- Thursday, 16 June 2016

10 Reasons To Love Japan

Tourists wearing Kimono in Gion district of Kyoto



“So, how was Japan?” – a frequent question I was asked upon my return from the Land of the Rising Sun, robots and hi-tech toilets. Everyone had some sort or another impression of Japan, gained from Japanese co-workers to movies like Tokyo Drift. Yet Japan seemed like a far-off territory and people were eager to know more.

My answer was simple. Nature/outdoors was beautiful, but nothing I had not seen before. But culture and lifestyle? Whoa! It was a different world altogether. Japan is unlike any other Asian country; it’s a mix of developed standards of living & infrastructure as in the west and a deeply rooted history and culture as in the rest of Asia.

I travelled through the countryside and smaller towns for a month and lived with locals everywhere. While a month is not enough to understand a culturally complex country like Japan, I could certainly get a whiff of it.

Here are some of my observations that sometimes amused me, sometimes baffled me but largely developed a deeper sense of respect for the Japanese. These are my 10 reasons to love Japan.

1. It starts with queuing up

Queuing up for train in Kyoto by Matt Murphy, licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Japanese assiduously queue up everywhere. From obvious spots like railway tracks and escalators, to popular tourist sites, in order to allow everyone an exclusive photograph with iconic structures.


2. Rules are meant to be followed

I think this aspect comes not only from the obviously sincere personality of the people but an overall sense of respect for public space and behaviour towards others. No one, absolutely no one, talks on the phone inside a train. But sadly, everyone is glued to their  phone screen. No one walks on the streets munching a sandwich or a snack in hand. Ice-creams? Sure, you can! (Actually, that’s all you can.)


3. Cuteness is paramount

What's not to love about these rides?!

From toilet seats and phone covers to public transport and young people; everything is cute. In fact cuteness is taken to a different level altogether and there is a term for it: “Kawaii”. Also, let’s not forget about the omnipresent anime. This not only comes in the form of pictures or books, but also in the form of train and bus announcements and hair-styles. 


4. Vending machines & convenience stores are a way of life

These machines are everywhere

What makes travelling in this Japanese-only speaking country a breeze, is the convenience of having food, drinks and general supplies 24x7 all throughout the country. As long as you’re in an inhabited area, there’s a convenience store within walking distance. Then there are vending machines, they are just about everywhere. No, they are not limited to soft drinks and chips. They can even dispense hot coffee with sugar adjustments, soup, meals, sandwiches, beer and what not! 


5. Trash Management

While I found the convenience stores super convenient, deep down I  was appalled by the amount of plastic and packaging material this country was consuming. But then again, I have not seen a garbage segregation & recycling system as strong as in Japan, anywhere else. Once again, kudos to its people, including young kids, who religiously segregate trash at homes and public spaces alike!


6. Love & respect for nature

Sakura (Cherry Blossom) trees lining the streets in Hiroshima

I travelled to Japan in the Spring season. There were cherry blossom trees lining the streets and well manicured Japanese gardens. Every town or village I stayed in had a gorgeous park somewhere nearby with seasonal blooms and abundant groves. The Japanese love for nature & environment has also extended into their daily lives. Like people cycling to office in formal suits, modified cycles to fit toddlers/ pet dogs, small wash basins atop high-tech Japanese toilets’ flush tanks to reuse water, etc.


7. Style is a serious business on Japanese streets

Sights like this are common in Tokyo. [Photo by Ryan Lackey, licensed under CC BY 2.0]
Tokyo’s streets are the best place to experience the edgy fashion and quirky style of the Japanese. Cosplay is common; a strong contemporary art scene is visible. Interestingly, I was told by one of my Japanese hosts that fashion and the western concept of a wedding dress has become so ingrained that almost all young people, irrespective of their religion, like to get married in a church – all for the sake of a Hollywood style wedding dress! Another Japanese friend who I met during this trip, revealed how the ubiquitous face mask seen on men & women is not just about warding off pollen allergies, but also a convenient cover for those who do not want to be seen without makeup!


8. As cliché as it may sound, the Japanese are really warm & helpful

Yes, Japanese love to make that 'V' (peace) sign! [Sweet Japan by Rage Z, licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Japanese people are some of the most warm and helpful people I have met in a recent while. I remember it was still my third day in Japan as I stood a little dumbstruck at a major railway station with only Japanese signages & display boards. A senior couple sensed my confusion and approached me along with a ticket checker who spoke broken English. I had not asked for any help, it just came my way. Bowing & greeting is an art and is a common practice in public places too. The ticket checker would bow while entering and exiting every single train coach. The hosts in restaurants and cashiers at convenience stores would make sure to greet you with a smile in their voice and eyes!


9. Japanese trains are incomparable 

Trains run to the second in Japan. Not just Shinkansen (high-speed bullet trains), but every other train in far-flung areas. I had learnt how to board/alight based on this very aspect even when all the signage and displays were in Japanese. During my month long stay, I travelled across the length and breadth of the country using trains. Trains are the lifeline of Japan. 


This reminds me of an incident. One evening, I was sitting in a cafĂ© at Mishima station with a Japanese friend who had come to see me off. I casually enquired why the Japanese were so well-behaved all the time. I did not see anyone laughing out loud (at least in public) or creating noise or generally doing anything weird or gross. I was wondering where the latent energy goes, what excites them. It was during this discussion she told me about “human accidents” on train tracks i.e. someone jumping in front of a moving train and how they are becoming common. To my disbelief, I faced my first and only train delay that night, for that very reason.

10. The Japanese know how to have fun 

A little music festival somewhere in the mountains

My shock from previous night's incident soon dispelled when I was invited to a private music festival the next day. The festival was organised by a bunch of friends in the woods, high up in the mountains by a waterfall. My perception of the Japanese being very serious and controlled, broke. I saw a crazy, boho and fun loving side of these people, that too in a way I had never seen before! There was lots of passion, positive energy and a great vibe where people sang, danced, got drunk and silly!


If you’re planning a trip to Japan, I would highly recommend going off the popular tourist trail of Tokyo - Osaka - Kyoto. Japan has a lot more to be seen and even more to be experienced and this list is only an introduction. I hope to be back soon and explore northern prefectures.

Have you been to Japan? Would love to hear your experiences! 

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6 comments:

  1. Very nice post....Enjoyed reading it :-)

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  2. I have spent many years in japan and your list really resonates with me ! How I love that quirky nation !

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    1. Glad this rekindled your memories, Ruchira! There was so much more to add ( I am sure you can image that) but had to restrain myself to these ten.

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  3. Refreshing perspective on Japan.. Loved the post Richa.. I would be waiting to hear more stories from you :)

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    1. Thanks for stoping by, Deepika! Yes, will be following it up with more personal anecdotes. :)

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