Transportation Don't buy plane tickets in overregulated Japan. Do buy a big-bargain rail pass - before you arrive - from a US travel agent or contact the nearest Japan National Tourist Organization. Avoid expensive Tokyo taxis by mastering the subway; many directions are in English. Prepare for a long trip from Tokyo's Narita airport (90 minutes or more, if the traffic is heavy; taxis cost about $100). Avoid national holidays. US citizens can get a visa on arrival.


For less-expensive dining, try stand-up soba-noodle shops or cheap sushi bars which serve from a countertop conveyor belt. Practice using chopsticks. Prepare to spend about $30 a day for food. Avoid blowfish.


Mastering just 50 words will surprisingly open doors, bring you meals, and get a taxi to go where you want. Many young Japanese, especially in Tokyo, speak enough English for basic assistance.


Japan's version of the bed-and-breakfast is the ``minshuku,'' a down-home experience found most anywhere outside of Tokyo. Remember to take off your shoes, duck the low doorways, and don't lather up in the public bath.


Summers are sticky, winters frosty. Best times for nature viewing are early spring and late fall. Many say Mt. Fuji is worth the climb. Prepare yourself for regular earth tremors in Tokyo and elsewhere.


``Tokyo Access,'' P.O. Box 30706, Los Angeles CA 90030; ``Tokyo City Guide'' (buy at big hotels); ``Japan Handbook,'' Moon Publications, 772 Wall St., Chico, CA 95928.

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