Map-eating deer, Japanese Green Tea-flavoured everything and being served by giant frogs…
Come visit Japan with us as Josh (J), Kelsey (K) and Rachel (R) share their Japanese adventures with The Asian Destination!
Places Visited & Duration of Stay:
J: My stay was a 1 year exchange at Keio University. I lived in Yokohama and kept my visits to Tokyo/Yokohama for monetary reasons. I went to places like Kamakura as well.
K: Japan for 1 year. Tokyo, Miyagi prefecture, Niigata, Nagano.
R: 2 weeks:Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima
J: Zusshi which is a seaside town. The beach is more of an inlet and in the past I cycled along that coastal road from there to Enoshima – great views and great atmosphere!
Describe the country in 3 words:
J: Respectful, helpful & beautiful.
K: Wacky, futuristic & tranquil.
R: Best country globally!
I wasn’t expecting to find…
J: A lot of people attempting to speak English. It shocked me a bit as I was expecting to hear less.
K: I wasn’t expecting to find… how down one road there would be neon lights advertising oxygen bars, and then on the other side of the road there would be a temple. Such a mix of old meets new!
R: Ginger haired groups of fashonistas hanging round at the corner of shops. Dyed ginger hair is a massive phenomenon out there, complete with 3 inch platforms and amazing make-up that looks straight off the catwalk. Also, women walking down the street in traditional Japanese dress – I thought it was more for special occasions!
My favourite part of the culture was:
J: The inherent politeness that people would have; they’d be willing to walk in the complete opposite direction of their own destination to make sure that I could find the place I was looking for. In some cases I didn’t even need to ask for directions or help – when I looked lost someone would come over! I even got given a cake by an old woman who I gave up my seat for on the train and talked to for her journey!
K: People’s eagerness to help. People would go out of their way to assist you if you were in trouble. For example you ask someone how to get somewhere, they don’t just direct you they’ll take you there personally.
R: How polite they were. The train conductor bows as he enters and exits the carriage. The shop assistants all loudly say arigato gozaimaaas as you leave the shop (even if you don’t buy anything).
The food – mochi (sort of like a donut but the dough is glutinous rice dough and the filling is traditionally red beans/sesame seeds. They do branch out into many many different flavours e.g. coffee, toffee, chocolate & peanut butter! There was also Matcha flavoured everything (green tea) – cosmetics, cakes, frappucino, mochi, bread. The restaurants also had plastic representations of the dishes so you would know what you were getting before you ordered.
I would describe the people as…
J: Friendly, polite and energetic.
K: helpful and polite with a bit of wackiness thrown in too.
R: Lovely, polite, helpful, charming, generally shorter than me!
I was surprised by…
J: The absolute efficiency of the Country. I was told that trains ran on time but I never expected it to be to this degree. This efficiency doesn’t just apply to public transport but with everything else. When I was making a bank account, they did it in less than an hour for me and made sure it was done before closing time and worked harder to get it done.
K: I was surprised by… how often people drink. Businessmen often go drinking every day after work with colleagues. To get involved in societies and groups a heavy deal of drinking is also required.
R: How much we loved the food and the amount of food that we had not heard of. Since my trip, Japanese food (other than Sushi) has become much more common over here – in London it is very easy to get a mochi fix . I’m still waiting for Starbucks to produce a matcha frappucino! EAT do a matcha milkshake but it’s not quite the same.
I was also surprised that it was only about 20 degrees at the beginning of September – it’s renowned for being 30+, humid and sweaty.
Something I miss about the country now:
J: The food. Without a doubt some of the tastiest stuff I’ve ever eaten in my life. It was no wonder I put on weight (over-eating). Will know to hold back next time! If you’re wondering it was food such as Ramen, Ton-katsu & Gyu-don.
K: The food. If someone could make me traditional ramen soup I would be very happy right now.
R: I really wish I could wander out to buy some peanut butter mochi and a matcha frappucino with the shop assistants bidding me adieu (well, arigato gozaimas), boarding a train where standard class is better than a British 1st class and the conductor bowing to the carriage. Oh and how well behaved the children were – and so quiet!
Any memorable/funny phrases of the language I picked up:
J: A simple phrase I already knew before going to Japan, the word ‘Joshikai 女子会’. Means ‘Girls-only gathering‘. A thing where girls get together and drink/eat/do other things. Due to the ‘Joshi’ aspect and its similarity to my name, my American friend and I had a lot of laughs and attempted our own ‘Joshikai’. People did come surprisingly…
K: Wabisabi which means beauty in something traditionally Japanese.
R: arigatoooooo gozaiiiiimaaaaaaaasss; Moshi moshi (Hi)
Strange or memorable experience:
J: I went to a bar called ‘Kagaya’ in Tokyo. It’s described as the wackiest bar by most of the foreign bloggers who talk about Japan. This bar only serves one group at a time (for a period of a couple of hours) and the bartender goes all out to entertain by singing or dressing up in giant frog costumes. It was hilarious from start to end.
K: Being asked by people on the street if they can take a photo with you. Often shy in social occasions I was quite surprised that Japanese people would be so confident to take a photo with a complete stranger just because I looked a bit different to them.
Hiroshima – being the only white people visiting the peace park and getting looks from the Japanese and feeling an inner restlessness.
Miyajima – renowned for the amount of deer that just walk about on the streets. We sat down to enjoy our bubble tea and work out where we were on the map. Some deer came and surrounded us and took a bite out of our map…and then another one…and another…. We leapt up and away from the map-consuming deer with the locals laughing at us!
A misconception people may have of the country:
J: The biggest is Sushi I’d say. If anything it’s eaten once a month. And it’s the only food people ask me about when I come back home. There appears to be a bit of a lack of knowledge about food in Japan.
K: That everyone eats sushi. There are people in Japan who don’t like raw fish too and there are many different types of food to suit different tastes.
R: Upon mentioning my adoration of Japan, people have commented about Japanese being ‘harsh’ but I experienced completely the opposite.
One thing the guide books don’t tell you:
J: I never read the guide books so I’m not sure on this one but one big thing is to mind your manners on public transport – e.g. keep your phone on silent.
K: Trains can be awfully confusing so make sure you download a underground map before you go and make sure you avoid peak hours so you can dodge being pushed onto a train with the early commuters.
R: The guide books don’t adequately explain just how to use the underground, neither do they prepare you for the culture shock of everything being in symbols, and a foreign language, although it was amazing to experience.
Guide books also don’t tell you that Japanese books are vertical lines of symbols (in contrast to horizontal lines of words). They read these symbols from right to left, but will read the left page before the right, similarly books are shelved left to right. But, if it is written horizontally, it will be read left to right – a useless fact which I find intriguing.
Other advice I would give to those planning a trip to:
J: Make sure you have enough time and money. Research well and look into all your options. That way you can get the most out of your trip. Definitely budget well and look for things that you can get beforehand (there is a train travel pass for those who travel to Japan- you just have to apply online).
K: Make sure you explore the modern and the traditional parts of Japan as they both have their perks.
R: You only need to spend a couple of days in Tokyo. Although there are lots of districts to explore, we actually found it was all quite similar and built up with illuminated buildings – tall modern buildings combined with Piccadilly Circus to the power 4.Instead, explore smaller cities and quieter areas for a ‘true Japan.’ I much preferred Kyoto to Tokyo. (Random fact: Kyo -to is To-kyo in reverse). Get a Japan rail pass (you can do this at the airport when you arrive in Japan).
Would you go back?
J: In a heartbeat.
R: Yes! I’ve also been told that the north of Japan is very beautiful and a bit different to southern Japan, so I would like to visit there.
If you liked this post, you may also like to read:
Follow The Asian Destination on Twitter: @theasiand
‘Like’ us on Facebook: facebook.com/theasiandestination
Follow us on Instagram: @theasiandestination