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Depending on your room rate, you may have a suite bathroom, complete with western style lavatory, or you may have to share facilities (they are always impeccably clean). Either way, remember the ofuro (Japanese bath) is for relaxing and soaking, not for soaping. Complete all your actual washing and rinsing before you get into the water - and be cautious, the water is normally heated over 40 degrees Celsius. Never pull out the plug after you have finished with the water. The legendary communal bath is encountered in public bath houses and at hot spring resorts, but these days bathing is usually strictly segregated.

The food alone justifies the ryokan stay, each meal; comprising 20 or so different dishes, is presented with all the care and flair for which the Japanese are famous. You can opt to pay for the room without meals, but you save very little money this way and deprive yourself of one of the best opportunities to eat authentic Japanese home-style cooking on a gourmet level. Some ryokans offer the choice of western breakfast, but it is such a travesty that few people try it more than once.

Ryokan etiquette is not usually a problem, as foreigners are not expected to understand the niceties of Japanese behavior. Only remember to change your outdoor shoes for indoor slippers as you enter from the street, and remove the slippers before walking on the tatami.

At a less luxurious level, the minshuku has been described as a 'nofrills' ryokan. These family-style lodging houses originated in rural areas, but these days they are also found in towns and cities. The average nightly cost per person, including two meals, is ¥5,000. Western-style pensions, mostly located in scenic beach and mountain resorts, charge approximately ¥7,500 per night including meals, ¥5,000 with-out meals.

Language does present problems in Japan, where few people speak fluent English, despite years of study. People are, however, generally friendly and will take infinite time and trouble to interpret your mime and map-pointing to decipher what you need. Japanese is not a tonal language and you can read the phonetic transcriptions in a phrase book with a fair chance of being understood.

The Japan Travel-Phone is a nationwide, toll-free service to aid visitors outside Tokyo and Kyoto. It operates from 9am-5pm on working days. Dial 106 and ask for 'Travel Information Center collect', speaking slowly.

Japan has 20,000 trains a day, running on 21,000 kilometers of railway lines, plus ferries and buses operated by the Japan Railways Group. If you are intending to tour extensively throughout the country, consider buying a Japan Rail pass, for seven, 14, or 21 days. An ordinary pass costs ¥27,000, ¥43,000 or ¥55,000 respectively. Children under 11 pay half price. Green passes cost almost 50 percent more and are valid in superior-class rail cars, etc. Holders of both types of passes may make advance seat reservations without additional charge and enjoy unlimited travel on the famous Shinkansen (Bullet Train) express trunk lines.

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