Finally, the time has come and we could take 12 days off to visit through Japan. I could have gone to Tokyo for a long weekend before, but I knew I want to go for the full package, meaning I only want to visit Japan, when I have time to go to all my interest places. In these 12 days we visited Tokyo, Hakone, Yamasaki, Kyoto and Osaka.
I have been traveling a lot in Asia and I live in China, so I thought I knew it all, no Asian country can surprise me. I was so wrong.
When you come to Japan, even as a European foreigner, you don’t feel like you don’t belong. This is the essence of what I haven’t experienced anywhere else.
When traveling for a long time, you may be concerned about hygienic issues. This is definitely not something to worry about as your travel through Japan. I was shocked to see what kind of public toilets there are in the metro stations. There was a make up station, extremely clean toilets (with sound effects in each toilet), nursery room and more. Before you eat in any restaurant, you always get a towel to wash your hands and you find alcohol disinfection bottles all around the country.
The streets of Tokyo, which is the biggest world’s largest urban prefecture was spotless in every corner. The metros, the shopping district and the quiet streets as well, you simply don’t see garbage on the floor. I have been to many clean cities such as Singapore, but in Japan you experience this in the capital as well as in small cities.
Preserving past and developing future
Temples and Onsens (public, natural hot bath, I will tell you more later on) are not just for the tourists, people today still actively visit them. Even tough Japan is very modern, developed country, people still believe in traditions from the past. It is so nice and rare to see that the temples are still being actively used today, we saw dozens of people seriously praying with all the traditions and also saw a wedding by chance.
Regarding the Onsen, I stayed in a small homestay like hotel and so I thought at 6 am when the Onsen opens I will be the only person there. Actually the Onsen was full of ladies with all ages, from children to grandmothers, doing exactly as I read in the guidebook. It is so nice to see that people didn’t forget their past in this rapidly developing world.
Sumo is the national sport of Japan and it was so nice to see that the morning practice also attracted local people to watch it, not only tourists.
Blending into anywhere
To begin with, people never stare at you for being a foreigner. Living in a big city in China, people still stare at me on a daily basis and often ask to take pictures. When traveling to smaller cities it is even more, you may become as a tourist attraction. In other Asian countries, people may not try to take photos of you, but they are still really curious about you. In Japan, you are not regarded in any special treatment neither in a good way or a bad way.
No place for bargain
Prices are super expensive, but you never feel like you are ripped off or people try to scam you. Japan’s GDP is very high – it was $39,000 per capita in 2017 – which translates into prices being high for all type of services. Even tough we had to pay high price for services, we never left a place feeling bad about paying too much because of being a tourist. This country is not a place for bargain, you always know the price and what to expect in return.
We ate in at least 30 restaurants, stayed in 7 different hotels, rented a car, took countless public transportation rides and we have never experienced bad service. We saw that people treat customers with respect and excellent service. Politeness is on a totally new level. When leaving a restaurant or a hotel people will keep waving and bowing to you as long as you can see them. They always walk you to the entrance and help you carry belongings, not because you are a foreigner.
Most of the people don’t speak English, but they are always willing to help you, in a really wanting to help you way. They often open their cellphone and translate for you, or even walk you till your final destination. We asked for help countless times and it never happened that somebody would turn away and say I don’t speak English. People always helped us without exception and not speaking English was never an excuse to use.
Big cities feel like small cities
The public transportation map looks scary for sure, it may be hard to navigate, but when you walk on the street you see the daily life. We walked everyday 10-20 kilometers in Japan, because we noticed that walking in big cities is very pleasant.
Even when walking in Tokyo, we saw many neighborhood with low rise (maximum 4 floor high) buildings and parents often take their children to kindergarten with bicycle. We also noticed, that many houses had gardens which is quite rare in big cities in Asia. People don’t rush and push you away even in the crowded metro stations, we always had a feeling of personal space.
Healthy and vegetarian food options
I am very careful about where I eat meat and I never eat see food, so when I travel I call myself vegetarian to avoid making trouble. In other Asian countries, many restaurants don’t know what does that mean, whereas in Japan even traditional Japanese places have vegetarian options.
Japan is said to be one of the highest life expectancy country which is due to their healthy diet of eating plenty of fish (pretty much every meal) and vegetables, avoiding processed food. In Japan, women’s life expectancy is 87 years and men live 80 years on average.
+1: Loyalty to their own brands
I noticed two examples that were really surprising me how much Japanese people always chose their own brands: cars and beauty products.
We visited 5 cities in Japan and we barely saw a car that is not Japanese. I would say 95% of cars were all Japanese brands such as Toyota, Honda, Suzuki, Nissan, Mazda, etc. We barely saw Mercedes or BMW.
Japanese supermarkets and drugstores are full of beauty products that I never saw before, you can literally get lost inside for hours. However, I walked into many of those places and I barely saw any mainstream familiar brand such as L’Oreal or Maybelline. Instead, they have 10 types of Japanese brands that I never heard before and they are significantly cheaper in Japan than out of Japan.
In the next post I will be telling you about what did I manage to squeeze spending 3 days in Tokyo.