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Glenn provided the following advice for the travelers:

Since your departure is only a few weeks ahead, I wanted to send you some suggestions on traveling in Japan that may come in handy. All of you are experienced travelers and can find plenty of information through guidebooks and websites, but I’d like to add a personal touch on a few practical topics, all of which begin with “T.”

  1. Traveler’s checks and money in general: Street crime in Japan is sufficiently rare that many Japanese think nothing of walking around with the equivalent of $500 in cash in their wallets, especially on vacation. Personal checks do not exist, and bank transfers are the most common way of getting larger amounts of money from one place to another. Credit cards are widespread, and all hotels and most big restaurants will take at least one of the major cards such as American Express, Visa, or MasterCard. (Check the logo on the restaurant window or at the cash register beforehand.) But at most smaller restaurants, most stores, and of course taxis and buses, you can only use cash. You can use credit cards at train stations only for major ticket purchases, not for a short-distance trip. You are better off changing lots of cash when you arrive (at Kansai airport or at the hotel, as banks will be closed until Monday morning) or before you leave. Banks, including airport branches, give you a much better rate than hotels. Traveler’s checks are safe but can only be changed at banks, which are open from 9:00 to 3:00, Monday through Friday. The most important thing to remember is that your credit card, cash card, or bank card CANNOT access cash (in any currency) in any bank in Japan, including American banks such as Citibank. No matter what your bank tells you about worldwide availability, Japan (like many other Asian countries) is not linked to the same financial network as the U.S. I stress this because I know of many newly-arrived teachers at Saint Maur who could not access cash despite having been assured by their U.S. or European bank that their card would work.

  2. Toilets: There is a much wider range of conveniences in Japan than in the U.S. Some, in new buildings and in all hotels, are modern and clean, with luxuries that you wouldn’t expect, such as heated toilet seats and built-in bidets. However, many older buildings, train stations, and rural areas may have toilets that are not conspicuously clean and odor-free. The traditional Asian toilet does not have a seat; it is an enameled hole in the floor over which you squat and try to aim. It is a challenge for older people, and many in Japan use it with more reluctance than nostalgia. Toilet paper, hot water, and paper towels cannot be taken for granted in every washroom. Carry a small packet of Kleenex for emergencies, and always have a handkerchief to dry your hands after you wash. The good news is that you can always find a modern toilet if you have enough patience, and you are also allowed to use the toilets for the handicapped anywhere, which are always much larger with more modern facilities.

  3. Tipping: There is NO tipping AT ALL in hotels, restaurants, taxis, or elsewhere. The high standard of service in Japan is motivated by pride in one’s work, not by greed, and salaries are high enough to make tipping unnecessary and unheard of.

  4. Taking off your shoes: You will do this when entering temples and shrines (more frequently while you are in Kyoto than elsewhere) and anyone’s private home, but not in other buildings. It is a good idea to where shoes you can slip on and off easily without having to tie and untie them. (Some of us have lived here for 27 years without following this advice, though.) Check your socks for holes before you pack, since they will be obvious to all when you take off your shoes. (Another piece of unheeded advice.)

  5. Transportation: While you are on the tour that Dad has arranged (Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Hakone, Nikko, and Tokyo), a lot of your transportation will be taken care of by the tour operator. However, during your free time you should feel confident and safe about taking trains, subways, and other public transport to explore the cities you visit. Osaka and Tokyo have extensive train and subway networks, which are all reliable, safe, and relatively cheap. All have maps in English available. Kyoto has two subway lines but also a city bus system which has more comprehensive English signage than anywhere else in Japan. Hiroshima has a picturesque streetcar network as well. Hakone has a mountain switchback railway, a cable car, a ropeway, and a pirate ship on the lake! Go out and explore-you won’t get lost (permanently) and you won’t get mugged.

  6. Talking to people: Japanese people do not typically open up to strangers as much as gregarious Americans, but you will have a built-in advantage through Rotary connections. (Typically Osaka people are more open than their stiffer Tokyo counterparts.) While everyone has studied English as a written language for six years at school, most Japanese have no need to speak any other language than their own, so their comprehension of spoken English or their confidence to respond orally will be quite limited. Often you can resolve a linguistic difficulty in writing more easily than by speaking. Be patient, as sometimes you will need to repeat yourself or rephrase your question more simply. In other cases the resident “expert” may be called, who has more experience speaking in English. Even in the most remote area, there is always someone who can communicate. It also pays great dividends if you try to speak Japanese. (Effort is more meaningful than success.) Pronunciation is easy: vowels as in Spanish, consonants as in English. Learn a few polite phrases and greetings and use them as often as you can, and you’ll make a lot of friends.