Yes I know there are a lot more than just 8 best things about Japan, but since its an auspicious number, I’m sticking with it. There are so many great things to tell you about this place I don’t know where to begin! So lets start with the basics. I’m going to make comparisons to London, because that’s where I’m from….
- Free toilets. I never once had to pay to use a toilet, comparing this to Victoria station, where its a ridiculous 50p to use a blocked toilet. Not only is it free but the toilet is supreme! Always super clean, a lot of them come with a heated seat, a bidet (for washing) and even a button which makes a flushing sound to disguise any embarrassing noises which might emanate from your behind.
- Free Wifi. Literally everywhere has free wifi. The airport, the train station, even Kyoto just has a Kyoto free wifi service which I used walking down the street to find my accommodation. Restaurants, bars and shopping centres too.
- Cars don’t beep at you. Even if you are right in somebody’s way blocking the road, the person in the car will wait patiently until you are out of the way. In Tokyo this is especially true, although in Osaka, I heard a few beeps when we were cycling. And on the topic of cycling… let me mention the cycle lanes… the BIG fat cycle lanes! Cycling here is very safe and easy.
- The subway. Oh man, this is the real winner. CLEAN, PUNCTUAL, CHEAP and S P A C I O U S. What more could you ask?! Unlike China, the signs are written in western script too, so you can read which station you are at. A one day pass to get us in and out of Tokyo from Asakusa to Shinjuku (a 40 min journey) cost just Y500 (roughly £2.70) or y1000 for a full pass which gets you anywhere in Tokyo. Comparing this to the London underground which is crammed, filthy and riddled with delays and rats for the pleasure of paying £11.70. A side note about trains… the trains have seats which can be manually swivelled to face the right way – so if you don’t like sitting with your back to the direction of travel, you can simply adjust the seat to face the right way.
- Politeness. Japanese people are wonderfully polite and helpful. Our first encounter at midnight trying to find our accommodation and being hopelessly lost resulted in a friendly Japanese person looking up the address on their phone map and walking with us for 10 minutes to get us there safely. When crossing the road or getting on a tube, a neat queue is formed and there is no pushing or shoving to try and get a seat, unlike the rugby tackles which occur on the London Underground to get a seat or to even just squeeze onto the train.
- Safety. The only other place where I have felt as safe as this was Reykjavik (the difference being that Reykjavik has a tiny population of just 120,000 and Tokyo has a population of 13 million). Its very rare for someone to steal your stuff or to get pick-pocketed (unlike Barcelona where we experienced this just a couple of hours after arrival). Also leave your possessions unattended in London and you are literally asking for someone to take it. I do believe it comes down to the strong Japanese value system, which focuses on empathy, self-control, cooperation with others, and group harmony. Even with so many people around, Tokyo never felt stressful.
- Food. Oh the array of amazing and cheap snacks available! I’m surprised we didn’t come back a lot heavier. Come to think of it, I only saw two overweight people the whole time I was in Japan. I wonder if this is because of all the walking and staircases in town. We noticed how so many Japanese people have great calf muscles. To name just a few of our fave snacks: Okonomiyaki – which is a savoury pancake prepared on a hotplate and filled with mainly vegetables (I say savoury – but a lot of Japanese food is distinctly sweet, the thick dark soy topping for instance, is very sweet). Takoyaki (pictured below) – which are fried dough balls filled with squid/octopus on a skewer. Its then topped with the same sticky sweet sauce, green onion, seafood flakes (dried bonito) and mayonnaise – super delicious but watch for the hot filling which can burn your mouth. Mochi balls – which are sticky little balls of rice filled with sweet red bean paste (now my favourite thing ever).
- Face masks. When I arrived, I thought people were wearing face masks because they were protecting themselves from something and that it was a little OCD, but actually its the other way around… they are protecting YOU from their germs since they wear the mask when they have a cold. How much would you love it if the person coughing and sneezing all over you on the train wore one! =)
There are very few things I could tell you that I didn’t enjoy. One being that people still smoke in the nightclubs… if I can think of anything else Ill come back and update you.
Ps. If anyone can tell me the name of the little crispy little balls filled with sweet potato and red bean paste (in the main picture at the top of the page), and how I can make them or obtain them in London… I will be very grateful!
To see a full set of images from this trip, check out my Flickr Japan album =)