A blast from the past

29/11/2002.  My god, it's full of . . . people.

So, 8 weeks later I get around to posting the first update. I'm not sure what to write since it's all old news by now, but I guess a quick summary of what has happened so far might be in order.

We set off from Dublin airport on October 1st, spent two weeks in Japan and then flew to New Zealand and spent the next 6 weeks touring around there. We are now facing the hard part of the trip - getting a job and finding somewhere to live.

Some of the best bits so far have included much of Japan even though it was very tiring and hard going, also walking with the tweenies up to the face of a glacier. Some of the worst bits have included side-swiping the camper off a bollard in a petrol station and being told that our excess luggage was going to cost us something like EUR3,000. We eventually wangled it down to EUR400 or so.

Japan wasn't as expensive as we had been expecting - it was perfectly possible to eat in a restaurant for the equivalent of EUR6 for lunch. This is due to the huge number of noodle bars and tonkatsu (deep-fried pork) joints in central Tokyo. We ate out almost all the time and rarely had to pay more than we would pay at home for lunch. In fact, when I think about it, I'm not sure that I could get lunch anywhere at home for that price.

There is much good value to be had in Japan, and one thing that is very usefull to remember is the luggage delivery service which is offered certainly at Narita and presumably also at Kansai and the internal airports. When you remember that the mass transit systems in Japan aren't really designed for transporting luggage this makes even more sense. This appears to be a little secret that the Japanese keep to themselves by the cunning trick of not publicising it in any language other than Japanese. We sent our two heaviest bags direct to the last hotel we were going to visit in Japan, having packed them with stuff we knew we weren't going to need until New Zealand. Cost something like EUR15 or so per bag. A real bargain, considering that one of the bags weighed over 40kg and the second one wasn't far off. Of course it helps to notify the hotel that you are sending stuff ahead so they don't blow your bags up or refuse to accept them. We also sent two small bags to the apartment we were staying in for the first few nights. Same cost, even thought the two small ones were going to Tokyo and the two huge ones were going to Osaka. It helps to have your address pre-written, preferably in Japanese as you don't want to have your bags getting lost with a return address 5,000km away. You just go up to the desk, give the people your bags with the address and they give you a receipt while apologising for the fact that it will be an early-next-morning delivery to a different city and handing your children loads of cute Japanese toys.

Did I say the transport systems weren't designed for luggage ? Let me tell you a story about our trip to Haneda airport. This is the 'internal' airport for Tokyo, in that this is the airport which connects Tokyo to the rest of Japan, while Narita serves the connections to the rest of the world. It is served by a handy monorail from Tokyo. We were staying in a ryokan which was two subway stops away from the start of the monorail. Easy, huh ? I don't think so. Even though the monorail is elevated (aren't they all ?), there are *no* lifts in the station, and getting from the ground to the train involves about 4 escalators. Remember, this is an airport connection. People (well, the non-Japanese) bring luggage to airports. Lifts are a handy way of getting your luggage from the ground floor up to the train. Still with me. It seems like a crazy way to design an airport connection, until you remember that the Japanese all use the luggage delivery services I wrote about above. They don't carry their bags with them, so it's not an issue.

I said above that we stayed in a ryokan in Tokyo. It was an interesting experience, and certainly one which is worth a try. A ryokan is basically the Japanese equivalent of a business hotel in that it is (was) where Japanese people who were on the road would stay for a night. It provides a bed, a shared bathroom and possibly shared breakfast in the morning. And that's it. No frills, but you don't need frills. Some of the travel books talk about the rules and regulations which must be followed when staying at a ryokan, but in my experience the standard ones for any Japanese building apply - take your shoes off at the entrance and do what the momma-san says. One of our big worries was how the paper-thin walls would survive our kids, but this wasn't a problem. Although the room looked pretty it was obviously designed to withstand a certain amount of wear and tear, so this wasn't really a problem. Now, if you were to go to some swish 17th century ryokan with all sorts of royal connections and history I'm sure you would run the risk of doing some damage, but in a regular down-town one don't worry.

One thing to watch out for is the fact that the Japanese have developed a knack of hiding buildings. In many countries around you the world you can see from a distance that this building is a railway station because of the huge train logo on the front and the set of railway tracks going into it. You can see that this building is a department store because of the models and price tags in the windows. Not so in Japan. They seem to hide all sorts of things behind the most peculiar facades. Forget about finding something armed with a map, an address and logic - it just doesn't work here.

It also seems that the Japanese haven't grasped the concept of 'across the road' as in the bus stop you want is across the road. They also haven't got the hang of drawing good maps either. If you are ever trying to follow a Japanese map, make sure you have at least two points of reference that you can relate to before heading off or you will be lost before you know it.

That's enough about Japan for the moment. More later. If anybody wants, they can email me at. If you don't know my name then I hope you found this interesting, but I don't want to encourage spam, so if you send mail to log at the above domain I will get it eventually.

Hope all is well at home and regards to everyone out there.