Using buses in Japan can be intimidating to foreign tourists because there are usually few English displays or announcements, and there are different systems of ticketing depending on the company. Below is a description of the most common system, followed by notes about exceptions:
Enter the bus through the back door.
A display above the driver shows the next stop and the fares for that stop in yen. To determine your fare, match the number on your ticket with the number and fare on the display. If you use an IC card, then you do not have to worry about this.
When your stop is approaching, press one of the buttons on the wall to signal the driver that you wish to get off at the next stop.
If you do not have the exact fare, use the changing machine to get small coins.
When getting off, put your ticket and the exact fare into the box next to the driver.
Of course, there are a few exceptions to the above outlined system. The most prominent exception are buses where you are supposed to enter through the front door, pay a flat fare when entering, and exit through the rear door, for example, city buses in Tokyo.
We will use the Hiroshima tram system to get to and from the Peace Park and downtown Hiroshima.
To hail a taxi, either go to a taxi stand (usually located in front of train stations) or flag one down at a location where it is safe for it to stop. A plate on the dashboard in the lower corner of the windshield indicates whether a taxi is vacant or not. Usually, a red plate indicates that the taxi is vacant, while a green plate indicates the opposite (see illustration below). During the night a light on the roof of a taxi can indicate that the taxi is vacant. You can also call a taxi by phone or via your hotel reception; in large cities there is usually no additional charge for calling a taxi while in more rural areas a small fee may be charged.
When you board a taxi, note that the vehicle’s left rear door is opened and closed remotely by the driver. You are not supposed to open or close the door by yourself, except when using a different door. Furthermore, you are not supposed to tip taxi drivers. If you do not speak Japanese or if your destination is not a well known place, it is recommended to give your driver the address of your destination on a piece of paper or – even better – point it out on a map, since the Japanese address system can be confusing even to local taxi drivers.
While travelling in Japan we will be using a variety of public transit.
Japan’s main islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Hokkaido are served by a network of high speed train lines that connect Tokyo with most of the country’s major cities. Japan’s high speed trains (bullet trains) are called shinkansen (新幹線) and are operated by Japan Railways (JR).
Running at speeds of up to 320 km/h, the shinkansen is known for punctuality (most trains depart on time to the second), comfort (relatively silent cars with spacious, always forward facing seats), safety (no fatal accidents in its history) and efficiency. Thanks to the Japan Rail Pass, the shinkansen can also be a very cost effective means of travel.
The shinkansen network consists of multiple lines, among which the Tokaido Shinkansen (Tokyo – Nagoya – Kyoto – Osaka) is the oldest and most popular. All shinkansen lines (except the Akita and Yamagata Shinkansen) run on tracks that are exclusively built for and used by shinkansen trains. Most lines are served by multiple train categories, ranging from the fastest category that stops only at major stations to the slowest category that stops at every station along the way.
Most shinkansen trains in Japan offer seats in two classes, which are typically found in separate cars:
Like the name suggests, ordinary seats are the regular seats found on all shinkansen trains. Although the size and foot space of ordinary seats varies between train sets, ordinary seats on shinkansen are generally comfortable and offer a generous amount of foot space. They usually come in rows of 3×2 seats.
Comparable to business class on airplanes, green cars offer seats that are larger and more comfortable than ordinary seats and offer more foot space. The seats are arranged in rows of 2×2 seats. Green Cars tend to be less crowded than ordinary cars.
Furthermore, Gran Class is available on new train sets along the Tohoku Shinkansen, Hokuriku Shinkansen and Hokkaido Shinkansen. Comparable to first class on airplanes, Gran Class offers seats that are even more spacious and comfortable than Green Car seats (in rows of 2×1 seats) and additional amenities and services.
Reserved vs. non-reserved cars
Most shinkansen trains offer both non-reserved seats (自由席, jiyūseki) and reserved seats (指定席, shiteiseki) in separate cars. Only the Hayabusa, Hayate and Komachi trains on the Tohoku Shinkansen and Hokkaido Shinkansen and the Kagayaki trains on the Hokuriku Shinkansen are fully reserved and do not carry non-reserved seating. All seats in Green Cars are reserved. Bilingual signs indicate whether a shinkansen car carries reserved or non-reserved seats.
Advance seat reservations are required to use a seat in a reserved car (see below on how to make seat reservations). A fee of a few hundred yen applies for making seat reservations. Japan Rail Pass holders can make seat reservations for free.
Signs on cars indicating whether the car is reserved or non-reserved
Signs on a platform (left) and inside a train (right)
Display in a station indicating the non-reserved car numbers of upcoming departures
The scenic train from Nagoya to Takayama.
We will use a Japan Rail pass that allows us to travel anywhere on the JR system during our stay for a low price.
The subway system has easy to use ticket machines.
There is suffering and impermanence in life for all beings.
There is a cause for suffering, which is attachment and desire.
There is a way out of suffering, which is to eliminate attachment and desire.
The way out of suffering is the “Noble Eightfold Path”
“Noble Eightfold Path”
Right Understanding means to understand the Four Noble Truth.
Right Thoughts means thought free of ill-will, cruelty or desire.
Right Speech means to refrain from pointless and harmful talk… to speak kindly to all.
Right Action means to see that our deeds are peaceable and compassionate.
Right Livelihood means to earn our living in such a way as to entail no evil consequences.
Right Effort means to direct our efforts continually to the overcoming of ignorance and desires.
Right Mindfulness means to be aware of one’s deeds, words and thoughts.
Right Meditation means to meditate on the Oneness of all life and the Buddhahood that exists within all beings.
Shinto at a glance (SHRINES!)
The essence of Shinto is the Japanese devotion to invisible spiritual beings and powers called kami, at shrines, and at various rituals.
Shinto is not a way of explaining the world. What matters are rituals that enable human beings to communicate with kami.
Kami are not God or gods. They are spirits that are concerned with human beings – they appreciate our interest in them and want us to be happy – and if they are treated properly they will intervene in our lives to bring benefits like health, business success, and good exam results.
Shinto is a very local religion, in which devotees are likely to be concerned with their local shrine rather than the religion as a whole. Many Japanese will have a tiny shrine-altar in their homes.
However, it is also an unofficial national religion with shrines that draw visitors from across the country. Because ritual rather than belief is at the heart of Shinto, Japanese people don’t usually think of Shinto specifically as a religion – it’s simply an aspect of Japanese life. This has enabled Shinto to coexist happily with Buddhism for centuries.
The name Shinto comes from Chinese characters forShen(‘divine being’), and Tao (‘way’) and means ‘Way of the Spirits’. 神道
Shrine visiting and taking part in festivals play a great part in binding local communities together.
Shrine visiting atNew Year しょうがつ is the most popular shared national event in Japan.
Because Shinto is focused on theJapan it is clearly an ethnic religion. Therefore Shinto is little interested in missionary work, and rarely practiced outside
Shinto sees human beings as basically good and has no concept of original sin, or of humanity as ‘fallen’.
Everything, including the spiritual, is experienced as part of this world. Shinto has no place for any transcendental other world.
Shinto does not require adherents to follow it as their only religion.
… riceHold the rice bowl in one hand and the chopsticks in the other. Lift the bowl towards your mouth while eating. Do not pour soy sauce over white, cookedrice.
… sushiPour some soy sauce into the small dish provided. It is considered bad manners to waste soy sauce, so try not to pour more sauce than you will be using.
You do not need to add wasabi into the soy sauce, as sushi pieces that go well with wasabi will contain it already. However, if you choose to add wasabi, use only a small amount so as not to offend the sushi chef. If you do not like wasabi, you can request that none is added into your sushi.
In general, you are supposed to eat a sushi piece in one bite. Attempts to separate a piece into two generally end in the destruction of the beautifully prepared sushi. Hands or chopsticks can be used to eat sushi.
In case of nigiri-zushi, dip the piece into the soy sauce upside-down so that the fish enters the sauce. A few kinds of nigiri-zushi, for example, marinated pieces, should not be dipped into soy sauce.
In case of gunkan-zushi, pour a small amount of soy sauce over the sushi piece rather than dipping it into the sauce.
… sashimiPour some soy sauce into the small dish provided. Put some wasabi on the sashimi piece, but be careful not to use too much as this will overpower the taste of the fish. Dip the sashimi pieces into the soy sauce. Some types of sashimi are enjoyed with ground ginger rather than wasabi.
… miso soupDrink the miso soup out of the bowl as if it were a cup, and fish out the solid food pieces with your chopsticks.
… noodlesUsing your chopsticks, lead the noodles into your mouth. You may want to try to copy the slurping sound of people around you if you are dining in a noodle shop. Rather than being bad manner, slurping noodles is considered evidence of enjoying the meal and enhances the flavor.
In case of noodle soups, be careful of splashing the noodles back into the liquid. If a ceramic spoon is provided, use it to drink the soup; otherwise, lift the bowl to your mouth and drink from it directly.
Today we looked at some Japanese yen (en) and how we will take money to Japan and get it while there if need be. We also talked about convenience stores there and how they provide low cost but healthy food – unlike here in Canada. Here is a good site on Japanese money.
When we are on the road, convenience stores – ‘konbini’ in Japanese – will be where we get our breakfasts. They will also be fine for lunches and even dinner. Here is a good site describing them.
The cheapest, most convenient and delicious bit of traditional Japanese food you can get is ‘onigiri’. Onigiri are riceballs with some kind of protein hidden inside, wrapped in nori. Here is a good site showing the onigiri typically available at convenience stores in Japan.
We all met at the ‘kindokei’ or gold clock used as a meeting place by everyone meeting at Nagoya Station at 8:30. The host families brought our kids to the station and stayed till we were heading to our Shinkansen platform. There were final photos, hugs – and then more hugs – and some tears. Our hosts were wonderful and I received positive reports from all the host families About our kids.
We took the 9:15 Shinkansen from Nagoya and 45 minutes later were in downtown Kyoto. We took taxis putting 3 or 4 people and their luggage per taxi and headed to our guest house, Sakura Peace House in the Higashi Yama – ‘eastern mountain’ district of Kyoto, just off the downtown core. We left our bags at the guest house under the care of Aroni who is the New Zealander who manages the guest house. We set out on foot for Kiyomizu Temple which was 1 km away. The temple sits on a low mountain and provides a great view of Kyoto. The temple complex has pagoda’s, a grand hall and a waterfall from which the temple gets its name. Kiyomizu means ‘pure water’. The water is said to have a purifying effect on the soul if drunk with the right intention and humility. Our group lined up and took the long handled cups and put them into the one of the 3 streams of water flowing off the mountain. These kids are pretty good already, so not much purifying was needed.
We then went to the ‘koi no ishi’ or ‘love stones’. There are two stones abut two foot square set in the ground about 40 feet apart. The legend is that if you can close your eyes and walk from one stone and actually reach the other stone with your eyes closed you will have success in love. If however you are veering off course it is alright for a friend to gently steer you back on course – after all what are friends for? I am happy to report our kids have bright futures in this department.
Finally we entered the ‘hara’ maze. ‘Hara’ means ‘belly’ in Japanese. We descended into the depths of the main hall down a steep stair case into pitch blackness. Our only way forward was holding on to the hand rail and going slowly. The corridor twisted and turned until finally we came to the center. At the center was a large round piece of granite with the Sanskrit word for ‘hara’. The idea is that we had entered into the Buddha’s belly and were safe there. We were to touch the stone and make a wish with good intentions. We all did.
The teachers and students were re-united Monday morning at the beginning of school. We hadn’t seen them since Friday afternoon and were wondering how they had fared. They all had a great time. As I expected the host families’ hospitality was excellent. The students had great stories of food they eaten (and sometimes made) at home or at local restaurants the family knew were good and representative of the kind of business they wanted to introduce to our students. Some had been to the ninja school, the Toyota museum, driven to Mount Fuji, made paper, made soba noodles, played traditional games, sung karaoke ….. They had had wonderful experiences. They had been quite anxious in the time leading up to meeting their hosts and going off for the weekend. Yet each one came through the weekend with new experiences and new friends. Our hosts were very kind.
The morning at school began with a presentation by the group of Aichi Keisei students who visited KSS last May. They had prepared a series of stations introducing different aspects of Japanese culture: young people’s fashion, origami, traditional sweets, the different kinds of miso and its origins, important sites in Kyoto ( where we were heading next) and traditional ghost stories.
In the next period we met the group of students who are travelling to Qualicum Beach. They introduced us to a traditional card game called Karuta. The game is kind of a combination of the card games ‘concentration’ and ‘speed’. The students had prepared a series of cards with either pictures of important Japanese cultural practices or names of things in Japanese. We were divided into 3 groups around tables with these cards and waited for the Japanese students to give us clues in English and Japanese. We then had to find the cards that illustrated those clues and grab them before our competitors. It was a lot of fun with encouragement being shouted to us from the Aichi Keisei students and teachers. Along the way the students would give us detailed descriptions and explanations of these cultural practices with a slide show accompanied by a talk. It was great fun.
Next, the girls were taken away to learn how to wear ‘yukata’ which are light cotton kimono. These kimono were made by some of the students in the school’s fashion club. The boys were fitted with ‘happi’ coats, which are traditional light cotton jackets worn by men at festivals. We were then taken to the school’s tea room where the girls in the ‘sadou’ (tea ceremony) club prepared ‘maccha’ which is the powdered green tea used in the tea ceremony. Their teacher is a highly trained and experienced ‘sadou’ teacher and explained to us how and why things are done in the tea ceremony. As we sat in our yukata and happi coats we all experienced the quiet, contemplative mind-set the tea ceremony is meant to produce. It was a great experience.
At lunch the kids ate the ‘bento’ (homemade lunch) their hosts had prepared for them in the homeroom classes of their host students. After lunch we went to a local temple that is hundreds of years old. It is in a rural area and a market has grown up around it, which has also been operating for hundreds of years. We prayed at the temple and shopped at the market. It was then back to school to meet our hosts and head back home for the final night with the host families.