I thought that I knew the Asian culture. But so far, I traveled only in South East Asia (Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). But everything is different in Japan. Already on the Japan Airline flight from Manila to Tokyo I was astonished how nicely the food was presented. Let´s take the dessert as an example: Three equally sized slices of each a read water melon, an orange mango and a greenish melon made a perfect trio. Perfection and order seem to be of utmost importance. The immigration process was extremely fast, despite taking pictures and fingerprints, but also extremely thoroughly. It happened never before, that the customs officer wanted me to unpack all of my luggage. But he repeatedly excused and even helped me to re-pack my staff after the inspection.
Being used to a good public transportation system at home, I immediately felt comfortable traveling by train, metro and bus around Tokyo. Fortunately, on major lines and stations most of signs and announcements are both in Japanese and English.
Tokyo didn´t really strike me, it´s mostly just an ordinary metropolis with uninspired skyscrapers and typical ugly 70s and 80s concrete buildings. Japan faces so many earthquakes, that it might be a waste of time and money to construct unique and outstanding buildings. And most Japanese would detest any kind of showing off, that might be another reason that constructions are kept simple. Order and functionality is far more important than design.
Also my trips to Mount Fuji and Kyoto were a bit disappointing, with bad weather and a depressing environment. Rainy and windy weather, some polluted snow and ice, buildings as well as nature mostly greyish and brownish. I believe that those places are amazing during spring (cherry blossom) and autumn (maple leaf season), but mid-February is definitely not the best time for a visit.
Nonetheless, there are some parts that I really enjoyed, mostly the Shinkansen "Bullet Train" ride from Tokyo to Kyoto. 520km in 2h20, despite 3 stops! A flight including airport transfer,
check-in, flight and baggage claim would have taken longer (but would have been cheaper than the train). Also really enjoyable is shopping, respectively window shopping, in the Yodobashi
Electronic store. A massive shopping center with all the latest gadgets such as a brilliant 84 inch 4K TV for a mere 18´000 USD and all the latest cameras and lenses.
Therefore I´ll soon leave to Okinawa, the southernmost islands of Japan, close to Taiwan. Pleasant spring weather and decent diving is awaiting.
A few random interesting facts about Japan:
- If Europeans think about Japanese food, they would highly likely refer to Sushi. But in Tokyo only 1 out of 50 restaurants (my estimation) specializes in Sushi, far more common are McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks and noodle restaurants.
- There are vending machines everywhere, and you could basically live with purchases only from machines. Cold drinks, hot drinks, beers, snacks, noodle soups, cigarettes and even batteries can be purchased at various dispensers.
- There are almost no traffic jams in Tokyo (>13 million inhabitants) as public parking lots in the town center are lacking, so people leave the car in the suburban and switch to the public transport.
- Japan´s population is shrinking drastically. With current birthrate, Japan’s population of 127m will fall by a third over the next 50 years to 87m. On one hand, Japan has an extremely low immigration rate (<2% foreigners) and on the other hand, the deaths rate is higher than the birth rate. The roles are still pretty archaic in Japan, the man works (“salary man”) and the wife administrates the household and raises the children. Due to the difficult economic situation during the last two decades, the salaries hovered at the same level, but prices increased. So, with just one income it´s hardly possible to rent a family home and pay for two or more children. Nowadays couples often can “afford” only a single child, or they focus on pets instead of kids. Especially breed small dogs and cats are popular, and shops offer everything from pet buggies, pet snacks and even pet massage.
- Japanese writing needs three different alphabets or character sets, and there are sentences were all three of them are mixed!
2) Words that don´t have an own symbol are transliterated with the Hiragana character set, with around 70 characters
3) The third character set Katakana is mainly used for foreign words
- 卍 isn´t a sign for Nazi, but an old Buddhism symbol, meaning eternity, luck and also the number 10´000. The symbol can be fund hundredfold in temples, and it´s also used to mark the location of a Buddhist temple on maps.
Previous destination: Philippines