Here are my twelve reasons to go to Japan and make the journey of a lifetime.
At the top of any list will always be the people; they are so friendly and helpful to anyone who comes to visit their country and if you make an effort to learn even a few Japanese words they will be very appreciative.
The sights are remarkable; try taking a trip up to one of the sky-high views at night in Tokyo or Osaka and the city looks like a space station below you. In the spring you can see the natural colours of the cherry blossoms in the parks and 6 months later the reds, oranges and golds of autumn.
You might be lucky and see a Japanese wedding at a temple site. At a Shinto or Buddhist temple or shrine you can also see the respect and reverence that is part of everyday life; salarymen dropping in to pay their respects on their way to work or office ladies in their lunch breaks. Watch how a ticket inspector bows and welcomes all his passengers for another example of respect.
It is really easy to travel around Japan on space-age bullet trains or on local buses. Bus stops and buses and ticket machines are just a few of the machines that talk to you; this can be a bit of a surprise at first but you will soon get used to the relentlessly happy chatter of traffic lights and police cars and taxis and adverts while you are walking around.
The food is a dream – it is cheap, healthy and fresh and you will feel better for it after just a few days. If you are really lucky you could go to a traditional restaurant and see how the servings are made but you could just as easily sit in the park with your tray of tako yaki and a tin of cold green tea. Vending machines are another way to sample some local treats like self-heating tins of coffee and even whole instant noodle meals in the lobby of your hotel. Don’t forget this is the home of conveyor belt sushi but the real thing is much better. Just ask the chef ‘Omakase’ when you sit down and let him choose for you.
Art and culture are never far away in Japan and the anime and manga industries are huge which is evidenced by the number of comic books being read by the salarymen on their way to work every morning. Music is another art form that is ubiquitous and there is a massive J-Pop culture with thousands of local stars. Traditional local festivals are a great way to see the huge drums being carried through the streets but an evening koto demonstration in a floodlit castle is another treat.
Despite being laid waste twice by Godzilla in the 1950s and 1960s Osaka is a fabulous city to visit and you can take easy trips from there to see ancient castles like the 14th century wooden one at Himeji or walk amongst the sacred deer at Nara. You can still get back for some late-night shopping and people-watching in Dotombori. Even in a huge city like Osaka you can stay in a ryokan inn where you can sleep on a tatami mat with a wooden pillow, relax in a Japanese bath and enjoy traditional Japanese meals.
And remember – wherever you go, just don’t forget the three golden rules :
- get on the bus at the back and pay when you get off at the front
- ‘Hai’ means ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Perhaps’ or ‘I’ll Go and Ask Someone Else’ depending who says it and how it is said
- don’t mix wasabi in your soy sauce
If you can remember these then you’ll be just fine and have a great time !