It really is though.
From the beautiful Kinkaku-Ji in Kyoto, to the Ninja Temple in Kanazawa which is full of secret passageways and traps, to the zen gardens of Tofukuji – the temples in Japan never fail to impress. Even if they’re not really your thing, you’re bound to find at least a handful to admire.
The stereotypes are true; Japanese people are polite to a fault. We had waiters running down the street to give back a couple of yen left on the table, as they shouted “arigatou ademaaaaas!”, bowing profusely as they handed over the change
There’s nothing quite like staring out of a bullet train window as it twists around the Japanese Alps, or gazing at Fuji when passing from Kyoto to Tokyo. Japan has some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever laid eyes on – rice fields, mountains, sea, it’s got it all in droves and spades and whatever else you fancy.
As a huge self-confessed non-ironic geek, the arcades were one of the aspects I was most looking forward to in Japan. You know that scene in Lost in Translation, where they run through an arcade, and the noise is almost deafening from all the gamers pressing buttons, collecting money and the J-pop blaring out from the machines? Imagine that, over a 7 floor building. I was also pleased to play first look demo versions of Pokemon Tournament and Tekken 7.
Basically every Japanese person I encountered, I wanted to hug and pinch their cheeks and take home with me. I’ve never been to a place before where people will literally stop everything, EVERYTHING, just so they can help a stranger. More often than not, the level of English is pretty high. I barely spoke any Japanese while there, even though I practiced real hard at the airport for a couple of hours.
- Efficiency and Hygiene
To put it simply: everything works. Everything is on time. And everything is spotless. This is the way every country should run (China, I’m looking at you).
Animation is an integral part of Japanese culture. Pikachus show up randomly on restaurant menus. Tortoro shows up on the windows of hairdressers. Animation and cartoons are something the Japanese are fiercely proud of, and nowhere is this more clear or beautiful than at the spectacular Studio Ghibli museum on the outskirts of Tokyo.
Geishas, samurai, ninjas, emperors and nuclear bombs – the history of Japan is unique and omnipresent. History is on every corner in Japan, much of it still beautifully preserved. Hiroshima is a prime example, the A-Bomb Dome being stopped in time since the moment a nuclear blast destroyed the city in 1945.
I’m still not ENTIRELY sure what shrines are for or why they exist, but I’m glad they do. What I like about both the temples and shrines in Japan is that they all have their own character, and all manage to do something slightly different. The Itsukushima Shrine and the Fukushimi Shrine give two completely distinct experiences.
The streets of Tokyo are filled with thirty-something school girls, pigtails and glitter in their hair, French maids with 6 inch platform shoes, gangs that make you feel like you’re living Back to the Future’s interpretation of 2015. It’s both hilarious, fascinating, and overwhelmingly odd all at the same time.
I ate fish in Japan for the first time since I became vegetarian 13 years ago. It’s kind of unavoidable – this is seafood heaven, fish markets, sushi stalls and soba noodles everywhere. Fish aside, the food in Japan was delicious and no more so than veggie ramen which I became a little obsessed with.
Say what? Japan’s not really the kind of place you go wildlife watching, but I had some of the most memorable animal encounters during my two weeks here. Snow monkeys in Yamanouchi and Kyoto, deer in Nara, eagles and capybara just down the road from our guesthouse in Kyoto.
I had a weird moment where I was told I’d be in Takayama on the exact day of the Autumn Festival – I’d never heard of it. What entailed ended up being a highlight of my trip. Nobody does festivals quite like the Japanese, and the Takayama Autumn Festival, with it’s huge floats, red lanterns and dragon costumes, makes you feel like you’ve been spirited away to…well, I guess Spirited Away. There’s also a festival held in spring and some sweet looking ones further north in the country.
There is SO much more than just big flush and small flush. Japanese toilets feature options for bidet (and front bidet for ladies), shower, air freshener, seat heater and toilet cleaner. Some of them even open and close their lids on an automatic basis. And here I am, using my regular toilet like a sucker.
- Everything is from the Future, basically
I referenced Back to the Future earlier, and this seems like a good analogy to continue with. Japan feels futuristically unreal – like what a child imagines 2040 will be like. The robot restaurant in Shinjuku summed this feeling up perfectly for me. You just wouldn’t find this anywhere else in the world.