Big In Japan – The Review

After visiting Japan for the first time I needed some time to make up my mind about everything and I guess that’ll happen to most western people who go there for the first time, because a lot of things are really different from here in Europe and probably also in the United States. So with 2 weeks after returning to Hamburg, I feel that I can give my thoughts on the trip and the country. Or at least an overview, because all the thoughts together might take some time to read (and for me to write xD).

First of all: It was really a great journey and overall I loved beeing there! I might criticise some things later, but they are more regarded as sidenotes from my point of view (except if I say otherwise at some point).

If I had to describe Japan in 3 adjectives right now, I’d say ‘weird’, ‘bi-polar’ and ‘addictive’. Now you probably can’t really picture Japan with just these three words, so I’ll explain my reasoning behind them for you. I hope they’re understandable after that :)

I’ll start with ‘weird’, so what’s weird about Japan? You surely know a lot of weird japanese things from the media (like japanese TV-shows, selling worn panties and more stuff), but there’s more to that. Women in their 60’s wearing Hello Kitty t-shirts is weird. Having a vending machine every 100 meters is even more weird. No oven in houses is also a weird thing in my book. Crosswalks that cross streets diagonally are also pretty uncommon for my experiences with crosswalks up to this point in my life, so I’ll note that as weird. And do you remember the Romantic Walk that shuts down at 22.00 already? If that isn’t weird… Oh and don’t forget love hotels! Don’t get me wrong, there are reasons behind most of these things (though I fail to see the reason behind the Romantic Walk ^^) and I’m not saying these things are bad, but they just crossed my mind as beeing very diffent from the places I’ve seen so far. Therefor I classify them as weird. And I was just starting with the list there (imagine how much food I could have mentioned here) ;)

The next adjective is ‘bi-polar’. What I want to say with this word is, that there are a lot of seemingly contradictory things in Japan, that fit kinda naturally together.  For example the a shintoistic shrine surrounded by towering modern office-buildings. The coexistence of tradition and modernity. Or the immense use of foreign languages in naming brands or shops (or even english words in the regular japanese Language), while most of the people there don’t seem to understand a lot of languages beside Japanese. Of course, the same trend exists here too, but it’s far more extreme in Japan. Also old wrecked houses beeing caught between newer buildings is a hint towards the bi-polar nature of Japan. Small way-shrines next to a busy road too.

And then there is ‘addictive’. Japan is highly addictive! There are so many things that I wanted to try there and afterwards I wanted to try them again (like visiting an Onsen). Only my limited money kept me from doing so.  For example once you start trying japanese food, there’s always something different and new that you have to eat too. By the way I find the rumour that Japan has the best dishes in the world a bit overrated – I ate a lot of great stuff, but I also ate a lot of cool dishes here too. And there are the shops… I really don’t like shopping, but visiting anime and manga-shops was amazing. I could stay there for hours and walk through their shelf-rows, always finding something new and interesting. You wouldn’t believe what kind of crazy merchandising stuff you could find there :D

All in all, Japan is quite different from here, but that had to be expected. What I didn’t expect was how nice and interested a lot of people were in me and my journey. There were some occasions where I someone started to talk to me out of the blue and wanted to know more about me.  That didn’t quite fit the image of the shy and superficial japanese people that you tend to hear often. So of course I was extremely positively surprised about that. That’s probably also the biggest point for me in my wish to go back there next year to study abroad: the people. If it weren’t for nice Japanese which I met on my trip, I think Japan wouldn’t have been so special and amazingly awesome. So I’ve got to thank Nozomi for her help in every question that I had and of course also for housing and guiding me. And there are Gen and his family and Shota and Ayano, all of them which I definitely want to see again in the not so far future. Without tem it would have been a more or less usual tourist trip, but because of them, it was far more and I gained a lot of insights. Hopefully I will be back in a year (maybe in Kobe, as the city looked promising for studying there!) :)

So here’s the official finishing point of my first trip to Japan, where I was truly big ^^

21st of March: Kobe

I just noticed, that I still haven’t finished the last article about my trip. Shame on me! … But I’ll do it now, to finish this little ‘story-arc’ ;)

On my last day in Japan, Nozomi and I visited Kobe, one of the cities where I’d like to study abroad next year. Getting there wasn’t as easy as we had though, because the last bus to Kobe in the morning drives off at 9:45 a.m. and we were about half an hour too late. I have no idea why there are no busses later in the day, but oh well… We took the train instead and managed to get there in about 2 hours if I remember it right. From the train station in Kobe we went to our first stop for the day, which was the Ikutajinja Shrine, where I finally saw my first cherry blossoms in Japan \o/

Right from the start, Kobe felt a lot more multicultural, international and buzzing with energy than Okayama, which had a more provincial and calm atmosphere. Which is nice, because if I’m actually going to study here, some action and a lot of different people would be a big plus. Going a little bit more into this aspect, we visited the China town quarter which was totally crowded with people, food and souvenirs and after that the port of Kobe. As someone liling in Hamburg, I’ve grown to really like a maritime flair in general and ports in special. I’ve put some pictures of this trip below, so you can get some impressions :)

So this was my last post about describing my daily trips in Japan for this vacation. But there’ll be a summary soon, covering some insights that I’ve gained and of course my impressions and opinions one my time there. So far thank you all for reading and commenting! It has always been nice to read and hear the thoughts from the other side of the globe :)

19th of March: Saidaiji… wait, where is it?

Yesterday was cold and rainy again, so I refrained from doing any touring at all and only went out to do some shopping for food (which is pretty expensive in Japan!). As a result, I’ll directly jump to today’s article ;)

I had decided to visit the Saidaiji-temple, where the ‘Hadaka Matsuri’ (Naked Man Festival) takes place in every February. I had sadly missed the festival for about two weeks when I arrived in Japan, but at least I wanted to see the celebrations location. So I took the train to Saidaiji and navigated with my tourists map from there. Unfortunately, there was no temple on the marked location in the map! :D I had to chose and new direction and took the way to a temple that I could see on a mountain not too far away. But that temple was not Saidaiji as I found out there and walking back to find a new way was out of question. I decided to watch this temple and the area instead and then took the train back home – after finding the train station, which was hidden pretty well behind a mountain ^^

17th of March: Running up the hill… finally!

I’m a little bit late for my usual schedule, but it’s the end of my journey, so I also have a lot more stuff to organise besides writing. You’ll have to bear with me here ;)

On Wednesday, I decided to make a final push for the top of the seemingly unclimbable hill and visit Gen later. So after I bought my bus-ticket to get to the Kansai International Airport on Monday, I set out to the east again. Because of the nice weather that day, I decided to make a small stop at a tiny park close to the Okayama castle and enjoy the sun for a few minutes, like a lot of Japanese, who were also sitting there. I had more or less just sat down, when an older japanese man placed himself next to me and started talking to me. He was interested in where I come from, so we got into a chitchat about various things. So far, he’s only seen Germany out of train windows, but after talking to me, he definitely wanted to go there soon. Maybe I should be advertising for Germany professionally :D

After he had to got again, I continued my way to the mountain. Because Gen had told me where to start last time, it was easy to find the starting point. But man… I had underestimated the effects of one and a half years without seriously following a sport. The climbing was far more exhausting than expected and I’m not really pleased with that – I mean, I’ve even climbed in the Alps and that’s a totally different level. It’s Time to do some regular sports again when I’m back home! Anyway, after the first exhaustion the rest went pretty smooth again and I reached the top and viewing spot quickly. The view over Okayama was really nice, seeing how it filled a big area surrounded by mountains. Makes for a typical japanese city I’d say ;)

For getting down from the mountain, I decided to take another way. Unfortunately, that way ended at some point and there was only a broken sign, which was leaning to two trees. Not a big help actually. But hey, I only need to follow the flow of the mountain down and I should logically reach the city soon again. With this though in mind, I started to fight my way through bushes and trees for about 15 minutes, until I found another way again, which led me off the mountain and out of the forest covering it.

As I said, I wanted to visit Gen again before I fly back to Germany, and today was a good day to do so. Therefor I went to the Shorinji-temple after my mountain-trip, but Gen was sadly not there. As I got to know later, he had telephone service, to help people who had questions and problems. Luckily, his wife hana and his young daughter Toko were both there and invited me inside while I sat outside to write a letter to Gen. I received tea and sweets again and talked to Hana quite some time, until she invited me to stay for dinner. You pause a moment and wow! I mean I’m just there for the second time and am invited for dinner – that’s definitely one of the nicest things that happened to me in my whole life and makes a mockery of thoughts about japanese people beeing reluctant towards foreigners. When Gen came back home, they even decided to take me to a small japanese bar instead of eating at home. So the four of us (and they even tried to invite nozomi, but she was eating with a friend!) had a nice evening at the bar and I’m entirely sure, that they are some of the nicest people I know! I’m definitely going to write them when I’m back home! :)

And at the end of this post, some photos of the day ;)

16th of March: Seto-Ohashi

As I took a break from touring on Monday and nothing noteworthy happened, I’ll skip this day now and got straight to Tuesday. The weather was finally good again and I had decided, to take the train to the Kojima-peninsula and visit the huge Seto-Ohashi bridge there, which connects Honshu and Shikoku across the japanese inner sea.

I was able to use one of the local lines, so the train ride wasn’t too expensive. From the Kojima station, I only had to go further south, to reach the bridge… or so I imagined. While it was definitely the right direction, the way to go was much more difficult than that. I had to follow really weird paths besides speedways and trough mountains – sometimes even nearly completely covered with plants xD But after some time, I finally reached the top of the mountain at the top of the peninsula and had a really marvellous sight, that I want to share with you. Enjoy :)