According to Culture trip, one of the biggest stereotypes about Japan is that it’s “The weirdest country on earth”. We tried to discover if this is true or blatantly exaggerated and went on a crash course Japan, guided by not one but two writers of The Sushi Times (TST): a Dutch website, explaining all things Japanese.
Quiet, polite and clean
The first thing we noticed is that everybody you speak with, read the same guidebook on polite interactions. For us, not knowing the language, country or culture, it’s hard to see if this is sincere. Still, it beats rudeness every day of the week.
The streets and subway are very clean. There are not many trash cans and the ones that are there, are usually equiped for recycling. No trash cans around? People hold on to their rubbish and recycle at home. One thing we did notice right away is that the subway smells funny. We thought it was desinfectant.
It wasn’t. It’s the smell of second hand alcohol, caused by Japanese business men and women. After work they apparently hit the bar. Hard. TST explained to us that the Japanese find that alcohol helps to loosen everybody up and sparks conversations that would normally not fit a work environment. This helps to strenghten the relationship between colleagues.
We also had a go at this custom and from experience, we can now say that yes, you loosen up and no, you do not get better at singing after consuming Japanese whisky. We went to celebrate Halloween at the busiest crossing in Japan: Shibuya.
We had a blast. The family members that received our karaoke recordings, had bleeding ears. Sorry, not sorry!
By the way: This wasn’t us.
Oh oh Otaku
Japan is famous for its manga and anime. The people that are really into this, are called Otaku. TST told us that nowadays, the word Otaku is used for a person being a fan of, or borderline obsessed with a hobby, game, series or artist. Some of the neigborhoods that specifically cater to Otakus are Akihabara in Tokyo DenDen town in Osaka. Is it as crazy as it sounds? No. It’s even better!
We tried to fit in and found some things feeding the Otaku within us. Thomas rediscoverd his love for figures and I picked up the hobby of assembling Gunplas, plastic models of fighting robots.
Together we could finally play video games again and went a little overboard in Arcade halls. If you are ever in Japan, walk into one. After you recover from being slapped in the face by all the machines spewing their theme songs at you, you will see some very skilled people, winning games you didn’t even know excisted.
And after all this, our inner geek wasn’t completely satisfied yet. Guided by TST we also visited the Robot restaurant. Is it a tourist trap? Yes. Should you visit anyway? Hell yes.
The show is crazy, up close and personal and very loud. Just a fair warning: think more in terms of dinner show and less in terms of robots.
Now I can hear you thinking: did you seriously go to Japan just to act like a child? Of course we didn’t. We also came to eat! Oishii is Japanese for tasty and boy do they know how to make tasty food. Eating and doing so thoughtfully is very important here. There is an abundancy of restaurants and you can get almost anything you could imagine.
We did everything we could to sample the local cuisine: Kobe beef, sushi, okonomiyaki, curry, all you can eat dessert buffet, things with tentacles, you name it. I paused my new found vegetarianism because almost everything here contains either meat or fish. Even in some vegetarian restaurants :).
All these sensory overloads need a counter balance. Luckily Japan has plenty to offer. We didn’t get a chance to get out into nature but within city limits there is more than enough room for some peace and quiet.
As you can see, you have to be willing to share your space or walk a little further. Still, Japan has so much beauty that there is plenty for everyone. Normally we try to avoid the big crowds but sometimes the crowds are there for a reason. TST advised us to ride a bike wherever possible to see more in a shorter time span. Great idea!
I didn’t really want to go to Japan. You often have a list of places that you want to visit and Japan just didn’t make my cut. But now, I can’t wait to go back to explore more. Yes, Japan was even weirder than I thought. But overall it was a fun kind of weird. Let’s call it crazy beautiful.
Ps. If you want to find out more about Japan (in Dutch) just visit The Sushi Times. They will get you up to speed in no-time.