As soon as my feet touched the ground in Tokyo, I was swept into a land which had the ability to surprise, intrigue, inspire and bewilder all at the same time. The landscape is a juxtaposition between tradition and technology, beautifully intertwining to create an almost futuristic world, where its inhabitants project equal parts freedom and self-restraint.
From soba to sushi, teriyaki to tempura, Japan does not disappoint with its classics. When it comes to its more specialty dishes, Japan offers a wide variety of the weird and wonderful. You can taste fish you never knew existed and dishes where you are unsure of what exactly it is you are eating – but go along with it all the same. Japan is definitely the place to go if you have an adventurous palette.
As an Englishwoman through and through, I came to Japan with my own awkward set of social rules, and was fascinated to find that Japan had more etiquette codes than I could keep up with. It begins with how you greet people, bowing at different levels to show different signs of respect. It then progresses to footwear, where you will find different slippers for different areas of the house. If this wasn’t confusing enough, the next area with a large helping of etiquette laws was mealtimes, where serving, receiving and consuming food and drinks is a minefield of potential faux pas. Rest assured though, the Japanese are very helpful in sharing their etiquette customs and even if/when you do become flustered, there is always a smiling face happy to guide you.
“I definitely think all toilets should be like this one” is one of the first things anybody will say after using a Japanese toilet. Japanese toilets do not only fulfil a functional necessity, they are an experience where you can have some peaceful alone time away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
The toilets themselves start you off with a pre-heated seat – how considerate – the toilet then has a music mode giving you not only discretion from any noises you do not wish to share with other cubicles, but the sounds also give you a sense of calm – as you will often hear flowing waterfalls and the birds of nature. Moving on to the various cleaning settings, from front to back, bidet to spray, all your potty needs are catered for.
These toilets are not exclusive to luxurious locations either, nearly all Japanese homes have a toilet like this, most shops and restaurants too. Making Japan a holiday not only for you, but for your bottom too!
The average home in Japan is modest and small, not leaving a lot of room for a furry friend to join. So what is one to do when wanting an animal’s love? Well, go to one of Japan’s many animal cafés of course! These are not restricted to cats, you can now find yourself enjoying the company of owls, rabbits and hedgehogs too. Pricing starting from 10 minute slots to 5 hour sessions, whoever you are you are sure to be able to find your animal fix in Japan.
In Japan you are never more than a 5 minute walk from a vending machine – and this is true even in more rural areas. I was climbing a trail on a mountainside, and at the top I found not only the most beautiful of Japanese shrines, but a vending machine to its side. Vending machines don’t stick to the traditional soft drink either, they serve hot drinks, ice creams, naughty magazines, expensive technology, branded clothes and even used women’s knickers – niiice.
In your typical London crowd at Clapham Junction Station, the fashion scene is a wash of greys and blacks – perhaps with a splash of colour from a brief flashing of somebody’s ‘quirky’ socks (what a crazy cat they are).
Things couldn’t be more different in Tokyo city, quirky outfits are the norm, individual style is everywhere and the selection of colours and bold patterns are a feast for the eyes. In Japan – and Tokyo especially – everyone stands out, in a fun, refreshing and ultimately stylish way.
Not only is Japan’s transport incredibly efficient and reliable, so are the people. If you arrange to meet with someone Japanese, do not be late – it is seen as very rude. It is very common for people to arrive 10 minutes early to their appointments both personal and professional. When you come to Japan you will always run to schedule in the most satisfying of ways.
I was surprised at how graphic some of the Japanese Anime and Manga were in their depiction of female characters – short skirts, seductive winks, insane cleavages and cheeky knicker flashes to give you a taster. When it comes to pornography, the subject matters may be more varied in its kinkiness than the west, but all the genitalia are censored – right down to pubic hair. This relationship between the hand drawn and photographic fascinated me, it made me ponder the relationship between imagination and reality when it comes to sex. I wonder if western pornography is just as curious to the east?
Kawaii is a word I heard a lot when wondering around the jam packed adorable shops in Harajuku. The direct translation to English is ‘cute’, and throughout Japan you will be sure to find Kawaii everywhere. From bow headbands and fluffy toy handbags to impractical rubbery phone cases, Japan will melt even the chilliest of hearts with its power of kawaii.
The best thing about Japan for me, was that it felt like a giant grown up playground – arcades are never more than a 10 minute walk away, and no matter what time of day or night you can always find something fun to fill up your leisure time.
In all the arcades I visited everyone seemed an expert, people were smashing personal bests and totally immersed in that one moment they were in. Some spend their whole day playing games in arcades, and not just teenagers, fully grown adults, even individuals over the age of 60 were happily locked in their gaming sessions – addicted or amusement? Either way the gaming culture in Japan left me with a ‘forever young’ warm feeling inside.
If I had to try and pinpoint what makes Japan stand out compared to my life back home in London, it would have to be that Japan is a place full of the unfamiliar familiar – where day to day scenes are relatable, but the details within, to me are curiously bizarre. I will most definitely be visiting this wonderfully strange place again.
Charlotte Barber, Designer, 23.05.2016