Japan

An Asian Dream…

For tourists anyway. Honestly, Japan is by far the best Asian country I have ever been to. There are a few reasons I think I came to this conclusion. First, I like culture shock. I get extreme thrill out of countries that are different to New Zealand; the bigger the difference the better. I am however, a very organised and efficient person. In previous Asian countries I have visited (think Thailand, India, Sri Lanka) I have had to adapt to a less developed way of life – and although I don’t mind doing this, I didn’t need to in Japan, which resulted in the whole trip feeling a lot more like a holiday than usual.  The food was sufficiently different, but if I needed Western comforts they were available (not often, mostly just coffee!). All of the cities were so incredibly clean – it is something the Japanese take a lot of pride in, and it really pays off. The cities also feel safe, we didn’t go anywhere on our entire trip where I felt uncomfortable and I’m pretty sure I’d still be saying that even if it was just me travelling alone. The Japanese people are so sweet; they are an incredible hard-working, quiet, humble and helpful nation – certainly other countries could learn a lot from their behaviour. Transport was easy: trains tend to run on time, everything is well sign posted, and runs frequently enough that you barely have to wait. We also had no trouble with communication, despite the warnings that we had received about the lack of English – I think it is partly due to the upcoming Olympics in 2020, but we were very impressed by their English for the most part.

  • Capital: Tokyo
  • Population: 130 million
  • Currency: Japanese Yen (¥)
  • Language: Japanese
  • Highlights:
    • Toyko: One of the world’s most popular cities, Japan’s capital literally has something for everyone. The food scene is seriously off the charts, the shopping is nuts, the culture is everywhere you like and there are also so many nearby getaways. The subway system is extremely well connected and almost every metro stop represents an area that is so unlike any of the stops around it. The streets are more bustling with people than they are with traffic, and when looking at the city from a vantage point (such as the Tokyo Sky-tree) it feels like Tokyo just stretches on forever in almost every direction. There is also entertainment for children, in the form of Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.
    • Osaka: The grungy underbelly of Japan, Osaka has a really special feel about it. It is a port city, with attitude. It is a convenient travel hub: there are so many locations nearby that are great to visit. Home to Universal Studios and Osaka Castle.
    • Kyoto: Where shrines are almost as densely populated as the people, Kyoto is probably one of the most popular Japanese cities to visit. It was once the capital, but is now more known for its BUddhist temples, Shinto shrines, geisha district Gion and the Nijo Castle.
    • Hokkaido and Hakuba: snow, snow, snow – need I say more? Hokkaido is an island at the north of Japan and gets a whole heap more snow. Hakuba Valley is at the foot of the Japanese Alps (so far more accessible from Tokyo) and gets slightly less snow (but still way more than New Zealand) and has steeper terrain than Hokkaido.
    • Mt Fuji: one of the world’s most famous icons, this towering volcano (3776m) always takes my breath away, no matter how many times I laid eyes on it. Hakone is an awesome spot for hiking and relaxing which also has incredible views of Mt Fuji.
    • Hiroshima: Bombed by the Americans back in 1945, this once devastated city has really rebuilt itself. After suffering such destruction from the atomic bomb that was dropped over it, Hiroshima is now probably the most beautiful place I visited on my travel through Japan. The buildings and landscape are now all really beautiful, but the city definitely has not forgotten the tragedy that happened on that fateful day. The Peace Memorial Park, Museum and Atomic Bomb Dome are some of the most touching sights I have seen.
  • Did you know?
    • The Japanese have 18 public holidays every year. Part of the reason for this is that they are SUCH hard-workers (they even have a term for ‘death by overworking’) that this is one way of ensuring that employees get an occasional break.
    • It is made up of 6,852 islands! You wouldn’t know it, because a lot of travel can actually be done on the mainland. Hokkaido is an island, and lots of the islands down south have great beaches so are popular during the summer.
    • Japan sits along the “Pacific Ring of Fire”. This means that it is exceptionally prone to earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. In 2011 there was a huge earthquake (magnitude 9) which caused a tsunami.
    • Japan is super ahead of the eight ball when it comes to technological development. They are across technologically advanced motor vehicles, electronics and robots. Some of their bigger companies inlcude Toyota, Sony, Nintendo, Panasonic, Canon.
    • The national sport of Japan is sumo wrestling (although the most popular spectator sport is baseball).
  • Useful tips:
    • The Japanese drive on the left hand side of the road.
    • They have the same power point sockets as the US.
    • If you are travelling there as a tourist, make sure you apply for a JR rail pass well in advance. They get delivered to your home country and they are much harder to get once in Japan.