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Mike's Japan

result is a complicated mess that has become even messier with the use of the Roman
alphabet in recent years.
Witten Japanese is a language in itself and this is a major obstacle to reform . The
Chinese characters often convey subtle meanings which cannot be expressed in
words. Reading Japanese is (even for Japanese) a bit like doing a translation job.
More than one reading is possible.
Japan sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and owes its very existence to volcanoes. It is
situated slightly to the west of the junction of the Asian tectonic plate and the Pacific
plate. The latter dips down as it makes its way northwards and pushes under the
Asian plate. A lot of melting takes place when this happens and lava forces its way to
the surface.
No matter where you go in Japan, you will find volcanoes. They stick up along the
spine of the country and have created a mountainous landscape with few flat areas
suitable for habitation. Japan is an immensely crowded country in some places and
sparsely populated in others.
As you travel around, you will see small paddy fields kept alive by government
subsidies. Elsewhere, highly efficient market gardens are using the latest technologies
to produce fruit and vegetables.
Ancient shrines and temples dot the countryside. The "English garden" with flowers
is becoming more common but many people stick to the traditional garden of shrubs
and manicured trees.
Forests cover the mountains. Many are plantations. Others are natural. The
display of autumn colours is spectacular and city folk flock out to admire it. The
mountain roads are often very crowded at that time of year.
A few old castles survive from the past. Where they have been destroyed, concrete
replicas are often built and used as museums.
Modern urban life is vibrant in Japa n. You will find museums, art galleries and
workshops specialising in arts and crafts . Dining out is an everyday experience for
many inner city folk and whole areas of the larger towns are given over to restaurants .
The youth culture is alive and well. Japanese girls love to dress up and parade with
their friends. Fashions change from week to week.
2 Getting around
There was a time when you had to speak Japanese to travel in Japan and you
needed a fat wallet. Those days have gone but the myth remains. My wife and I
are frequent visitors to the country. Recently (Oct 2013) we took advantage of
cheap airfares and went touring in Kyushu in the south-west of the country. We