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Background

Japan is an archipelago of over 3,000 islands. The four largest islands account for more than 95% of Japan's land. The islands are volcanic. Because Japan is an island arc (oceanic plate tectonic subduction zone), it can have major earthquahes.

Most temples are made of wood and have been rebuilt because of war, fire or age. However, care is taken to rebuild the temples just as they were originally built.

Travel Tips

The local language is Japanese.

The local currency is the Yen and you do need to convert US dollars to Yen.

The climate has four seasons. Spring with its cherry blossoms is best for travel, but the end of April and beginning of May are a holiday in which everything is booked. Autumn starting in September with its fall colors is next best for travel. Summer is rainy, hot and humid. Winter is cold.

Trains are the best way to travel in Japan. As you leave Tokyo the signs are not in English and use Japanese symbols. However, the trains are amazingly on schedule (to the minute) and time tables are a way to navigate. You need to know your route ahead of time to use the time tables.

You do not need guided tours if you use the trains, but a bus tour in Toyko is worth it. You can use a taxi to take you around in Kyoto.

The first surprise will be that almost all the tourist are Japanese.

The second surprise is how clean Japan is. The taxi drivers wear white gloves and have white dollies on the seats. Train seats are dusted off between trips.

The third surprise will be how small the rooms are, especially in ryokans.

The fourth surprise will be the high-tech toilets.

In rural Japan, the lodge will supply you with shoes and robes which are worn all around the lodge.

Hot baths are common in most lodges and ryokans. Use the buckets and stools near the hot baths to wash off before getting in the baths.

The food is delicious if you like fish, vegetables, noodles and rice prepared in many ways. Practice chop sticks before going to Japan. Do not stick your chop sticks in your rice (set them down).

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