When I travel overseas I usually don't eat the local food, with the big
exception of the fruit, which I have a special fascination for.
I mostly travel in third world type countries which aren't famous for great
or safe cuisine, so normally I seek out an acceptable Chinese restaurant
and do most of my eating there. However, I didn't hesitate
to make an exception to this policy this time, because the quality of hygiene
Japanese restaurants is high
(apart from periodic mass food poisoning, and people being killed eating
"fugu") and it's an extra effort to eat Western style. I had
no problem eating cold rice and fish bento (boxed meal) for breakfast,
and going to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant with my cousin and his girlfriend
was on my "must do" list. Even supermarket
shopping in Japan is an interesting experience.
All of this discussion of food and drink brings us quite naturally, unashamedly and irrevocably to the subject of toilets. For some reason buried deep in our psyches and linked, no doubt, to our early potty training, people imagine that the way "we" do toilets must be the way everyone around the world does them. So if you haven't travelled overseas then you almost certainly have no idea what variety of toilet designs exist around the planet. On this page of Japanese toilets you'll get an introduction to this exciting and noble topic and learn a few essentials of etiquette and culture which might save you some embarassment.
As you might have gathered, I visited Japan because of my cousin, who has been teaching English there for some years. However, despite the best efforts of him and many others like him, and despite the fact that English is compulsory for five or six years of every Japanese student's life, the great majority of Japanese remain almost totally unable to string together a meaningful English sentence. I was very surprised by how few people even in Tokyo and other major cities were able to communicate with me, though there were notable exceptions. Thankfully there are usually enough signs and directions in English to get by, and people are almost invariably very friendly and do their best to understand.
Twenty years ago, most English speakers had direct experience of how poor the Japanese were at foreign languages, thanks to appalingly badly written user manuals for Japanese products. Admittedly, the quality of these manuals is now greatly improved, perhaps because the Japanese now hire English writers or copy readers. However, examples of hilarious mistranslations and mis-spellings still abound for visitors to Japan. Strangely enough, some of the funniest uses of English occur simply because it's fashionable to say things in English, much as French is sometimes used outside France because it adds an air of romance. The result in Japan are ridiculously meaningless signs which use a lot of fancy English words to say nothing, but say it very nicely.