I dreamed of visiting Japan for a long time. I devoured stories of Tokyo’s quirky contrasts, streets lined with cherry blossom and indulgent toilets from friends who had been there, and of Samurais and Geishas from movies and books I had read. But when I finally landed in Tokyo, it struck me that I had no idea what travelling in Japan would be like.
Over the last four weeks, I’ve come to realize that Japan is not one of those places you can understand virtually. It is a country you need to witness, breathe, experience and feel for yourself. To convince you that Japan is worth visiting, I can only give you a glimpse of this layered, complex, intriguing part of the world… for this is a country where:
You step into the future in a high speed Shinkansen (bullet train)
With a bento box – prepared daily for train travellers – to feast on along the way
To relive the past (circa 756 AD) at intriguing fire rituals at Shinto shrines
And feel hopeful gazing at “Ume” – Japanese plum trees – in bloom, signifying the end of winter…
Here you learn to sleep on futons, on woven tatami mats in traditional Japanese rooms
Which are dedicatedly cleaned by their owners from 10 am to 4 pm daily!
Your days begin in toilets with heated seats, deodorant, music and oscillating bidets
And culminate in Onsens (public Japanese baths) fed by mineral-rich hot springs – after shedding ALL your clothes and inhibitions
So rejuvenating that even snow monkeys come down from the Japanese Alps in winter for onsen…
In Hiroshima, your heart breaks at the horrors mankind has inflicted on earth
The atomic bomb of 1945 raised the entire city to the ground; only this dome-roofed building remained.
Then you hit the countryside and marvel at what the earth has given mankind
And forget all about mankind in the dreamy moss forests on Yakushima Island…
You can seek out Japanese style izakayas (neighbourhood bars) for the finest sake
Indulge in incredible Japanese food – even as a vegan
As long as you know how to ask for it
Learn the art of macrobiotic Japanese cooking that balances yin and yang
Boost your energy at vending machines on literally every street corner
(They even dispense hot green tea!)
Look out for a red line at the bottom, which indicates hot.
You can indulge your sweet tooth in mochi
Made of soybean; exotic flavors include horse chestnut, matcha, red bean, ume and sakura.
Without fully realizing the passion and precision it was originally made with
And taste Matcha green tea in a traditional tea ceremony in a temple or secret tea room
Not knowing these tea ceremonies began as peaceful meeting spaces for the Samurai
If you’re lucky, you could wield a 200-year-old Wakizashi or Katana (Samurai swords)
And even try mastering the art of Samurai swordsmanship!
On the rural countryside, where the average age can be close to 80
You can lose yourself amid ancient cedar forests
And traditional architecture that has survived the test of time
Forgetting that a modern, fast-paced city like Tokyo exists
When spring arrives and the “Sakura” – cherry blossom – are in full bloom
You’ll forget you’re still on the same earth…
And even though Japanese / Kanji is difficult to learn
(Learn Arigatou gozaimas: thank you very much)
The thing you’ll remember most fondly is the warmth and politeness of the Japanese people, and their willingness to help no matter what
What are your reasons to visit Japan?
*Note: I wrote this post in collaboration with Japan Tourism. Opinions on this blog, as you can tell, are always mine!
More blog posts about travelling in Japan:
In Search of Murakami’s Japan
Japan Tourist Visa for Indians: Requirements and Tips
Secrets Behind Some of Japan’s Most Intriguing Traditions