We had another go at Jetstar Airlines (You will remember our horrible experience when we arrived and tried to go to Kagoshima only to be thwarted by their baggage policy). This time we do careful rearranging of our things, checked one of our backpacks and stuffed a lot of things in our travel vest and coats. We still almost got caught when the guy checking us in interpreted the rules differently than they had told us last time (that you can apportion your 7 kilos per person anyway you want when you have two people). Fortunately a manager stepped in right away and overruled him. We saw all kinds of people doing all kinds of readjusting of their luggage to fulfill this stringent requirement. We also saw people doing as we did, taking all the stuff out of the pockets and putting them back into the carry on bags. Clearly this is some kind of game but I cannot for the life of me figure out how this policy makes costs go down for the airline.
Now that we've completed our first stay in Japan (we will be back at the end of the trip for 5 days in Tokyo), it is a good time to reflect on our impressions.
- With the exception of eating (which I commented on earlier) which was very disappointing, we really had a wonderful time in Japan
- I don't know why the rap on Japan is that it is so expensive. It is not. Not at least the way we travel and we do not look for the most frugal way possible. Eating, public transportation, accommodations, museum fees, sundries like snacks, sweets, booze we bought for the room, just about everything we paid for in Japan was no more than at home and most of the time much less. We were way under our daily budget for non-accommodation expenses for the two weeks we were in Japan.
- Didn't encounter the small rooms. We stayed in four hotels and two apartments. In each case they were no worse than what we have found in the US or Europe though often with less storage space like drawers.
- Love LOVE the Japan Rail Pass. It doesn't take long to figure out the train system. It is every bit as precise and on time as you are told. If you are taking local trains or unreserved Shinkasen long distance trains, you just waive your pass and walk on through. Other forms of public transportation were pretty easy to figure out and there is English for most major arteries.
- Yes you can use credit cards. The guide books tell you that Japan is a cash economy and credit cards not used much. We were not in the mainstream areas for the most part and were able to use our credit cards far more frequently than expected.
- English is more prevalent than we anticipated. Again the guidebooks claim that you will have a hard time as an English speaker. We found many more people who had a little bit, enough for us to be able to figure out what needed. Certainly as much as many countries in Europe we've been to. And there were many more signs in English at tourist locations especially descriptive stuff.
- Culture shock or lack thereof. There is a feeling of familiarity in how people go about their day-to-day lives that made being Japan easy. Part is the culture frowns upon staring at people so even if you are clearly the only Westerner for miles around (often the case for us), you're not being made conscious of it as you are say in China. Things like bathrooms, traffic, public transportation, convenience stores, department stores, all have a very familiar feel to them.
- Bathrooms...love Japanese bathrooms...the toilets with the heated seats, the wet rooms (combined shower and bath tub rooms) with fabulous water pressure and all kinds of room