In January 2018, I was lucky enough to be able to tick my #1 country off my list: Japan. I was both nervous and excited landing at Narita airport, Tokyo.
It was to be my first solo holiday, and even though I was an expat living in Korea at that time, I was feeling somewhat daunted. For a long time after my trip I pondered why that was. Why did I feel apprehensive travelling to Japan for 13 days despite my experience in South Korea? Admittedly, I believe a large part was due to how we, as people, tend to idolise things – people (real or fictional), places (countries, cities), and place them on a pedestal. Whereon they are doomed to fail, unable to live up to our expectations. So, I was left torn between states of excitement and nervousness leading up to my trip. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I dearly hoped it would be all that I had hoped of and more.
When I finally arrived, I was immediately struck by how polite and well-mannered everyone was. People formed orderly queues, there was no shouting, no lack of personal boundaries – I was instantly reminded of London, and travelling on the Underground. The genuine courtesy of everyone was like a sigh of relief, a soothing balm on my mind. I cannot count the number of times people would freely help me, or show me umprompted kindness.
I found mostly everyone I spoke to was able to speak a decent amount of English – especially those in the service industry (hotels, restaurants, transport). A kind Japanese man helped me to order at a self-ticketing machine. After inputing your order and money, the machine gives you a receipt with your order which you then give to the chef. It’s quite useful when you get the hang of it!
The streets of Japan were immaculate. A popular form of transport was by bike, and so the pavement was labelled with lanes designated for cycling and walking – both of which were actually adhered to, making for pleasant outing. My favourite part of the day was walking along the streets in the early morning, as everyone was making their way to work/school.
Tokyo in mid-January was milder in temperature than my town in Korea, which was pleasantly surprising. Although in central Tokyo, the streets were relatively quiet, people would talk softly to either each other or on their phones. I would walk for between 4-6 hours each day in Japan, exploring the peaceful streets interrupted only by the soft, steady hum of traffic.
You do not have to walk far in Japan to run into the infamous drink machines. They certainly lived up to their reputation – they were literally everywhere. Usually in twos or threes.
Close to my hotels were a few convenience stores, particularly 7/11 stores, and I would usually visit them to buy snacks or meals if I’d had an especially busy day. I noticed many Japanese people would also do the same, preferring to buy ready meals from the store than venture to a restaurant late at night. The staff would reheat the meals and provide you with cutlery, providing faultless customer service! I loved the hot drinks section, which had more variety than those in Korea.
On a chilly winter day/night, there’s nothing better than purchasing a hot drink of tea, juice, or hot chocolate. Serving as both a hand warmer and a comforting drink – it’s a win-win! If I were given the chance to bring any ideas or services from Asia to my home in England, heated drinks in convenience stores would definitely be one of them!
I found Japanese cuisine to be closer to Taiwanese, rather than Korean, food. Rather than spicy, thin broths, dishes were milder and thicker. My favourite dish was Ichiran’s Tonkotsu ramen – with ALL the extras!
Another novelty of Japan was the fashionable way of advertising merchandise in stores. Cute. EVERYTHING was cute! Bright colours, adorable characters or promotional mascots, big fluffly animals, oversized shapes – all crammed within a decorative shop window. Cute sells in Japan. Period. And of course, you cannot possibly visit Japan without seeing an excess amount of manga! They were even available in convenience stores!
I have never felt as sad as I did upon leaving Japan. My holiday was over far too soon! I am already planning my next visit – Japan, I am officially HOOKED!