Mar & Mark as Volunteers

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Travel Tips for Japan

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Konnichiwa! 

We loved the month we recently spent in Japan.  It is a fascinating culture, with some customs that are very different to our own. We are passing these tips on, in the hopes that they may help you, if you are planning a trip to this magnificent country any time soon. Please feel free to share, and ask any questions you might have in the comments!

Trains
• Use http://www.hyperdia.com/en/ to research train travel. Gives times, fares, platforms etc.   The bullet trains are called “Shinkansen” trains.
• You must first book/purchase a ticket to travel on the train. If it is a busy season you should then book a reserved seat, which costs about 50% more. You will then have 2 tickets. If you are changing trains, which is often the case, you may have more than 2 tickets, which are all fed through the turnstile together. The ticket for that particular journey is removed. Trains generally have about 1/3 of the carriages for unreserved travel, with seats occupied on a first come basis.
Japan Rail passes cover various parts of the country – depending on where you are travelling it may not be worth getting one. These must be purchased outside the country. In Perth they can be purchased at Travel Japan, in Irwin St, next to the Mercure Hotel. If you purchase a Japan East Rail Pass, you can reserve your seats online no more than 30 days ahead of your date of travel. For most other travel passes, you cannot book online in advance.

• For travel on public transport in Tokyo and a number of other cities, get a Suica or Pasco card. These can be easily topped up at the station and save the significant hassle of trying to work out what priced ticket you need to purchase. The Suica card can also be used to make purchases at 7/11 and some vending machines. If you don’t have a Suica or Pasco card, you can purchase the cheapest ticket and when you get to your destination, use the top-up facility to pay the correct amount before you pass through the turnstile.

Navigation
• We found Google maps invaluable, as addresses are not necessarily logical. Prior to going to a new place I saved the destination. As the last map area is saved in the cache, you don’t have to be online to find your way around.

Mobile Phones
• You can only buy a local sim card for data – not for making and receiving calls or texts. As all the places we stayed at, whether hotels or Airbnb, had free wifi, we didn’t find it necessary to purchase a sim card.

Google translate
• The Google translate app was handy, particularly to translate instructions on electrical appliances in hotel rooms. Voice recognition and using the camera on the app only works if you have wifi. Otherwise, the text feature is the only one that works.
Money
• Surprisingly, Japan is largely a cash economy. Only big hotels and department stores accept credit cards.
• Bank atm’s don’t accept foreign cards. Use the ubiquitous convenience stores like 7/11, which have a a Y100,000 limit. Note that you may have to insert the card before getting the option of choosing the menu in English.
• We used a pre-loaded cash card which worked without fail at 7/11’s and wasn’t subject to the Y100,000 limit.

Lonely Planet
• We borrowed an electronic copy from the library

Hotels / Airbnb
• We had no problems with Airbnb bookings. Some of the apartments were very small and the mattress was on the floor, but still comfortable. We also stayed in a few traditional ryokans, which was fun. In these you need to unravel your mattress on the tatami matting. Seating is on the floor.
• Most places had sandals just inside the door where you removed your footwear, leaving it facing outwards and slipped on the sandals. Note that you remove the sandals before stepping on tatami matting (ie: socks or bare feet only on tatami).
• Some hotels had onsen (communal hot baths) where you could relax if you so choose. Make sure you read up on the etiquette (see link below) and scrub yourself thoroughly before entering the bath. I saw people spending over 10 minutes washing before getting in the bath! Onsens are single sex only, as you are not clothed. There are a few exceptions, but expect to be starkers, and bathing / soaking with your gender only.
• Most hotels had umbrellas in the foyer to borrow.
• Most hotels had a room with a microwave and vending machine on each floor.
• Make sure you book a no smoking room!

Tokyo
• If you want to visit the Imperial Palace (apparently it’s worth it), you need to book online a month before, as numbers are very limited.

Links on etiquette:

http://www.onsenjapan.net/onsenbasics.php

https://www.jref.com/articles/japanese-manners-and-etiquette.89/

http://www.wikihow.com/Blow-Your-Nose-in-Japan

Written by Mar(k)

June 21, 2017 at 9:19 pm

Prepackaged Japan

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Sometimes we buy our dinner meal at a supermarket, as a way of keeping costs down, getting fresh fruit and veg, and trying local foods. There are many pre-packaged meals that are ready to eat, healthy and delicious. However, enjoying these meals certainly comes at an environmental cost. The Japanese love their packaging.  
Everything is wrapped. Bento boxes, rice balls, salads. All in plastic. Soy sauce, wasabi? Available. In tiny little plastic sachets. Chopsticks? Yup. Wrapped (think also massive deforestation, as the takeaway business is big business here. Thats a lot of wooden chopsticks that get chopped down from trees). Plastic spoons and forks. Plastic wrapped in plastic.  

The Japanese also love their beautifully wrapped presents, often food stuff from specific regions, highlighting the specialty of the area. They make great looking gifts, but inside is _______ (insert whatever the food stuff is here), often again individually packaged. Think a dozen sakura (cherry blossom) shaped biscuits. All in a gift box, wrapped in plastic, then put in a plastic bag, and EACH INDIVIDUAL biscuit is also wrapped, once you get inside the box! It seems crazy to us.

Even when we go to checkout at the supermarket, and bring our little reusable shopping bag, it is often met with some disbelief. But hey. We are kind of getting used to that look. Because it is very similar to the look we get when we tell people here that we are vegetarian. On, on! 

Even the bananas are individually wrapped! WTF?!?

Off on a 1000 km hiking adventure

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I am passionate about two things:  high altitude trekking, and long distance backpacking.   In the latter, there is something hugely satisfying for me about being completely self reliant.  Everything I need,  I carry with me.   Tent, food, stove, fuel, sleeping bag, water.   Not only do I look like a snail (with my home on my back), but I also feel like one, crawling up those hills!   I have recently started my second “end to end” on the 1000 km, long distance walking trail in Western Australia called the Bibbulmun Track.   You can find out more about the trail here.

One foot in front of the other!

One foot in front of the other!

I am going to be doing this trek solo, and I anticipate it will take me 51 hiking days (60 days total, including my rest days) to complete.   My average daily distance covered will be 20 km, and my packed weighed in at 22.22 kg when I started.   A light weight hiker I am not!

It occurs to me that to succeed in any sport, there is a degree of physical fitness required, and overall, that fitness is relatively easy to come by.   But it seems to me that the thing that can make or break lots of epic adventures is the mental toughness that is required.   I would say that succeeding on this kind of adventure is probably 20% fitness, and 80% mental.  It’s harder than it looks!  But the body can keep going long after you think it is finished, if you have the mental toughness.   I am fortunate to know a few athletes and adventurers who have done some truly amazing things – far more adventurous than my wee walk.   And the one common denominator that they all seem to have is that mental toughness.

For now, it is one foot in front of the other!   The thing that guides me are these trail markers – called “waugals”.  They represent the Rainbow Serpent from the Aboriginal Dreamtime (they are NOT snake warning signs!), and trust me – they are my friend out there.   They keep me going in the right direction, and I am always on the lookout for them.   When you hike for hours and hours by yourself, you can get lost in thought, and miss a turnoff on the trail.   So I try to stay vigilant and keep an eye out for these markers.   (mind you, having a good map, compass and the ability to use them also helps if you do come off the trail)

Written by Mar(k)

September 19, 2016 at 3:57 pm