Monday, May 27, 2013

Japan blog - A guide

I am now back from a 15 day journey that took me all over Japan. I have seen some amazing things, found oodles of inspiration and learned a lot. Knowing where to begin to summarise the experience is nearly impossible. There were definitely tough times but the entire trip was incredible and I love the country so much I know that I'll go back one day - even if it's just to spent a week in Tokyo.

There were some really important things I learned though, which may be of help to future travellers, so I thought I'd post them here.

Artwork in the Origami Museum shop at Narita Airport
1. Learn some Japanese - despite what I was told I actually found it very difficult to find people who spoke enough English that we could communicate effectively. It's an amazingly complex language and totally worth picking up some key phrases because it will make your life easier. Especially when you leave the major cities.

2. Language apps are your friend! - I thoroughly recommend the LearnJapanese language app but do some research and find one that works for you. They're great because you have access to common phrases that will help you a lot - especially when you're trying to get around or find food.

3. Tokyo isn't actually that crowded - I told people I didn't think the crowds of Tokyo would be that off-putting considering that I live and work in London. I've seen the videos of people being shoved onto trains and I know that would be a rush hour thing. But I was on the train from 7:00am in Tokyo and walking the streets in some of the busiest areas and still found it far less crowded than London. In fact, it almost seemed like people started work at 11:00 or so and even then, at 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening the trains and roads just weren't that busy.

Mind you, Tokyo has wider streets and the culture of the people seems to have a great effect. Arriving back in London I noticed how many people 'muscle' their way in on the roads, cutting people off and overtaking (or undertaking!) without signalling. Something that I haven't seen done for the last two weeks because the Japanese are so damn courteous.

4. Beware Tatami mats and sleeper trains - The Japanese are totally content to sleep on a thin reed mat on the floor. They don't even need a pillow. They seem to be able to sleep almost anywhere.

Be warned! If you're going to travel Japan on the cheap and you need more than carpet or a tatami mat to sleep on, bring an air mattress. Especially if you're taking a sleeper train for free using the JR pass. 12 hours on carpet is not pleasant if you're bony or sleep on your side or have any injuries or arthritis or difficulty sleeping in general.

5. The Japanese are super duper lovely - even if they can't understand you they will go out of their way to help you. They are extremely courteous and I think it's going to take me a few weeks to stop bobbing my head and smiling in acknowledgement of any act of generosity. I may also take a bit to stop saying 'Arigato' as 'thank you'.

I'm getting back into the swing of things and my blog will be resuming it's two entries a week. I've got so much to work with after this trip so do watch this space! Not to mention the fact that the final edit of my book is done so 'Wise at Any Age' is well and truly on its way to publication!

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