Shinjuku At Night

I spent seven days in Japan last week. It was my first time there. When I travel, I prepare myself emotionally and mentally by erasing all expectations of the country I’m visiting. It’s best for traveling with an open mind and heart. Japan is now holding my heart hostage. The Land of the Rising Sun, is an ABSOLUTE MUST SEE COUNTRY. Why, you ask? Godzilla is a sweet heart. That’s why. And second, all the good things you’ve heard about Japan are TRUE, here’s why;

LET’S START HERE

Japan covers all aspects of the travel continuum. It’s a living, breathing, mind bending, heart warming, soul fulfilling, sightseeing, ever evolving experience. It sends your five senses into overdrive, and they stay there. When you get to Japan, you’ll know exactly what I mean. One of the things you’ve probably heard about Japan is how expensive it is. It’s not the cheapest country I’ve traveled to, but it’s not as costly as people say. You have to keep value in mind. You won’t feel like you’re being ripped off when you pay to see, experience and taste Japan.

The people are by far the most helpful, polite, and disciplined I’ve EVER encountered. Not only that, they’re kind-hearted, in a genuine way.

After getting lost on my way back from the Tokyo Sky Tree on foot, I stopped in a subway to ask for help. After a clear explanation in English, I took off with the map the subway attendant had provided me. Two floors and at least 200 meters later, near the exit, I removed my earphones to the sound of the subway attendant’s trotting footsteps …

“Excuse me,” he said, “I just want to make sure you understood me clearly, my English is not very good, let me show you again where to go.”

Mind blown. He left his post and followed me through the entire subway to double check that I understood? I’d be lucky to be greeted with a good morning sometimes in Montreal, my home town.

Japan is also the cleanest country I’ve ever stepped foot in. I can count the amount of litter or garbage I saw in seven days on two fingers. It’s also obsessed with the future, technology and forward progression, as such, you’ll see a lot of bizarre things as well as drop to your knees adorable ones.

Kyoto's Kinkakuji (Golden Pavillion)

JAPAN IS ORDERLY AND OBEDIENT

Respect for nature is paramount in Japan. From the way temples are built and maintained in coexistence with nature to the exactness of how a local lawn is mowed, nature is put on a pedestal. Japan’s strict adherence to regulation and standards stretches into all aspects of the country’s culture; food, courtesy, nature, fashion and more. The Japanese bow for everything. It’s a little off-putting at first, but you’ll quickly realize, they do this with the highest form of respect. I was bowed to as much in convenience stores as in trains as in holy shrines.

A blind man could see to which high regard the rules of the land are held. Everyone that travels to Japan will notice this one aspect of the culture instantly. Rules are overt, covert, holy, and followed meticulously. I ate in a range of restaurants ranging from five seater ramen shops to four and five star restaurants. They had different menus but had one thing in common, the meals were prepared and served with thought and intricacy.

Japan is in my personal opinion, the best dressed country in the world. I write this based on consistency. I’ve seen Italian men absolutely own a navy cotton suit with polished brown wingtips in 40 degree Celsius heat. I’ve seen the English and the French make fall fashion look like it was coded in their DNA. I’ve seen Montrealers and New Yorkers make beaten up thrift clothes look chic. But never before have I seen a country in which every single citizen is so consistently sharp. In the morning, afternoon, evening and night, the Japanese look the part. Not to mention the beautiful geisha in traditional kimonos and men in yakutas right out of the Edo era (I didn’t have space in my luggage, but I’ll be ordering myself a yakuta, judge me, I double dare you). I’ll definitely pack more than the typical traveller gear the next time I’m in Japan, I was partly embarrassed to not be as sharp as I could. Lesson learned.

English Menu With Ramen

JAPAN COMMUNICATES

Japan’s general population not only understands English to a respectable degree, it also isn’t afraid to use it. They are also hungry to learn more of it. Scoring an English teaching gig in Japan is easy and something worth considering if you want to go experience the country firsthand as a native speaker. Is Japan a fluent and legally bilingual country? Not even close. Will a Japanese person try their hardest to help you out as a foreigner if you’re in a sticky situation. Every. Single. Time. But don’t be an obnoxious tourist or traveller (yes there’s a huge difference), do a bit of homework, learn some practical Japanese sentences and show these beautiful people that you value their culture as much as they do. It’ll go a long way. While on the topic of language, for the foodies that may read this, many restaurants have English menus. Here is a quick list of Japanese language resources to consult before your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun;

 

Robot Restaurant Girls

JAPAN IS VERY SEXY

Not only is there a wide range of gorgeous women, sexiness is weaved into the inner fibres of Japanese (especially) popular culture. The women are confident and beautiful. Again, they have terrific awareness of personal style. You will also see anime and manga cartoon characters scantily clad in lingerie. It’s also fair game to see Japanese women dressed in sexy school girl (or cheerleader or nurse or anything else considered sexy) outfits on the street enticing people to come into a particular establishment, whether it be a restaurant, a sex shop or a more … adult oriented establishment. The arcade games have nudity. Porn “literature” is sold as much as water or cigarettes. Full disclosure, after I left the Robot Restaurant show (which was awesome), I was approached by a gentleman. Here’s how the ensuing conversation went;

Him: Hey what’s up brother (playing on our mutual chocolate heritage).

Me: Not much man, just enjoying the city.

Him: You just came from the Robot show right?

Me: Yea, have you seen it?

Him: Naw … but I’ve seen better shows.

Me: Slightly confused at the bold statement downplaying one of the most popular shows in Tokyo – Oh yea? Which ones?

Him: He gestures to a nearby building on the corner – That one!

Me: Realizing what he was referring to – Haha, I’ll bet. Thanks for the offer, man. I’m good though.

Him: You sure? You can come in for a drink … Look at some women … Play with some titties? No?

Me: Hahahaha (genuine laughter)! Thanks man, but I’ll pass. Stay gold! As I walked away both disgusted and amused.

Japanese Coin in my Hand

JAPAN IS EXPENSIVE AND AFFORDABLE

To reiterate a point I made earlier in this post; yes, Japan can be costly if you don’t plan your trip and if you aren’t mindful of your spending, but it’s not the money zapping country it’s made out to be. Budget travellers like myself can have a great and affordable time in Japan. The biggest financial hurdle in Japan is transportation, getting there and getting around while there can add up quickly. I’ll write a full length post on trip hacking soon, but you can start here or try these effective tips;

  • Book your flight to Japan (or anywhere in Asia) nine to ten months ahead if possible.
  • Use websites like Skyscanner, ITA Matrix and more from my article on 25 sites to find the cheapest airfare possible (search fares for a whole month or year at a time).
  • Search the Internet for error fares.
  • When in Japan (and many other places in Asia) depending on the length of your stay, buy daily, weekly or even monthly bus and subway cards, the more you travel, the more you save.
  • Rent bicycles and exercise while you travel.
  • Carpool. A large part of traveling is sightseeing. Talk to the people that you share an accommodation with (same hotel/hostel etc) if you’re heading in the same direction, split the cost. Strike up a conversation and make new friends too!

Everything else in Japan, is comparable to other major international cities in terms of price. You can also save big by checking out Japan’s capsule hotels (all male), staying in hostels/inns/guesthouses (do your research) or reserving an Air BnB rental location a month or two ahead of time. Couch surfing is also a great option. 

You CAN but don’t have to spend a lot on food. You can go cheap with 400 YEN/$ 3-4 CAD ramen bowls (my favourite not because of price but because I genuinely love ramen), you can go with a variety of traditional Japanese meals ranging from 750 YEN/$ 7-8 CAD to 1500/$ 15-16 CAD on average. You can also go higher with haute cuisine starting at 6500 YEN/$ 65-70 CAD and up.

JAPAN IS A SPECTACLE AND A STAGE

From simple daily hand gestures to your seat at a restaurant to futuristic performances with robots and performers sword fighting and shooting machine guns to the rhythm of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal (one of my all time FAVOURITES), Japan is a broadway show. Subway and railway monitors dressed in crisp uniforms wear pearl white gloves to signal when to board. Giant statues resembling spiders stand outside of shopping malls next to child animation video projectors. High rises and towers stretch upwards toward infinity. It truly is a wonder world for the senses, especially at night. Again, everything Japan does, is extremely well-thought and grandiose in many ways.

JAPAN IS A WELL-OILED SUPER MACHINE

To paraphrase Malcolm X, “You can tell a lot about a person by the way they manage their time.” This stands defiantly true for Japan. The buses, subways and trains all have numerous time markers to keep everyone up to date on their travels—time of the next arrival, distance from the previous and next destination and more.  Bright coloured signs, well-lit boards, big fonts with English and Japanese text let you know exactly where you are, where to go, and how to get there. Miniature icons of famous sights, pictures, down to the distance in meters are constantly around to make your journeys easier. Due to population density in the relatively small country, there are lineups in several places. But anywhere that has a lineup, also has every available staff member working intelligently and with laser point efficiency and a smile. A big difference from many of the countries I’ve been to. The bathrooms have varying options as well. You can use the old school flush, use the bidet option, turn on ambient sound so people can’t hear what you’re doing in your bathroom time, motion censor flushing and more. Taxis are air-conditioned and do not waste time. It’s insane, and it’s ALL SO FREAKISHLY CLEAN. There are public workers everywhere that see to it that the country remains borderline spotless.

Arashiyama

JAPAN IS SEASONAL

After a few conversations with locals, it became obvious that I was traveling at the wrong time of year. “Why did you come in August?” they asked. I didn’t have an answer, it really just was when I had my flight booked. “It gets extremely hot and even more humid in the summer, you chose the wrong time to visit.” they would advise. Luckily it takes more than 40 degrees Celsius and deathly humidity to deter me. Sure I profusely sweat through every shirt I wore but I was determined to enjoy every moment I had in Japan, and so I did. A few pit stops for air conditioning and a steady supply of water did the trick. Japan also gets pretty cold in the winter. Nothing like the extreme Canadian, Chinese or Russian cold but 20 below is worth avoiding if possible. If I had to do it again I’d visit Japan in the late fall or mid spring, after or ahead of the summer inferno. Also, a benefit of visiting in the spring is, you’ll get to watch the beautiful cherry blossom trees kick into full bloom.

Sensoji Temple in Tokyo

JAPAN IS BEAUTIFUL

At the risk of sounding like a Japanese tourism salesperson, I could go on forever about the amazing things one can experience while traveling Japan, but I won’t. The rest is up to you, experiencing something like travel is much more awesome in real life. But I will say this, Japan is a country that is very deserving of the high praise it receives. As a people, the Japanese were fantastic hosts and I have no doubt that they will continue to be for generations of tourists and travellers after myself. I will certainly be back to visit again, and again … and again. I love Japan.

Did this post answer some of your questions about Japan? Have you ever been to Japan? Are you planning to visit? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below! Let’s share our knowledge and stories to make traveling better for everyone. You can also mention me on Twitter [at]DriftAway2015 or on Facebook at Drift Away – Travel Blog. Hope to hear from you!!

Until next time,

Drift Away.

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