Travel is a destroyer of narrow, individual views of self-importance and of your culture.
How much time must I spend in a country to justify putting a pin in my world map: a week, days, hours, overnight? I’m not counting Singapore because I slept on the plane during its stopover. I am counting Japan’s overnight stop. Here’s why.
Sure I didn’t see a museum, monument or garden. But one can learn a lot about a country by spending a few hours in its airport and sleeping over in a hotel.
Walking the airport reveals plenty of insight into a culture. How efficient, clean and friendly is it? What about customs, immigration and security check? Do I remove shoes? Having water fountains earns points. McDonalds and Starbucks not so much. Can I get a reasonably priced local beer? How does the airport shopping rate? How is the signage and is it in English? Are there frequent information centers or people to ask for help – and are they smiling? When I do hear English is it understandable? Doesn’t help to announce my flight if I can’t understand what is said.
Hotels are hotels but what amenities are offered? What is the custom for mattresses, linens, size of room, air conditioning? The last, air, is no big thing with me if I can open a window. But in a humid country, give me air conditioning. Love checking out the bathrooms. Japan has wonderful Toto toilets. Hair dryers still suck but all the little gift toiletries, night shirt, and slippers are appreciated. Good TV as one would expect but are there English channels? Points given if not as long as I can read the weather maps. And is there wifi in the room? Got to have wifi and it needs to be free.
What about the food? Most hotel food decreases in quality the closer the restaurant is to the airport or to rooms booked by tour groups. Few exceptions. It is usually palatable and prevents starvation. However, a lot can be learned by what is on the menu. Having raw squid, seaweed, several kinds of smoked and raw fish, surprise concoctions along with a decent cup of coffee for breakfast can be a fascinating experience. I definitely know I am not home. Dinner can be just as adventurous. A bunch of extra points are earned if the food is well prepared, hot and attractively presented.
As I depart, the critical question is: Do I want to return someday? Was what I saw in my brief pass-through attractive enough to entice me back? I wasn’t in Japan long, but I liked what I experienced, felt relaxed and I will return. I even purchased some Yen for when I do.