There's no way you could say you've seen England if you had just visited London and Birmingham, so I won't try to make you believe I understand Japan from seeing Tokyo and Osaka.
When I told people I was going to Japan, everyone said "it's really expensive", "no one speaks English" and "they only use cash, so no credit cards". All of these statements turned out to be false.
Maybe it's just me, but I found the best places to eat were Japanese noodle bars. These are canteen style food bars which sold udon (thick) noodles and rarmen noodles in a soup with vegetables or meat. Some rice dishes were also available. A filling meal could be bought for ¥450-600, and they didn't hang around when it came to serving. Some of these food places (particularly at stations) were standing room only. They were frequented by most of the locals from business men to street workers. I didn't seen any non-Japanese people at any of these places.
A great man once said: "Communication is more than just about words" (thanks Dad) and he is absolutely right: there's pointing and jumping around. But seriously, I found that almost everyone I came across knew a couple of words relating to their job. For example, the station master knew "platform" and numbers. Most of the people in the street knew a splattering of English and everyone else could signal "straight on then turn left". For all those other things I had Swifty's "Point It" book - a handy book with 1,200 pictures of every day items.
A lot of the restaurants had photos and in most cases they had made the actual meal and left it outside in a glass box so you could see what you were getting. I purposely picked things I didn't recognise (blind ordering) because I wanted to experiment with the local food.
Pretty much every sign post had an English translation underneath. The spelling was pretty bad, but it has to be said, better than mine! Most of the shopping centres were filled with British and American stores. After travelling through most of them I was surprised how little Japanese there actually was. Since the last Emperor embraced western culture in the spirit of learning, even to the point to wearing western suits, the whole country has followed behind him.
I brought ¥40,000 (£315) out here with me for 7 full days and I'm bringing home ¥7,000, and I haven't been watching the pennies. It was around ¥2,500 per night in the hostels and they all accepted credit cards. Day passes for the metro where only ¥1,000. Most of the tourist attractions were either free or ¥600-700. The most expensive things where coffee and posh cakes in western style coffee shops. One couldn't Switch a loaf of bread and a pint of milk like you could in England but who cares.
The restaurant that Koichie took me to was pretty expensive and if you ate like that every night then I can see how the cost would crank up. I wanted to do what they do, live how they live, which is why I got up early and did the journey to the tourist spots with the commuters. After a day of tourist stuff, I switched district with them. If there is one thing I'll say about communing, it's that it is eerily quiet!
I found the Japanese people warm and welcoming. The cities seemed crime free and I hardly saw any dodgy people. I didn't feel like I had to watch my bags or my back!
The whole ethos of the country is different. They are one, working and living to serve the country as a whole. There's almost no fat people partly because of the low fat diet but mostly because everyone is active. There is a job for every one - even if it is guarding a hole in the ground. You never see anyone working on there own, even in tiny shops there are 2 assistants. I'm sure it is more expensive to run an economy this way but the total cost is balanced across the whole of it. Low unemployment, people can retire at 60 but most of them stay on with a small wage from the government to sweep the streets or supervise road maintenance safety - and they do it because they want to.
On the whole, I have enjoyed my time here and can thoroughly recommend it. When I've seen the rest of the world this will be the first place I will see again. Thank-you Japan.
Here are all the journal entries:
- Japanese tour day 1 - Travelling to Tokyo, Virgin Atlantic's lovely air stewardess, Asakusa.
- Japanese tour day 2 - Tsukijishijo fish market, Amidi Budda temple, Ginza, Nissan Gallery, Imperial Palace, Japanese government buildings, real pawn sushi diner.
- Japanese tour day 3 - Imperial Palace Gardens, Emperor official gift museum, currency museum, Suitengu Shrine - Seven Deities of Good Luck, Akihabara, make friends with noodle bar family.
- Japanese tour day 4 - private train lines, Shinkansen (or Bullet Train), Shin-Osaka, Osaka, Yakuza, making more friends in a pub/noodle bar.
- Japanese tour day 5 - Osaka Castle, befriended by a Japanese tourist, Peace Osaka, resturant recommended by friendly stranger, an Englishman working there, Tenjimbashi-suji shopping corridor, Mitzumi and the mad woman, map mystry solved, Namba, Takayumi, sketch for diner.
- Japanese tour day 6 - Sycophantic Floating Garden Observatory, super effecient Shinkansen (or Bullet Train), Sanyo Fin, kimono, Koichi's chicken diner, more girls than boys, Mount Fuji.
- Japanese tour day 7 - showing people around, you again!, Odaiba, Shimbashi mono rail, Fuji TV, White Day, shopping centre, Liar Game, Menji park and shrine, Akihabara, big sushi meal.
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