Today we bring you a guest post by Japlanning.com's techhead, Sam, discussing the 'best thing' about Japan.
Allow me to begin with a confession: although I've travelled to a few spots around Asia, along with a few other countries such as the USA, NZ and France, and have always had keen desires to travel around the globe, I'd never really considered venturing to Japan.
Well, recently I had the opportunity of travelling with the team at Japlanning over to the land of the rising sun, and now I just cannot understand why it hadn't occurred to me as a place to visit.
Upon our return, I came to realise that I wasn't alone in my blind-sighted-ness towards Japan - as many of my friends and day-job colleagues were surprised of how much I'd enjoyed the trip, or that I'd gone in the first place. Once the standard "how was the food?", "was the language barrier much of a problem?", "did you eat whale?" questions were out of the way, I almost always found myself trying to answer a variation of the following question: What was the best thing about Japan?
After I realised that this was becoming a pattern, I decided to have a little fun with it, and challenged myself to give a different answer each time I was asked!
Eventually I may have taken too long to come up with a response, or may have reused an answer or two (die-hard Japan fans - please don't hurt me!), however, here's my list of the unique treasures that make Japan an unmissable destination for my future vacations:
- vending machines; Where else can you find an alleyway lined on both sides with vending machines and capsule dispensers? Not to mention every street corner and about every 20 metres down any main street. Oh, and whether you’re looking for a cool drink, a hot meal, hot soup(!!), gadgets, or even a can of hot coffee, these guys have you covered!
- it’s like walking through living history. Amazing temples, castles and shrines dating back hundreds and hundreds of years. In Tokyo, this may be positioned next to a skyscraper or other modern building, mall, which creates an amazing juxtaposition of old and new; yesteryear and today.
Having come from suburban Melbourne, it’s refreshing going somewhere where it’s not a challenge to find a building more than 100 years old.
- crazy high-tech gadgets! Forget the history, let’s skyrocket to tomorrow (ironically, just next door)! Also, umm, yes Sony, I do want to try your latest noise cancelling mega bass headphones in an airplane simulator machine!
- the world's largest metropolis; it's really any architecture lover/geeks Mecca.
- a polite, dignified and respectful culture and people (which just makes it awesome watching them kick loose in a Izakaya bar at night)
- just how helpful those people can be; "you want to know where the Dōtonbori is? (Sure, it's out of my way, but I'll take you there!)"... said any japanese person we asked. A colleague always reminds me of the time he dropped his umbrella cover inside Shinjuku Station, during peak hour, and was chased down by a passerby who saw it happen to return it (anyone who’s seen Shinjuku during peak hour will understand how crazy this is!)
- disaster recovery; how the country was ravaged by major earthquakes and tsunami recently, but you can't tell it had ever happened in the major cities. Bonus points for having an earthquake museum where you can visit to learn about staying safe during disasters.
Oh, and, during an earthquake, many vending machines will start automatically dispensing their wares (I only assume to make sure people stay hydrated?)
- theme parks; ok, who doesn't love a day or more at Disney? Oh, and the Universal in Osaka. Not to mention that Japan has the best parks and rides of anywhere in the world!
- speaking of theme parks, themed restaurants! Did you want your dinner served by a ninja, or a lunatic from an asylum?
- zero crime! (Well, almost) we left some property alone for a few hours outside a 7-11 while checking out a temple, and when we got back... It was all still there, completely untouched (Also, see Japlanning’s previous post on travelling alone and the crime stats in Japan).
- one of the worlds' largest rail networks; Comprising of various types of trains (Shinkansen, light rail/tram and standard trains), classes and operators, yet it is very easy to navigate, reliable and quite painless to get around (unlike that back at home!)
- train station melodies; Amazingly, most stations have their own little jingle which is played as the train arrives and departs. They’re catchy and awesome.
- over commercialisation of everything; So many people are fascinated with the lights of the city. It seems like nearly every building in Tokyo literally lights up with advertising at night.
- mascots; It’s cute when something has one, right? So, why not have one for everything! (and they do)
- food! With more michelin starred restaurants than anywhere in the world, and so many unique culinary treats to be had, any food lover should consider finding themselves a 2nd home here.
- cat cafés; (or neko kafe) a cafe where you're surrounded by kitties. It's amazing and I want to bring them all home with me.
- love hotels; no longer does a “romantic” rendezvous for an hour or two have to be to located at some dive-ey, unclean, hotel! No, the Japanese have perfected the art of, what I like to call, hooker consumption!
Bonus points for attending a themed venue, like something out of a TV show aimed at toddlers or straight from a horror movie.
- 100 yen shops; A magical shop where you can buy amazing souvenirs (and just about anything else that you can think of) for one low price (yep, you guessed it, 100¥... +tax).
- the toilet; Oh, the toilet. And the variations that you get on features available. And that it’s not just in your hotel room, no, no, no; train stations, street/public toilets, malls, department stores, AND ON BOARD TRAINS. Just about everywhere you go will have a super high-tech toilet machine. It’ll be honoured to accept your waste, so go ahead.
I could go on forever, however, to surmise, Japan has managed to go from a place I’d never considered, to a place I can’t wait to get back to (and am going soon!)
When not travelling the world or dreaming of Japan, Sam works by day as a technical manager and programmer. He’s a fan of all things less than 141 characters, and you can tweet him here.
So now that we’ve got some of Sam’s favourite things, what was yours?
Tell us in the comments below!