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GirlTalk Japan-- A Mini Guide For Women


She is culturally correct...

Blowing your nose in public places such as restaurants, the theatre or on a group tour is considered very rude. Try to sniffle until you get to a washroom.

When travelling around Japan you may see people with their nose and mouth covered by a surgical mask. No, they are not trying to protect themselves from the city air. They are usually protecting themselves from pollen if they have hay fever and protecting others from their germs if they have a cold. This is especially considerate on crowded subways.

You will find that most cities in Japan do not have garbage cans along the streets. This is because the Japanese do not walk and eat at the same time. Therefore, they do not produce trash such as coffee cups, ice cream cups, or chip bags, while strolling along a thoroughfare. If you do have trash, carry it with you until you find a garbage receptacle -- usually at locations that sell snack items or next to vending machines. When you do find the trash receptacles you will notice that there will be separate bins for regular trash and others for aluminum cans and glass bottles. Be eco-friendly and throw your recyclables into their appropriate slots.

She tries trains, bikes and subways...

Taking a train? Pay strict attention to departure times or you will be a sorry Journeywoman. Trains almost always depart on time. So if your train is scheduled to depart at 9:52, it will depart exactly at 9:52. Moral of this tip? Allow plenty of time to get your ticket, find the right track and the right train or you'll be very, very early for the next one.

Also, please note that the Japan Rail Pass (7, 14, 21 days) is one of the best bargains for travelling in Japan. For example, a regular round-trip train ticket from Narita Airport costs more than an entire Seven Day Rail Pass. If you plan on buying this pass, you'll need to get it before leaving your home country. The rail pass is only available to non-Japanese residents and can never be purchased in Japan.

Subway tickets are not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. However subway travel is not terribly expensive by Japanese standards (about US$1.50). Signs at most stations are in Japanese as well as English, except as you go out to more suburban areas. There are three very important things for Journey Women to know about subway travel. (1) Subway lines are not connected and no transfers are issued. That means if you need to switch lines mid-journey, you will have to buy a new ticket. (2) And, always hold on to your ticket for the duration of your trip. The way the systems works, you cannot get out of the subway without a ticket. (3) Finally, do not take your first subway ride at peak hours. The crush of people at that time is next to impossible for a novice to cope with.

P.S. A Journeywoman living in Japan sent along this information about cycling. She writes: One enjoyable way to see Tokyo is by bicycle. I've cycled into Tokyo a few times and braved the busy streets by bicycle. Actually, there is so much traffic that it doesn't flow very fast and I feel quite safe cycling through the heart of Tokyo. You see so much more than by train, and of course it's faster than walking.

I have done a fair amount of traveling throughout Japan. I usually carry my bicycle on the train or ferry and then go on a cycling trip once I arrive at my destination. I have traveled both alone and with a male companion. When I travel alone I do take extra precautions such as ensuring I can reach a hotel or campground before dark, whereas with a companion, I am willing to do less precise planning and risk camping where there is no official campsite if the need arises (Semin P. in Japan).

Lisa in Tel Aviv, Israel writes...
If you are planning to ride a bicycle in Japan, it's helpful to know that, according to Japanese law, bicycles must be registered/licensed. It is not uncommon for bicycle riders to be stopped by police, who demand to see identification (always carry your passport!) as proof of ownership. If you purchase a bike in Japan, the store will take care of the registration process for you.

When travelling to the airport from Tokyo, it's much more convenient to go by bus than NEX (Narita Express.) The price is the same, but the NEX leaves only from Shinjuku station, which is the biggest, most confusing and crowded subway station in the world. Access to the NEX platform is by stairs only, meaning that you'll have to drag your bags up. Also, the NEX trains leave only once every hour - but not on the hour, and it's difficult to obtain a schedule by phone since most of the staff do not speak English. Buses to the airport leave from most large hotels, and you can make a reservation several days in advance. Hotel staff do speak English. The bus is clean, faster than the train and of course you won't have to shlep your bag up a bunch of stairs to access the bus. You need not be a guest in the hotel to reserve a place on the airport bus.

An update from Japan...
I think the information about going to Narita Airport should be updated ( i.e. Lisa from Tel Aviv.) You can now go directly from Tokyo Station to Narita Airport. (You no longer have to go to Ueno or Shinjuku.) It's a very long walk from the bullet train platforms to the Narita Express platform, down some amazing long escalators too, but you can do it by following the signs with the NEX airplane symbol. I just checked this on the Japan Rail site to make sure that my suspicion was correct. It also said that your railpass can be used for this trip though you must make a reservation.
Barbara in Tokyo

Have cash ready for trains...
Some of the big department stores take Visa but when I tried to pay for tickets on the Sankenson (bullet train), they wouldn't accept my Visa. So, be sure you have enought cash on hand for transportation.
Lynda in Canada


Japanese toilets are fun...

Once you have used the Japanese version of a Western toilet, it's hard to come home. In a pristine, quiet and privately enclosed space, complete with purse hook, bench and a gently warmed seat, they have built-in front and back bidets controlled at the touch of a button (like a car wash) and, for the toilet-timid, sound effects like faux-flushing, birdsong or chimes summoned with a wave of the hand. Western public toilets and their grimy bathroom stalls now fill me with dread. (November 4, 2007) Columnist at National Post Newspaper).





For More about women-only rows on airlines, recommended reading and websites...

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