I am truly impressed with Japan and this wonderful country on so many levels. As a traveler, I do some site seeing but my real reasons for long term travel are to study and observe other cultures and to learn. I really wanted to learn about people, foods, societies, and even simple ways of doing things differently. Growing up I felt like I was in a bubble and isolated from the rest of the world and I had a thirst and curiosity to see and learn. These are things that can’t be learned from a book or on TV. Travel is the best education possible in my opinion. I have learned a lot of things this past year and my opinions and insights will be forever changed. I love arriving to countries that I am truly ignorant about and seeing things eyes wide opened. Japan was a country I really knew little about. First of all, it is not small. There’s white capped mountains, miles of coastal lines, natural hotsprings called onsens everywhere, lush green forests, big cities, beautiful little villages, plenty of gardens, and temples to see. Each city has a labyrinth of alleys filled with hidden gem shops and restaurants. It feels like one big scavenger treasure hunt with surprises found around each corner. At first I was marking cool spots with google maps so I could return to them later in the day…then I had a google map filled with dozens of stars marking locations and not knowing which was which. No two week holiday would do justice here. In fact, I feel a month doesn’t do it justice. It is a country with great diversity and would take years to really explore. As a westerner, I can only skim the surface in my short time here. I am not able to read the language and many places don’t have any English reference. I have spoken with expats who have lived here for years and still tell me they are learning things everyday. It is an extremely interesting country. I am sure I look pretty goofy half the time with my mouth wide open gaping at all the spectacles. The sights, the sounds, the colors, and people have me awww struck’n! It’s a visually exotic and exciting to be here! I am just blown away by this richly advanced country. I find myself continuously asking myself “why don’t we have this back home?” I think Japan should seriously be a case study for any western country seeking to get out of the stone ages. Japan is a well oiled machine and one of the most technologically advanced countries I have ever been to, yet they manage to keep tradition and character alive. Deep rooted traditions are ingrained in their culture and society. The Geisha is not going away anytime soon…
First thing I noticed about Japan is that is clean. I mean really really clean. Japanese don’t litter. In fact they recycle everything. They take great pride in recycling. There’s a place for plastic bottles, PET bottles, paper, and metal. Lots of times there isn’t even a trash can because “why would you throw it away if you can recycle it.” Wow, such forward thinking. A Japanese will carry trash all day long just to find somewhere to recycle it. The streets are immaculately clean. A leaf hits the sidewalk or street in front of someone’s house or business and you will see a Japanese person scurry outside as soon as it hits the ground with broom and dust pan. Often times I wonder if there is some type of sensor alarm that sends a message to all Japanese “BEEP BEEP BEEP….WE HAVE A CODE BLUE EMERGENCY!!! LEAF JUST FELL ON THE SIDEWALK….ALL HANDS ON DECK!” People don’t even throw their cigarette butts on the ground here. There are designated areas to smoke and I even saw a guy with a pocket ashtray to ash in. Why would he dare ash on the ground and dirty his beautifully immaculate country? In the houses, you take off your shoes. They have slippers for you to wear because you don’t want outside dirt contaminating your house. Then there are bathroom slippers to put on before you enter the bathroom. Some might think this is overkill but I love the extra effort and really enjoy how clean everything is. Every business and home feels like you can eat off of the floor. If food drops on the ground there’s no 3 second rule here…I wouldn’t have any issue with saving it for later and eating it. Corners of counters and floor boards are spotless of dust.
Their cleanliness carries over to the body. Home of the worlds most technologically advanced showers and toilets in the world. The showers are fantastic. The water pressure can be adjusted to car wash pressure and can probably power wash any tattoo right off of your body. Showers don’t stop there. You can actually set the temperature of the water. So you don’t have to either freeze or burn your fingers trying to guess the water temperature.
The toilets are by far the best in the world and it is on the top of any discussion about Japan from foreigners. Seriously once you use a Japanese toilet, you will never be able to use anything else. I will no doubt import one these wherever I live. Why the rest of the world hasn’t adopted this technology, really beats me. Maybe we are dirty savages that opt for a paper clean rather than washing clean. My first experience sitting on one of these was like a 4 year stepping into a fighter jet and trying to figure out the controls. It was all written in Japanese so I had no clue what anything meant but my kid like nature had to test all of the buttons. So let me start out Japan is winter right now and my first experience of sitting on a heated toilet seat was great. Wow…”that’s really nice”, I thought. “Heated seats….why don’t we have that?” Heated toilet seats at the ski lodges was particularly great as well! So the toilet control panel buttons are a Flush for number 1, a flush for number 2, sound effects so you don’t get embarrassed for those noisy moments, men’s rear side spray (one with laser like precision that never misses the bullseye and another one for the whole thing in case you were messy), then there’s one for women that gives a more frontal wash. I will add that these jet warm water as well and you can digitally control the water pressure. So after my first few days, I was talking with a hostel mate about how great these toilet washes. She’s like there’s a women button and men’s. Then she proceeded to tell me which button was which. Ohhhhh……well I have been using the women’s button this whole time. Haha it felt great though.
Most disability friendly country. Braille on the sidewalks for blind people. The crosswalks play beautiful nursery rhyme chimes to notify the blind when it is okay to walk across the street as well. The train stations have bird sounds that tell the blind which direction to go.
Warm water being sprayed on the streets and sidewalks to prevent freezing. Colorado…take note of this.
Ok, Japanese are extremely polite. “Aragato” is thank you and I really try to be polite wherever I go. No matter where you go and with every transaction there is an “aragatogozaimasu” from the clerk. So I what I learned is that the clerk will always get the last word. I mean ALWAYS! So the clerk would give me my change. Me, I respond, “aragoto” and they respond “aragatogozaimasu,” then I repond “aragato” because honestly that is all I know how to respond with in Japanese. They quickly then respond “aragatogozaimasu” again and bow like tennis match returning a serve. I say “aragoto” again and bow. They then respond once again with an even more entusiatic smile until we are having a bowing and thanking contest. I have learned the Japanese will not let you get the last word or bow no matter how hard you try. As we exchanged our back and forth “thank you’s” a dozen times, others join in to help their coworker with the thanking contest. “What? No fair …..lets keep this contest one on one,” I am thinking. I try to deepen my “aragatogozaimasu” and bow until my back hurts but there’s no chance to win the thanking contest with any Japanese I have learned. Believe me, I have tried numerous times….no one can beat a Japanese. A Japanese will always get the last thank you. I have accepted being a loser in this contest now and I silently back out of the door smiling.
One thing you notice about Japan is that it is quiet, serene, and very relaxing. I have yet to see a Japanese talk on their cell phone in public. Not on a sidewalk, a train, or anywhere in a matter of fact. People here have discipline. There’s no signs saying “No talk on the cell phones in public or you there will be a high $$$$ fine. People are just respectful and realize nobody wants to hear your yabbing conversation in public. The train rides are rather pleasant because they are quiet. Now I found out there is a room similar to a bathroom that is designated to use a cell phone. Japanese are hard on each other and being rude is not acceptable.
If you were going to describe Japan in one word, I would say it is “PRIDE.” It is very proud nation and likely-so should be. They are efficient and really have adopted that anything less than perfect is unacceptable. There’s no tipping in Japan. Because if you tip then that would insinuate that everything wasn’t perfect. Perfection is expected. As one of my old VP’s use to say “mediocrity is unacceptable,” which I really like. Maybe that is why everything runs like a well oiled machine. Hospitality is exceptional, cleanliness is spectacular, and everything seems to be at the highest quality….note to the world. Take more pride!
Call button at the table….when you are ready to order press the button. If you need something…press the button. No waiting for service. The check is always immediately brought to your table with each purchase as well. So when you are ready, you just walk to the front and pay at the cash register.
Another beautiful thing about Japan is that magnificent mass transportation system. It is really easy to bounce around on the train….you just buy a ticket in one of these machines and go through the gates…It’s pretty easy to get around after you get the hang of it.
Monkey chilling in one of the numerous hot springs of Japan. There are literally thousands of Onsens. This photo was taken at Monkey Park outside of Nagano.
Golden Temple in Kyoto
Nara Park is where you can buy crackers to feed the deer. I will tell you deer are not near as docile as one might think. When I walked into the park, deer swarmed me and started pulling things out of my pockets. The deer are taught to bow and then you give them a treat. Well, I wasn’t informed of this before…and these bowing deer were shocked when I wasn’t giving them their reward. A bow, a nudge, another nod, a nudge…then as if then as if they were a golden retreiver playing “where’s the treat?” they started going for the pockets. Pulling out gloves, phone, and everything from my pockets until nothing was left in them. Fearful these deer weren’t going to stop until I got them a treat, I yelled at lady selling crackers….”Hurry, hurry…..I need some crackers fast!!!! Yes, yes…I have your money…please crackers fast!!!!!” “These deer want their rewards!!!” The deer and me became really good friends after I filled their bellies with crackers. I then had a good time, taking crackers and getting the deer to follow me to other unsuspecting tourist….then watching the deer wreak havoc on the people….haha I do have a silly sense of humor.
You might ask why the antlers are sawed off…..It is a safety thing, believe me it is a good thing. Otherwise you would have every gored tourist crawling away like in a bloody freddy krueger horror flick saying “please please…I have no more crackers!”
Geisha fabrics. I love the colors of these beautifully designed fabrics.
Look at me…”I’m totally Japanese!” with the “V” sign. It’s not a peace sign folks. “V” for victory.
I showed up in a little village of Suzaka where I was staying a 100 year old traditional Japanese house. Marina, the beautiful homeowner was like, “it’s snowing really hard, we are going skiing tomorrow, do you want to come?” I quickly responded, “DO I?????? YESSSSSSSSSS!!!” Stoked because this was the best snow of the season and I just got lucky enough to be here at the right time. It was a massive powder day and snowboarding at Hakuba was truly epic. It beat any day I had on the hill in Colorado for the past two seasons. It was one of the moments, “I’m snowboarding in JAPAN!!!!” $70 included my lunch, my snowboard, my boots, a rental ski jacket, pants, and googles….and the mountain was far more luxurious than what we have in Colorado. Heated toilet seats and even a hot spring located at the main ski lodge at the bottom of the hill. Another “why don’t we have this” moment. So after the tiring day of boarding all day, I slipped into a nice indoor hot spring and soaked my worn out muscles….it even had a sauna in there.
High pressure air hoses to blow the snow off of your equipment at the base of the mountain….this way your don’t have snow all over your car. Japanese truly think of everything.
I was lucky enough to meet these two Japanese fellows and they invited me out with them. Not being able to read Japanese, I miss out on so much….This was one of those we’ll have one of everything on the menu nights plus variety of sake tasting. Here were are eating raw horse meat…one of the best things that I ate in Japan and that says a lot. It is like sashimi and dissolves in your mouth with minimal chewing. I learned a lot this night about Japanese culture….and this is one of those nights I will never forget!!
Yes please…we will have one bottle each.
“Katasu” For those of you who don’t know what a katasu is….it is the best thing ever. Try a blanket over a table that has a small heater mounted to the underside. It makes a small oven under there and you just lay your legs inside there. It keeps you really really warm. Why every house in Colorado doesn’t have these beats me. These are fantastic!!!!!!
Japanese are the disciplined people. Besides no littering, no talking on the cell phone in public, you notice that people don’t “J” walk here. Its amazing. Everyone waits for the walk sign to turn green. There is even a chime with little music to give to the blind people notice to walk.
No Japanese blog post can be complete without a “Hello Kitty” pic…
Okonomiyaki – This was at a cook it yourself place. I made that.
My first cup of coffee in Tokyo was in a beautiful little cafe with an old roaster in the window. I walked in and was looking bewildered at the menu written in Japanese. The lady runs back and gets me an english menu. I see “brended coffee” on the menu, so I tell the lady, “okay I will have the “blended” coffee.” She looks at me really confused. So I repeated myself but this time, I pronounced the R instead of the L as “brended” coffee as it was written on the menu…she was like “aaahhh, brrrrended coffee”….”hei” (yes)…and did my universal index finger in the air for “one”. Travel has taught me a lot about how to communicate effectively.
The english menu’s are oftentimes a dumbed down version of the real menu as to what foreigners will probably order. Later I learned my brended coffee shop had single origin coffee that I didn’t know about it. The Japanese menu can be 12 pages long, and the english is a one page flier that doesn’t have a fraction of what the restaurant serves. I have learned that my google translator app allows me to take a picture of japanese characters and decipher words one by one. The process can be arduous but at least I’m not eating the foriegner only food. Some places have pictures which is always helpful but there are always options….options on everything. Some are combos, some are different sizes, some are different ingredients. Oh you want ramen noodle. How soft or firm do you want the noodles? How much lard? Salt based or soy based? Udon or Soba, hot or cold, soup or no soup….what size. Pork, fish, no meat, egg or no egg, hard boiled or raw, spicy or not spicy….
Okay…consider the best steak in the world by many. Kobe beef was at the top of my list as a must try. So I made a pilgrimage to Kobe, Japan where cows are massaged daily and live a life far better than most. I have seen Kobe beef in the United States but it’s not the same. There’s only one place to try Kobe beef and that is in Japan. So when I arrived in Kobe, I asked a few where to get a Kobe steak. Like many things in Japan, there are options and lots of options. Kobe beef has different grades A1 to A5. A5 being the most expensive. Now when I arrived in Kobe, I found out what Kobe beef really costs. Sticker shocked….but I’m here in Kobe. I have to do this. I don’t want to try a place that is serving a mediocre A1 kobe steak. I wanted the best…after chalking up the price as a part of travel that is about the experience, I opted to go try a kobe steak. Initially I batted an eye….but then I thought it is like an expensive scuba excursion or something. This is once in a life time. Something I can judge all steaks by. I can literally say I have experienced a real Kobe steak in Kobe, Japan….. So after getting an education on Kobe steaks and finding a place that every local says in the best steakhouse in Kobe, I opted for authentic A5 experience at the best steakhouse in Kobe. At $150 a pop, I had a luxurious mouth watering fat melting steak.
No not corndog man…that’s is fried yakatori man…which is meat skewer of fish, chicken, or steak…battered and then fried.
Plastic food replicas in the window…are pretty common….makes picking out what to eat much easier.
A lot of places have these vending machines in the front. You pay and it prints out a ticket. You then walk to the cook and hand them your ticket. I ordered the one with a pic…haha.
I had the wonderful experience of enjoying this Wagyu beef at one Japanese steak house. One of those places where you have your own little grill and you cook your own beef. The owner and I began chatting via google translator and handing the phone back and forth. He was an extremely nice man and I really liked him. After I ate a few courses of various pork cuts…he shows me this fat grained steak and says expensive and uttered something like present but I wasn’t sure. Many things can be lost in translation..and then he lays it out for me..okay, I thought.. how could I say no…Sometimes you get in situations where you pay more than you want but you just chalk it up as…well…as an experience. So I ate this delicious steak…and in fact it was incredible. I can honestly say this was one of the best steaks I have ever had. After I finished my cut of cow and my belly ached from eating so much, he brings out another steak dish…”Oh my sir, I’m really full. I can’t have that.” He motioned for “togo”…uh alright. I’m really stuffed but okay. Check please!….I was fearful this was going to be a $200 dinner because I know how expensive this stuff is. When my check came out, none of these “presents” were on it. When I got home, I found room for the togo dish…..It absolutely fantastic!
Fresh Sashimi at the fish market. I ate a lot of sushi in Japan and never had any bad sushi or sashimi. Gimmicky rolls are not as popular here. Fresh fish is the showcase…and it just melts in your mouth. Seriously…it is that good!
Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo
Beautifully made siphon coffee. Good coffee in Japan is not hard to find which makes me not understand why Starbucks is here. Many places do their own roasting and a selection of various single origin coffees are everywhere. No searching for a needle in a haystack to find good coffee here. I was pleasantly surprised at most places I went.
What’s he doing? He’s throwing away the imperfect beans. I will happily pay a few bucks more for my cup with this kind of attention to detail.
Which bean do you want? Uh…I’ll take that one…no the one to the left…one more over…yes that one… Small batch roasting…and so many choices. I love it!!!!