I recently had the opportunity to spend two weeks visiting Japan for the first time, and I don’t have to think twice about stating it’s the most fascinating country I’ve ever visited. Funnily enough, it was never one of my dream destinations. But for someone who has mostly travelled across western europe and the USA, my trip to Japan has been a real eye-opener. There is so much stuff I could write about, but I thought I’d start by pointing out some of the things I loved the most and that I believe make Japan such a great country.
1. Public transport
During my time in Japan, I got to use Tokyo’s underground, the bullet train (shinkansen) and various other forms of public transport in Hakone numerous times . Trains, including the underground, were incredibly clean and spacious, and always ran on time. Literally, for the whole of two weeks during which I was on the move I did not encounter a single problem, which is more than I can say for any other country I have ever been to. No delays, no unexpected changes, no disorderly passengers, no rubbish anywhere… Public transport in Japan equals perfection.
With the exception of one ryokan, I always stayed in a standard double room at budget-friendly hotels, never spending more than 100£ a night. In every single room, I was provided with pyjamas, disposable toothbrush and toothpaste, a disposable razor blade and a door stopper among other things. Instead of little bottles of shitty shampoo, I’d also find normal size of really good shower gel, shampoo and conditioner (most times it was sephora no less).
These are the kind of little things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of, but that actually make the life of a traveller so much easier. How smart is it for a hotel room to provide a door stopper? It’s ironic that the only hotel rooms I’ve ever found it in, are in the safest country I’ve ever visited!
3. Heated toilet seats
Another thing that puts Japan lightyears ahead of the rest of the world: toilets. Heated toilet seats are one of those things that you don’t know you need in your life until you’ve tried it. Once you have, there’s no going back! It’s not just the heated seats though. It’s the music, the sprinklers, and all the other features that come with it. I never thought I’d be saying this, but actually going to the toilet in Japan can be a whole attraction in itself!
I arrived in Japan as a fussy eater, with food allergies, not speaking a word of japanese and by myself. I should also add that I had never eaten ramen before. My japanese food journey started by spending five days in Kanazawa eating nothing but rice and bananas. From there, I was welcomed at Kyoto station by a sign in English that read ‘ramen floor’. Maybe it was the desperation of wanting to eat something other than rice, but the first bowl of ramen I had on that ‘ramen floor’ is one of the best meals I’ve ever had while travelling. I think I would actually consider a trip to Japan simply to eat my body weight in ramen bowls for a couple of days. All I can think of now are all those ramen-less years of my life I will never get back…
5. Tokyo DisneySea
I had read many articles ranking Tokyo DisneySea as the best Disney park in the world. In fact I don’t think I had ever come across anyone that had visited Tokyo DisneySea and not come out making that statement. I was wondering what could possibly make it that awesome and whether it was true at all… but it didn’t take more than an hour or two inside DisneySea to agree. DisneySea is an amazing work of art and if Walt came back to life he’d be one proud man. The amount of innovation, creativity, detail and attention that has gone into that park is like nothing I have ever seen before.
6. Great cheap food
I believe that Japan tends to be considered an expensive country, from being compared to other really cheap countries in southeast Asia. However, coming from Europe I was amazed by how inexpensive a country it turned out to be! I think the most impressive thing of them all was the price of food. Remember the delicious ramen from Kyoto’s station I mentioned? I paid 550 yens for it (around 4€ or 4$). And that was not an exception. I don’t think I ever spent more than 15€/$ while eating out. I should also add that was not me trying to make an effort to eat cheap, those were the average prices I found wherever I went! Good luck finding good japanese food for that price somewhere like London or New York…
7. Drink dispensing machines
My feelings about the drink dispensing machines are the same as those for the heated toilets. At first, I wondered why was there a need to have so many drinking machines everywhere (I genuinely don’t think you could walk more than 5 metres without finding one). Then I realised: you are out there exploring wherever it is you are exploring, you feel like having a drink and voilá! There’ll be a drink dispensing machine within eye sight to satisfy your need. Now, that is one smart move probably only the Japanese could pull off.
After coming back from Japan, we were wandering around London, and felt like having a drink… only to realise that we had to actively go and find somewhere to get one. Call me lazy, but that was one cruel realisation!
8. The people
The final point of the list is probably the most important one. The Japanese are, to put it simply, a wonderful bunch of humans. They have a sense of respect embedded in them that is not easy to find in other cultures. If you have a wander through one of London main stations at peak times, chances are you will be pushed around, you will get annoyed at somebody or you might even be screamed at. I’m sure that not only applies to London, but any other major city in the world. That just doesn’t happen in Tokyo. Everyone knows their place and respects everyone else’s.
Another example is Disneyland. Every time I’ve been to a Disney park, there are always people annoyed and complaining about something, be it the queues, someone misbehaving, or god knows what else. One of the most noticeable differences we found at the Tokyo Disney Resort was that despite the crowds, everyone was just going about their business not complaining about anything. No queue jumping, no littering, no misbehaving anywhere at all.
And of course, I must praise their willingness to help as well. I remember getting off the bus in what felt like the middle of nowhere in Hakone, not having a clue where to find our ryokan. A lady came out of a building nearby to ask us what we were looking for and gave us much needed directions to our accomodation.
Therefore if you are losing your faith in humanity, or are looking for a wonderfully crazy and revolutionary travel experience, go to Japan. You will not regret it!
Have you been to Japan before? Is there anything you loved that it’s not on the list? Let me know!