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Everything including the Kitchen Sink: It’s Just Different Here

Everything including the Kitchen Sink: It’s Just Different Here...

OK, so I know there’s been a lot of concern about H1N1 throughout the world.  Hand sanitizer as a hotel guest welcome sign is the new “in”.  However, we never thought the Japanese would take it to such lengths.  This interesting platform necessity was spotted in Matsumoto JR train station.   We really couldn’t figure out who would use it and when.
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Out the Train Window

Out the Train Window

For most Americans, train travel is not a part of our lives, so we are not familiar with a situation where travel can be somewhat relaxing, vs. stressful, harried and unpleasant.   Let me count the ways that train travel in Japan is so dramatically different from either train or plane travel in the US. Ease of Access: In Japan, train stations are centrally located, connected to subway and bus lines easily and are often centers of commerce and entertainment, with many restaurants, stores and information kiosks.   One proceeds directly to their train track upon arrival at the station and can actually stand directly in front of the spot where the door to their train car will open (clearly marked both above the spot and on the ground).   Contrast this with the experience on a recent trip in the Northeast, where one mills around the train station waiting for the exact platform for a train to be posted and then moves with the mob to try to get to the train through a small, one-man gate (and this was in New York City!).  I won’t even go into ease of access for airports… Advance Reservations: In Japan, train seats can be reserved about a month in advance.  With reservation tickets in hand, you can relax and just be sure to be at the appointed spot on the platform at the correct time.   Airlines have long had advance seat assignments, but for the rail system, in many parts of the US, a “reservation” merely means you’ll be allowed on the train.  There are no seat assignments, no car assignments and generally you get to fight the mobs to try to get a seat on a train where you already have a “reservation”.   Trying to seat two people together is difficult, more than two is almost impossible unless you happen to be getting on the train at its origin.   And this is even for the “business class” seats! Travel Experience: Japanese trains are frequent, on-time, very fast and easy to use.   It’s probably best not to compare airlines to this, nor the US rail system. So the result is that in addition to having a great train system, one winds up with a great travel experience on the train in Japan.   It’s relaxing to settle in for a relaxing ride, some favorite music, a good read or to appreciate the views out the...
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Floor B1

Floor B1

Sometimes you hear about this stuff, sometimes you don’t.   Many guidebooks suggest that you stop in a department store to explore the food offering there.   What they aren’t always clear about is HOW to explore and, interestingly enough, how standardized all the offerings are in Japan. First of all, there are usually three main places to find food in the department stores – the first floor has lots of fancy gift food (all boxed up, very pretty and sometimes very expensive), the top floor usually has restaurants (sometimes the top two floors) and many of them are surprisingly good.   Then there’s B1 – or the first level basement. That’s where you can get an amazing variety of food, from baked goods to produce to fresh fish to prepared dishes.  Each city has it’s own specialities, but there is usually a whole underground floor of Japanese food delights (including ice cream!). If you’re traveling with a group, on a bus, you might not get a lot of opportunity to explore these food halls, but if you’re traveling on your own, on the trains and subways as the Japanese do, you won’t have any problem finding them.  Many department stores are connected directly to the train and subway stations and you can wander into some of them while waiting for your train connection (or rush in to get something really quickly while running for your connection!). Perhaps something like...