Returning To Japan After 60 Years

By JOHN M. DERBY,
Times Publisher
June 27, 2019

The last time I was in Japan was 60 years ago, when I was 24 years old, a military correspondent in the Korean War (conflict).
The military allowed for what they called R & R, or Rest and Recuperation after a soldier served a certain amount of time. I was allowed to spend three weeks in Sinjuku, Tokyo.
Now, I was back in the same place and everything had changed. The hotel I stayed in then had tatami mats and I slept on the floor. The one I slept in now had beds so small a normal size person’s feet hang over the edge and one had to back into the bathroom which was the size of the ones you would find in a motorhome.
The city was very clean and orderly, and the Japanese were very polite and most spoke English. That was not the case 60 years ago. Back then, the signs in the subway were all in Japanese and the crowds were so thick that one had to be standing in front of the exit just to get off the train.
Now there are different levels of bullet trains waiting to speed you at over 150 mph to all parts of Japan. There was one bullet train which reached almost 200 mph, the same speed which they had predicted for the California bullet train, when and if it will ever be completed as once expected.
There is a second level of speed and a third level for Japanese bullet trains traveling at about the same speed, however; stopping at more stations and taking longer to get from one city to the next. For that reason they are priced cheaper. The seats on these trains are ticketed and they are very comfortable.
There are regular trains for the shorter runs, and they would be similar to the trains which are run on the BART commuter lines in San Francisco.
People use the trains; lots of them. The rush hours are particularly bad. Whole commercial villages are built underground using the train stations as focal points. These might compare with some of our malls except they are much larger.
For travelers confused by the train system, there are taxi cabs, and they are relatively cheap and also abundant. The price starts at $4, and for under $10, one can ride to almost any place within one of the districts in Tokyo.
Food is plentiful and reasonably priced, if one does not go for the most expensive menus. Twenty dollars will get you a nice dinner, or what they call a “set,” which includes rice, a salad and the entre.
There are very few fat people in Japan. It could be the diet of rice and noodles with low meat content, or the amount of walking the Japanese do on a daily basis. The people are attractive and women particularly are careful not to allow the sun to blemish their pearl white skin.
It was surprising to see how many people wore face masks. Inside a hospital, almost the entire staff wore face masks, however; people on the trains and buses seemed to be concerned about the air they breathe. On the world scale, Japan is not considered one of the more extreme countries for air pollution.
As expected, June is the rainy month and most people carried an umbrella so they were prepared for the sudden downpours which came and went as fast as the trains.
While Tokyo was somewhat non-descript other than for the number of high rise buildings, considering the history of earthquakes, other towns like Kyoto were more traditionally Japanese and one could go to the old town section and see many of the Japanese women dressed in their Kimonas. One had the feeling that the women and men enjoyed their heritage, and that is why the Japanese spend so much time and energy maintaining the castles and temples as well as gardens of their historic past.
The Imperial Palace was a must do stop, as was the National Imperial Garden, both near the center of Tokyo. Some of these structures dated back 400 years and were repaired after World War II.
Of the places I have visited around the world, Japan is at the top of the list. With English as a second language, it is easy to get around and not as expensive as the rumors one hears about the country.


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