If you are a follower of this blog, you would know that over the last few years I have been mostly been traveling in and around Asia. And while all the places I have visited so far have been special in their own ways, there were two countries that I had always wanted to visit. One is Egypt, which I visited in 2014, for its ancient wonders and history. And the other is Japan, for its ultra-modern, hi-tech, uniqueness.
This year, after months of back and forth and yeses and noes, I finally booked my tickets to Japan. And I hate using this clichéd line, but Japan exceeded all my expectations. (It was either this or calling Japan “awesome” over and over again) All the cities I visited, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Kobe, Osaka, Nara, Akashi, presented different sides of the country that made the trip whole.
In this post, I will talk about my trip and some of the things that any potential visitor to the country might be interested in.
Vending Machines, heated toilet seats and more…
To me, Japan always seemed like a country which did things differently. And it is this uniqueness that had always intrigued me. During my visit, I really enjoyed the vending machines that seem to be present in every nook and corner of the country. And while most of them are about sodas and coffees, I did see some that sold hot soups, pies, ice creams, umbrellas, souvenirs. (I think I saw one which sold under wears!) Another thing I really liked were the heated toilet seats. Ian Wright said, in his show, that they were heavenly. And I concur. Japan can be really cold at times!
Also, I have never seen people taking video games and comics so seriously! I found gaming parlours and comic book cafes in every city I visited and it was not just restricted to kids and teenagers. People of all ages seemed to enjoy these places.
Also, there were cafes where the waitresses dressed up as maids (Popularly called “maid cafes”). There were Robot Restaurants, where robots not only serve you food but also sing and dance for your entertainment.
In case robots aren’t your thing and you know where to look, you can be entertained by Meikos and Geishas! (Yup, they still exist!)
If you are into animals, you can visit cafes which have kittens, puppies and the like for you to play with while having a delicious cup of coffee. I saw a few cafés that had owls!
You can visit temples where for a small fee, you can know your fortune…written in English for your convenience. Caution: some of the fortune cards can be brutal!
After a long day of exploring, you can visit a public bath/onsen. They are everywhere and some of them are in an outdoor setting and have water coming straight from natural springs! For the Japanese, onsens and baths are not just a place where you go to clean yourself. It’s a place for relaxation and rejuvenation.
Food and Drinks
For weeks before trips, I watched videos about Japanese food on Mark Wien’s YouTube channel. And while it took me some time to get used to eating raw fishes, I had never tasted food so pure and fresh… and crazily well presented. (Raw shrimps is something that I still can’t handle though). And then, there were ramen, udon, tempura, kushikatsu, sushi, steak, takoyaki, yakitori, okonomiyaki that just made me fall in love with the Japanese cuisine. I was so into the food that while others in my hostels got their dose of excitement from visits to Universal Studios and Disney Land, I got mine wandering around local markets in search of torro, scallops, squids and octopuses. And as a beef lover coming from a country that has banned beef, tasting the World’s most prized beef in Kobe was an experience of a lifetime. As Mark said in one of his videos, visiting Kobe is like a food pilgrimage.
In case you get thirsty, Japan has all the popular poisons in abundance. Sake and Shochu were delicious but my favourite was Chu-hi which is a bit like Breezer, only 20 times stronger (9% alcohol). And of course, let’s not forget Asahi “Super Dry” and Kirin!
I also loved the flavored water and drip coffee. There is also the Japanese Green Tea for those who prefer something healthy.
In short, Japan is heaven for food lovers.
(For those with deep pockets, the country also has the highest number of Michelin star restaurants.)
The Japanese are some of the nicest, most patient and polite people I have come across. Most of them however do not speak English, but that won’t stop them from helping you. I remember, in Akashi, I asked a person for directions to a market and since he couldn’t speak English, he went out of his way and walked with me for about a kilometer, just to show me where it was. (And this happened more than once, in different cities.)
Unlike some of the other countries I visited, in Japan, there is no one trying to scam you. No one trying to overcharge because you are a foreigner. No one bothers you about tuk tuks and gems. From the staff in hostels to servers in restaurants, from cops to the monks, from the suit wearing salary men to young men who had their hair dyed with bright colors, everyone made the trip so easy and memorable.
Just so you know, “Hai” means “Yes”.. So, don’t go, “Hi! How are you?”, every time someone says “Hai” to you.
Budget traveler in expensive Japan
Yes, Japan is expensive. But you do not necessarily need to spend a fortune to travel in the country. Everything seemed to come with a cheaper option.
Can’t afford to travel by Shinkensen to travel between cities? You can take a highway bus to travel between cities. Sure, it will take longer but you can use that time to think about what to do with all the money you saved!
Can’t afford to eat every meal at restaurants? Eat at supermarkets. Food may not be as delicious as they have in restaurants but its cheap and hygienic.. and tasty!
Don’t want to spend too much on entrance fee on sights? There are tons of free/cheap things to do!
All in All
If you haven’t guessed by the number of exclamation marks I have used in this post, I am totally won over by Japan. I think it is a fantastic place for any kind of traveler to visit. It has something in it for everyone. Its safe. Its different. People are super nice. Food is delicious. I saw Meikos and Geishas in Kyoto, fed cute deers in Nara, sat for hours under the shade of cherry blossom trees in Akashi, had coffee in a shop in Hiroshima that used to be a kimino shop before the A-bomb disaster, rode one of the largest ferris wheels in the world in Osaka, stayed in a coffin sized capsule room in Tokyo, met strangers in Kobe and drank with them till they became friends..
Japan was amazing!
I plan to write about a fair bit about Japan in the next few months. So, stay tuned!