So as some of you have probably noticed an absence of twitter or Facebook activity. This is a result of my being in China, where there are government bans on these websites. I’ve moved on to my second country on this trip. But one cannot begin a new thought without putting an old thought to rest.
Japan is a one of a kind country. The Great Britain of Asia, Japan showcases a unique blend of the traditional east and westernizing Asia. It boasts some of the warmest and sincere people I’ve met traveling. The land of the rising sun is a place where one can take some of the world’s fastest trains while wearing a traditional Yukata or Kimono. Besides being incredibly developed, it has it’s quaint charms. Whether you go for the electronics, the sushi, the beef, or the trains, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is.
My trip: 19 Days. July 24th – August 13th 2013
- Kawaguchiko (Mt. Fuji)
- Kyoto with day trips to Osaka/Nara/Kobe
From what I’ve learned by both word of mouth and my own experiences, Japan is a very simple country. It’s like a breath of fresh air compared to the chaos of most Asian places. Not once while you are there will you ever fear for your safety, worry that no one will help you, or stress about getting sick from drinking the water. I put together a list of a few of the things that I loved about my experiences in Japan.
#1 My stay in a Capsule Hotel
As many of you may have read from my post R.I.P. I stayed in a Capsule Hotel in Tokyo. If you get the opportunity and don’t have claustrophobia, definitely do this! The experience will show you the bare necessities of a hotel. It will also kind of make you feel like you’re in space, and you can imagine that young attractive Sigourney Weaver is in the capsule next to you.
Even though you have to be naked in a room full of the same sex, onsen made the list because it is a relaxation mecca! After you climb Fuji, nothing sounds better than relaxing in a tub full of old Japanese sweat. But seriously, the awkwardness is totally worth it as you leave feeling completely refreshed and have baby smooth skin. And every onsen has something special to offer… I personally liked the outdoor pools. You just walk right outside into an enclosed pool area completely naked. Spa ettiqette is important!
The Japanese love to ride bicycles. I have found this to be true in many Asian countries, but the Japanese will ride a bicycle right through the middle of the busiest intersections of Tokyo. You can rent bikes almost anywhere and don’t ever have to worry about locking them up because no one does. If you read my post Off the Grid, then you already know about my 46 mile bike ride from Onomichi to Imabari near Hiroshima. You cross some of the most magnificent bridges you’ll ever see in one bike ride. Stay at the HTS Guesthouse in Onomichi. The young couple who own it have the cutest baby girl, the best coffee in Japan, and the widest smiles ever.
#4 Never Guessing What You’re Eating
Whether you are buying something from one of the thousands of vending machines in Japan, selecting your meal ticket to give to the cook, or observing the slightly eerie freeze-dried food cases outside of restaurants, you will never have to guess what you’re eating. There are either pictures of the food, pictures of the ingredients, or Frozen models for you to point your fingers at.
#5 Bullet Trains
Boasting the third fastest trains in the world behind Germany & China, The Japanese shinkansen go as fast as 275 miles per hour (443KmPH). The JR Rail passes that tourists obtain before entering Japan allow you to take any of the trains except the Nozomi express trains. The Nozomi’s offer direct tranport to only the major cities and are the fastest of the shinkansen… But I didn’t recognize a difference between them and the Hikari’s that are JR Pass accessible. I took both Hikari and Nozomi and the experience was one of a kind. It is literally like riding a vertical roller coaster. No trip to Japan is complete without riding a shinkansen. The single most important piece of advice that I can offer is to get a JR Pass. This pass works on local trains AND buses. So it is very useful. A 21 day pass is roughly $588 dollars at the time of writing this. It averages to $28 dollars a day and pretty much covers all transport in Japan. Plus the trains are so fast that you can get from Tokyo to anywhere on Honshu (the main island of Japan) in a matter of hours.
#6 Arcades… Every kind
Arcades are populate places for youths who want to play the latest game to replace dance dance revolution. Right now it’s this weird guitar hero tribal drum game. Pachinko is like an arcade for adults… because you have to play with your money. Its equally addicting and is pretty much everywhere. Now the third type of arcades are the covered streets that are the main shopping paths. They are in every city, no matter how small, and are great places to get out of the rain or sun for a bit.
#7 Leaving your shoes at the door
In any type of Japanese residence, you are required to leave your shoes at the door. You will know you need to do so when you enter a place of rest, or a temple, and there is a single step and a bookshelf full of shoes. I must say that I prefer the enclosed shoe shelfs. One of my hostels only had wifi by the front door and I had to stand next to the shoe shelf and send my emails… smelled like my stepbrother’s bedroom.
The art of paper folding is really a relaxation activity in Japan. Buy yourself a book on techniques or take a class. Most likely the book will contain the little napkin sized floral paper to fold. Start basic and work your way up. Not only do your little cranes make great souvenirs, but they also make you feel accomplished and happy. Disclaimer: It’s only a piece of paper. Don’t curse an entire nation’s heritage because your paper bird looks scary enough to give you avian flu.
#9 Lemon Water and Coffee Milk
There are a thousand drinks to choose from in Japan. Never mind the logos, just go by what you think it is. There is a gatorade like sports drink called Pocari Sweat. There’s coffee milk (My morning fav). There’s something called Lemon Water which looks like piss, but it has just the right hint of sweet lemon flavor, and it has more vitamin C than 50 lemons. Also your favorite drinks are different because recipes vary by country. The coke tastes less like corn syrup and the Fanta is made with real juice. You can’t go wrong… but most likely the weather will be so hot that you should just buy lots and lots of water.
#10 Their obsession with Stationary
It has always been a fantasy of mine to open a store that sells classy stationary, men’s watches, wallets, office supplies, and Mont Blanc pens… but a store like that would go belly up in America faster than “That 80’s show.” But in Japan, you will see everyone reading on the subway and writing in cafes. And they all have their cute little notebooks with the dangly ornaments hanging off the spine. I love it. Writing is one of the most overlooked activities these days.
Things you probably didn’t know about Japan and their culture.
- It is rude to eat on the street. The Japanese value the sacredness of a meal, and it is in bad manners to drink a soda or eat anything anywhere other than a restaurant, outside of 7-11, or on a bench. This is the same for most of Europe. You don’t even walk and eat ice cream… and you eat ice cream with a sample sized spoon out of the waffle cone.
- It is impossible to find a trash can anywhere in Japan, but you will never see trash anywhere. No one litters and everyone recycles.
- The Japanese don’t believe in stealing… and this includes left items. Each one of the train stations has a special room full of items turned in as lost. The chances of you getting a lost wallet back in Japan are supposedly pretty good.
- Japanese do not J-walk. No matter how far away the other side of the street is, they will never walk across a street that has a red crossing sign… and Japanese lights take forever. If you get stopped on a side street with a red light, expect to wait a full minute before you get to walk the 10’ to cross the street.
- Cell phones in Japan make a “bong” sound when they take a picture. Its quite loud and very annoying. But you cannot turn it off. It is required by law to avoid Japanese men from taking “up skirt” photos of the women on trains & escalators.
- On that last note, all transportation in Japan has special areas reserved for women only. Trains have women only cars, buses have women only rows, and department stores have women’s lounges. Don’t find out the hard way like I did. I got on the women only train car and had a thousand wide Japanese eyes on me.
Let’s get real. If you are going to Japan, prepare for a few things: Prepare to spend more money than you imagined because Japan is not cheap for an Asian country. Prepare around holidays and summer vacations because Japan is busy in the summer and impossible around Sakura “Cherry Blossom” season. Get yourself a JR Pass. Splurge because it WILL save you money unless you make a strategic plan before departure. Don’t panic… The japanese characters are a little frightening at first, but there is always english fine print and english menus are almost always available. Prepare for culture shock: There are so many more people than even the busiest parts of most U.S. cities. This can be overwhelming for even the most traveled people. For the most part Japan is probably the easiest country I’ve been to in terms of traveling. If your 16 year old wanted to go to Japan with their friends for a summer, let them… there’s no real harm. I really enjoyed my time in Japan and value Japanese culture, but I can think of other places that I would go for a truly Asian experience.
Helpful tips for travelers:
- Get a JR Pass… or plan your trip strategically.
- Couchsurf if you can.
- Book in advance… even though it sucks to give up your free schedule, it will be your key to saving money.
- Check the weather! It rains randomly in Japan in August.
- Look for the low-key activities, these seemed to be the most fun.
- Stay at K’s house. This chain has locations all over Japan and they’re really nice!