Thoughts on leaving Japan 23.05.2015

Roppongi

Roppongi and in the distance Shinjuku

Well, as you’ve read from my blog Japan was a difficult country for me to like and in the end I guess I enjoyed the experience but was never amazed. There are so many non-Japanese who truly love Japan and I was expecting a real wow factor so in the end when I never got it dissappointment was an understatement.

Travelling around Japan logistically was a real pleasure, everything ran like clockwork and the signage was good. Tokyo has a confusing subway network because two different companies control different lines. Once I ended up buying a subway ticket for the Toei network when the line I wanted to use was for the Tokyo Metro.  The gates at subways are open and only close when you insert an invalid ticket. The best website for looking for train times and price is Hyperia. I came close to falling in love with an airport, the first time ever, at the international terminal at Haneda. The monorail linking the airport ran smoothly. I don’t know what it was about Haneda but it was peaceful, no constant flight announcements and endless shops selling the same global tat. It was just so, well, tasteful.

Another surprising thing about Japan is that it is not expensive. Nothing was more expensive that what it is in the Netherlands. Even the bullet trains are cheaper than Dutch trains when you work trips out per kilometre. I once read in a British newspaper that their advice for eating out in Tokyo was to go get free food samples handed out in department store basements as food costs a fortune. Well, that’s not true, everywhere we went to eat was cheaper than Amsterdam, hotels were cheaper, public transport and taxis were cheaper. The expensive Japan of the 1980’s thankfully does not exist anymore.

Japan is not all futuristic and modern. There are run down areas with alot of homeless people and grafitti, but strangely Japan is different from everywhere else. You’ll see really old people, probably centarians, lugging luggage through train stations. Once I stopped and was about to ask an old lady if she needed help but the culture shock was too great and I worried I might cause offence. She was tiny though and the luggage so large but nobody else was batting an eyelid.

Nanzen-ji Kyoto

My favorite temple in Japan just because it was set in woodland and more importantly not overrun with tourists. Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto.

Something else I noticed about Japan was there is nowhere to sit outside. No street furniture like benches to rest while walking through the city. All the way from Harajuku Station to the Meiji Jingu Temple is through a forest and the walk is a good twenty minutes. There was not even one bench in that forest to rest, I thought how inconsiderate of the elderly and disabled. In Japan they have got so advanced in stimulating their own economy that if you want to rest you must go into a cafe. Just wait till the governments in Europe work that one out and the taxes they can rake in.

There are no trash cans anywhere. Again, you would think the Japanese are so advanced that they don’t know what trash is, but no, they are human beings just like the rest of us. It is the authorities which are letting their inhabitants down by not providing amenities, I wonder if it again has something to do with saving money. Less trash cans equals less waste collectors, cheaper for the city councils.

Another myth that the Japanese are all super polite. No they are not, some are downright rude, again they are human beings, not some higher alien life force. They smile and bow alot but this doesn’t say anything. We are polite in Europe too when interacting with strangers.

Japanese kimonos

Kimonos girls were wearing at To-ji in Kyoto

I personally found the temples and shrines underwhelming and difficult to photograph due to the dark wood they use to construct them. They are understated, airbrushed and elegant which will be good for some but I prefer more of a wow factor. Religion is Japan is accessible where you can donate your hard earned Yen 24 hours a day. There was even a electronic conveyor belt at one temple where you can donate gifts for the monks day and night. I wonder if this is why religion in Europe is dying out, churches are closed often while in Japan shrines are all over the place open 24/7.

Again from my blog you would have noticed dining was a problem for me. We don’t all like fish, I haven’t ate it since I was four years old. Some of us are vegetarian and in a metropolis like Tokyo I would expect vegetarian cuisine on every street corner. Now and again you might be lucky and find an Italian place but thankfully the Japanese do Italian cuisine very well.

Harajuku Fashion

Latest fashions in Harajuku, the other look of the moment could only be described as strict Parisian librarian

When I first arrived in Japan I thought all of the cartoon images of teddybears and candyfloss was really childish and didn’t understand why this needed to be plastered over every single wall, stairwell and trash can. It was only later while travelling inside a Dutch train that I glanced up at the grey, minimalist wall that I realised I missed images of pink blobs with laughing eyes advertising the latest electronics. As childish as they are they do cheer you up … somehow.

Mount Fuji is ever elusive, most often than not blanketed by cloud cover. If you are planning a trip to view Mount Fuji you can do what the Japanese do and checkout the many webcam websites. Just because the skies are blue doesn’t mean that Mount Fuji will be visible. One website that I used was GoAndRoam.

Will I ever return to Japan? Well, if I do I would do things differently. Instead of going between major cities I would opt for something more rural. I, then, might have a better chance to meet the Japanese on a more personal level. I would still like to visit Hiroshima, it’s a pity it wasn’t possible on this trip due to time limitations.

Even though Japan has it’s faults it still is culturally a unique country and i’m still grateful I got the chance to experience it. So, for now, sayonara Nippon, and till next time.

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