See The World
Seek Adventure Travel Happy
Woo! First blog entry, ever. I know, how is it that I've made it to 2014 without ever writing a blog? I have no idea. I suppose an introduction is in order. The name is Liz. Skeeter was kind enough to invite me on as a fellow blogger due to our mutual love for travel adventures. I hope to share my stories, thoughts, tips, and opinions with you. Feedback is definitely welcome.
I just recently got my dose of traveling (though more is always needed). I got back last week from a one month trip to Japan. The majority of my time was spent in Tokyo, and I was lucky to have free accommodation since my parents live there.
What's it like in Japan?
Every day was a new adventure, discovering new places, and delicious food.
If there is one word to describe Japan as a whole:
Japan has a culture that displays deference and obedience in all aspects of daily life.
One thing that irks me when traveling is seeing other tourists not showing cultural respect or playing by that country's rules. Sure, there's the expat perks - you're forgiven for breaking some rules because you're not expected to know them. However, I always try to learn these rules as quickly as possible.
If you're traveling to Japan - a rules-based culture - I recommend you do the same.
Here are a few things I noticed.
Rules. Like I said, this is a rules-based culture - both written and unwritten. The Japanese: don't litter, don't ever forget to say "thank you," are never rude to strangers, are always honest (seriously, there's basically zero theft), have impeccable work ethic, and will never dress like slobs. Yes, these are generalities, but I'd say they hold true for 99% of the population.
Manners. It's not just a rumor. I was blown away by the politeness shown by everyone I met. When leaving a restaurant, you are always walked to the door and thanked for your service. In any situation, all hellos and goodbyes are done with a crisp bow, which I would happily return. Also, don't talk on the phone if you're on a train or subway.
Arigatou gozaimasu. Remember that phrase, you'll be using it constantly.
Food. Oh the food... not only was every meal I had utterly delicious, but it was all meticulously prepared and presented. Anything less than perfect is simply not acceptable in Japan. Even in bakeries, everything is handled and packaged with such care, sometimes I found it a little over-the-top. There were too many wrappers between me and my macaroons.
Cleanliness. I walked around the streets of Tokyo with my empty coffee cup for over half an hour. Why? Because there are no public trash cans. And surprisingly, you won't find any trash on the streets either. This sense of pride in cleanliness is apparent in the community and in their homes - even some restaurants and buildings - with their strict "no shoes" policy.
Food displays won't set you up for disappointment.
You know how in the U.S. we'll see a commercial or advertisement for the food, but when you get it you're not that surprised to see that it looks nothing like the picture and instead your meal is falling apart? Well, you won't have to worry about that in Japan because it'll look exactly like their displays, and it will taste amazing.
Cute or creepy?
Advertisements on trains, commercials on TV, mascots for products and companies, and little charms on cellphones (for both women and men) - it's cuteness overload in Japan. Cute, furry, animals with rosy cheeks are to be found everywhere. In some places in the city you'll randomly hear cute music and tunes playing.
Restaurant rules to remember...
Do not order more meals than there are people. Appetizers are okay. When I went to lunch with my mom and sister and we ordered a FOURTH meal of dumplings that came with a side or rice and soup, one of the employees came to our table and said, "Three people, three meals, not four." We explained we also wanted the dumplings and he replied, "Dumplings will be an appetizer. No soup or rice with it." I suppose it keeps from wasting food.
No special orders. If you ask for extra tomatoes on your meal the answer will likely be "no." If you want a dessert of brownie and a dessert of ice cream and you ask the waiter to just put the two in one bowl, the answer will also be "no." Instead, you will receive the two separately.
Also important to note - a tip is considered demeaning (that goes for all services and businesses in Japan). This does not decrease their level of service. Waiters and waitresses are extremely diligent, and you will never be tied to a single waiter. By raising your hand and saying "Sumimasen" (excuse me) you can summon anyone from the staff to help you - which you will need to do, because, unlike in the U.S., they do not check on your table (except to refill your water and clear dirty dishes), you must make it known if you need something.
Toilets and Bathrooms
First thing I did when I walked into my parents' apartment (after hugging them, of course)? I took a picture of their toilet. Yes, the toilets are that amazing. Nothing like a heated seat when you walk into the bathroom still half-asleep in the morning. Surprisingly, these high-tech toilets are available almost everywhere (e.g. the mall, Starbucks, train stations), not just at home or luxury establishments. You will miss these when you leave Japan.
Note. One thing I kept forgetting when using the bathrooms in public locations - there are no paper towels. Many places do have automatic hand dryers, but the Japanese know to carry a small hand towel with them at all times because you will need it more often than not. I can't count the times I said, "not again!" and proceeded to shake my hands dry as much as possible and wipe them on my shirt.
These squatting toilets are also extremely common. Most bathrooms will be split half-and-half with these and traditional toilets. However, some bathrooms only had these. It was a new experience for me.
I can't even begin to describe how beautiful this time of year is.
Mid-March through mid-May is cherry blossom season. Everyone, everyone is out enjoying this beauty across the country. I was lucky to be there for this. Make sure to get some sakura (cherry blossom) wine to get the full experience!
Tradition and culture still play a big role in modern life.
Temples and shrines. Temples and shrines everywhere.
Even in their daily lives, it's all about tradition.
It really is day and night.
Their behavior literally changes from day to night. It's something that you have to personally witness. During the day people are quiet, more reserved and focused. In the subways it's almost as if there's no sense of joy. Then at night you hear laughter, the atmosphere lightens, people are smiling, talking loudly.
And the weekend... oh wow, do they let loose!
I remember commenting to my sister on the subway on a Friday night, "It's like they're completely different people!"
They're so hard-working and have such demanding schedules. They definitely take full advantage of their weekends.
It dawned on me that I'm a tourist.
Do you see the things I took pictures of? Clothes, food, vending machines, toilets. Of course I took pictures of sights and nature, but I could not stop taking pictures. I had no self-control with my camera.
You know when you see those giant buses of Japanese tourists pull in, and they step out and seem to be taking pictures of absolutely everything? I can't make fun of them anymore. I'd like to publicly apologize for that. I know how you feel!
Japan is beautiful and kind.
It is a country everyone must visit. The people, the sights, the food.
I enjoyed every moment from the crazy nightlife, to paying respects at their temples, to seeing the majestic Mt. Fuji and the nature surrounding it.
I know you'll fall in love just like I did. So don't wait! Start planning your trip!
Please check out the photo gallery for more pictures of this trip that I'll be posting soon!
Hi there! I'm Skeeter. I grew up moving a lot and that makes me a bit restless for travel and exploration. I started this blog with my husband Pat when we decided to backpack New Zealand for a year. We are always looking for the next adventure and are loving life. We're just your average couple with two sassy dogs and a love for travel. We're sharing our travels and the tips we pick up along the way.
Hello! I'm Liz. Blogging is very new to me, but I'm so excited to finally write as much as I talk!
"Don't forget to travel happy"-Skeeter & Liz