I get why Westerners don’t visit Japan too often compared to places like Thailand or Australia. It’s not exactly like a 2 hour flight to Majorca. The culture all seems a bit alien…
Everywhere you look, geeks. Except geeks are the cool people here.
The food looks weird;
Who eats such things?
English isn’t spoken as commonly as in most countries, and the native language is preposterous;
Giant monsters that look suspiciously like men in rubber suits attack Tokyo every week…
‘HAS ANYONE SEEN MY KEYS?’
Plus it ain’t nearly as cheap as South East Asia. But Westerners are missing out, because if you’re open to experiencing all the strangeness, and not afraid to get a bit lost, Japan is fantastic.
The people & society
The culture is built on politeness and respect for others. (Just like British culture. HAHAHAHAHA!) Our first day in Tokyo we were having trouble finding our hostel, so we asked a random passer-by for help. The guy spoke almost no English, but he found the proper location on his phone and led us several streets over to the right place. You can ask any local for help and they’ll make it their new main goal in life to sort you out.
They hate disappointing people too; we asked one citizen for directions, but had to give up and thank him anyway when it was obvious he couldn’t understand us. Poor lad shuffled away looking like he’d never smile again.
Walk into any shop or building and everyone will smile, bow and greet you like you own the place, the adorable little scamps. The Japanese are a very quiet and efficient people; when you ride a crowded subway train, no one is saying a word. The streets are completely free of litter (yet there are virtually no bins anywhere. Where does all the rubbish go?)
It’s also one of the safest cities in the world; everyone’s too polite to rob you. (They wouldn’t want you to take it the wrong way.) It’s the opposite of being somewhere like Barcelona, where everyone has their hand in someone else’s pocket and you have to be constantly on guard. In Tokyo you can relax, feel safe, and swagger around with wads of cash hanging out of every pocket. (I know that’s what I’ve been doing.)
One thing that may cause concern if you’re not expecting it; a lot of the locals wear surgical masks wherever they go. But worry not, there’s no airborne flesh-eating virus in Japan (as I naturally assumed.) People wear masks here when they’re sick, to prevent spreading germs. It’s yet another custom that’s considered polite. Of course, we only learned this after days of coughing all over the subway. Oops.
The public transport is the most punctual there is; trains and buses are always on time, to the second. (Just like British trains. HAHAHAHAHA behave.) At first the subway map is a bit, well, horrifying;
THE F**K IS THAT?!
But if you have a lifesaver of an app called Tokyo Subway Navigation, which can tell you what route to go to get from one station to another (and works offline) you can get the hang of it quite quickly.
We’d still be sobbing in the corner of a Metro station if it weren’t for this little beauty.
We completed a tourist rite of passage in Tokyo; get completely lost in the world’s busiest train station, Shinjuku. Nearly 4 million people pass through this underground maze of tunnels every day. The corridors all look exactly the same, the signs are confusing, and it’s TOO CROWDED. Whoever you are, you WILL get lost in this place, and you’ll probably want to scream. But after wandering in circles for hours, and asking about 15 Metro workers, none of whom spoke English, for directions, we finally found the right exit.
On the way back from a day trip to Mt Fuji we took a ride on the Shinkansen, or bullet train. These things go like a bat out of hell, with a top speed of 200mph. Since we’re used to Northern Rail trains, which rattle along at about 20mph, are usually late, and full of smackheads, this was quite a culture shock.
Ramen noodles with pork & egg. Sooo good… if you can manage to eat it with chopsticks (which I can’t, at all) and a plastic spoon.
Octopus balls. Didn’t even know octopi had those.
Wasabi Kitkat anyone?
Banana & caramel crepes containing a slice of cheesecake. What the Welsh call ‘lush.’
Sake, aka Japanese rice wine. Tastes a bit like very alcoholic banana, gets worse the more you drink. Recommend it warm.
Stuff to do
We were fortunate enough to go and see a small indie band called GUNS N ROSES at an intimate little venue called the SAITAMA SUPER ARENA, which can squeeze in a mere 37,000 people. They played for 3 hours straight, performing a few little-known tunes with names like ‘Welcome to the Forest,’ ‘Sweet Child of Wine’ and ‘Paradise Town.’ (I was still half-dead from jet lag so I may have got a bit confused there.) Particularly impressive was the guitar work of fellow Englishman Slash. (Dunno why he’s named after a euphemism for ‘piss.’) Anyway, Piss may have a bizarre habit of wearing a top hat & sunglasses indoors, which is just poor etiquette in my opinion, but he was the showstealer, continuing with guitar solos long after everyone else had finished songs.
Alright, Pee, we get it, you took a guitar lesson once or twice.
He’s got plenty of talent, this young up-and-comer. If he keeps practicing and stays away from the drugs, Urinate could be a famous star in the future, along with his friends Axel Nose and… those other guys.
We visited most of the major tourist attractions: Meiji Shrine, Ueno Park & Zoo, Roppongi Hills, Odaiba island, Tokyo Tower, the World Trade Centre (no, not that one) and took a day trip to Mt. Fuji… here, have some pics.
‘They call me WHAT?!’
‘Hi I’m Pingu, welcome to Jackass!’
So, apologies if this came out weird or seems rushed. We’ve been in Bangkok for a week where the WiFi is from the 1930s, so trying to write this has been a nightmare. Next update should be soon-ish.
Travel is awesome. Do it if you haven’t.