okinawa or Sasebo or Misawa or a base other than Yokosuka or Atsugi, you will probably have to transfer to a connecting flight since those are further north or south.

Number 2:  Make yourself aware of the train system.  There is one major train line in Japan – JR East.  However, there are numerous minor lines that run parallel and criss-cross to JR; plus, just to make things interesting, there are hundreds of smaller locally owned lines and subway systems and not all of them have English signs.  Also, some stations can connect several of these various lines at a time on numerous levels – from 3 above ground to 5 below.  Not only that, but there are different types of trains including:  Bullet (no stops for hundreds of miles); Express (limited stops which skip about 5 stations at a time); Local Express (limited stops skipping about 3 stations at a time); and Local (which stop at all stations along the line).  You can purchase a PASEMO card that will work on all trains, subways and taxi services for about US$5, then you can put on as much as you wish on the card indefinitely or as needed.  Our typical daily train fare was about ¥900 (US$9) so we set aside US$100 for the 10 days we were there and added to the card at each station.  At the end of the trip, we traded in our cards and got a refund on the remaining credits. There are definitely times of the day you will want to avoid (especially the last train) … here’s why … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7kor5nHtZQ  I’ll cover specific trains and issues more in my various blog posts but here is the Wikipedia explanation:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_transport_in_Japan

JRP_tokyo_metropolitan_map-1

(Map of JR East lines)

Number 3:  Order ¥ from your bank and be aware of the exchange rate.  It took our bank 7 days to mail us yen.  The conversion is easy on the most part … simply divide ¥ by 100 to get the US$ equivalent.  Example:  1000¥ = US$10.00   Anything below US$10 is in coin … 500¥ = US$5; 100¥ = US$1; 50¥ = US$.50, etc.

Last Things Last – Tourist Choices

Number 1:  You will not be able to do everything.  Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are at least a day each and even at that you will not have enough time to see everything there.  The various shrines and temples will easily take a day or more … not only to get there but to walk around the area.  Make an itinerary with a plan A and B … then stick to it as much as possible.  Also, check the local holiday schedules and do as many as you can (i.e. Fertility Festival, Cherry Blossom Festival, etc.)

Number 2:  Many popular sites will require a reservation.  An example is the Kirin Brewery in Yokohama.  Another example, which may seem a tad racist but actually is quite bluntly a way to allow native Japanese the ability to experience their own country, is that you as an American (or non-native) will not be allowed to make reservations.  There are about 127 million people in Japan with 13 million plus in the Tokyo area (a population density of 10,000 to 15,000 per sq. mile in some cases).  My suggestion?  Find a small, local popular place to eat and order via photographs or “fake food” plates in the front window.  You will get more out of the culture by doing so in my opinion.  Then again, many small local shrines and restaurants are not open between 3 and 6 p.m., nor during the week, and only on weekends or special days.  Do your homework!

Number 3:  Leave the American “rude”tude at home.  The people of Japan are friendly, accommodating and on the most part curious about American culture.  What we consider “rude” (crowding of personal space) is common place for them.  What they consider “rude” (not moving to the left side, saying please/thank you, and picking up after not only yourself but others) may seem strange to us but is actually just good manners.

More tomorrow about our specific experiences.