by Devon Sponheimer
When writing this post, I limited myself to 10, since I could very well go on FOREVER about everything that’s great about Japan. So without further ado……here’s my Top 10!
1. JRPG’s (Japanese Role Playing Games).
I could probably talk about my intense love of JRPG’s for an entire blog post, but I’ll refrain from turning into a giant fan-girl for now. From Final Fantasy 9 to the Tales series, I’m crazy for pretty much any JRPG around. With beautiful story lines and graphics, I find myself getting lost in those worlds and sometimes spending days on end playing a text-based JRPG wooing a samurai/vampire with tuberculosis. If wooing the diseased undead isn’t your thing, there’s a game that everyone can enjoy. That’s what’s great about Japan, no matter what you’re into, there’s probably a video game that you can play about it. Looking for some great JRPG imports? Try some of my favorites: Tales of the Abyss (recently re-released on Nintendo 3DS), Final Fantasy 9 (a classic, available on the Playstation Network), Hakouki Demon of the Fleeting Blossom (PSP, be forewarned, it’s a text-based dating sim marketed towards the ladies) or Persona 3 or 4 (PSP/PSVita). (More importantly tell me YOUR favorites so I can play them.)
2. Giant Buddhas.
I first travelled to Japan in 2007 and on my last day visited the Buddha in Nara. Not being a particularly spiritual person, I was completely taken aback at the tranquility in the complex. I even conquered my claustrophobia and managed climb through the Buddha’s “nostril”. Since that time, when I visit Japan, I make it a point to see one of the Big Buddhas to complete my Big Buddha Bingo.
Catchy, cheerful and often adorable, J-POP has captured my heart. It’s also best to memorize a few for late night karaoke to impress some locals. I suggest Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu for starters.
4. Gacha-Gacha (Capsule Vending Machines.)
I’m not a gambler by nature, but put me in front of some capsule machines, and I can easily drop a few thousand Yen. They have everything you can imagine in miniature sizes. Anime & video game characters, mascots, food replicas, the list goes on and on! For the VERY best in Capsule vending, go to Akihabara where you’ll find some stores with over 300 capsule machines for the choosing. Sure, stores sell sets of the characters for reasonable prices but half the fun is wondering what’s capsule you’re going to get!
5. Efficient, Clean, Polite, Public Transport.
Public transport around the world doesn’t have the best reputation. You’re thinking: It’s dirty, it’s unsafe, and people are rude. Well, toss all those stereotypes out the window when you head to Tokyo and welcome to the best public transport experience you’ll ever have. First off, they’ve got scheduling down to the second. No need to run to catch that train, there’s most likely another one coming in a few minutes! Second, it’s so clean inside. There’s no random graffiti or used tissues, or apple cores lying around. It’s filled with cheerful adverts to ‘read’ while you’re passing the time waiting for your station. Third, people are polite! They give up chairs for the elderly, they don’t talk on their mobile phones in your ear. They have an entire car dedicated for just women and children traveling alone. They line up to get on the train.
Additional bonuses, it’s cost effective and it gets you pretty much everywhere you’d like to go. Hands down it also has one of the best public transport do’s and don’ts: “Don’t smoke in bathrooms of train stations, the toilet is not a big ashtray.”
For everything. I really mean for everything. Every town has a mascot, and prefectures, and T.V. shows, and police stations and blood drives and bananas, and THE PRIME MINISTER. I’m not kidding.
7. Steeped in history, yet clearly in the future.
Sam mentioned this in his post, but it is like walking through history. A culture that truly cares not only about where they are going, but where they have been. I love being in the middle of a booming metropolis and then 5 minutes later at a temple. I’m still amazed at how peaceful and tranquil the temples are in the heart of the city! I love cultural heritage tourism and Japan offers so much of it and through so many different time periods.
The Japanese are so into baseball it’s hard not to enjoy the game a little bit more. I’m from the United States, home of baseball, (and Red Sox/Orioles fan) so I should know a thing about going to some baseball games, right? I will say this one time. US, you are doing it wrong. The Japanese experience is one that shouldn’t be missed. There is singing (constantly) and dancing, and cheering! And there’s no poor sportsmanship, no one is booing the other team for doing well. The first game I went to was a Swallows vs Ham Fighters game. Swallows have a tradition to do a little dance with a tiny umbrella. I didn’t buy one so the couple behind me let me use theirs for the game. They even tried to teach me the song (I was sort of hopeless at it). It’s the best of the US game with the fun of the Japanese culture. (and yes, more mascots!)
9. The Japanese people.
On a more serious note, the Japanese people are tremendously helpful. I’ve been stopped by strangers offering to help give me directions, invited over someones house because I hadn’t tried natto and they happened to have some (I didn’t go…), walked to the bank in the rain by someone who wanted to give me directions but was afraid I’d get lost. Their kindness often knows no bounds.
10. You can be yourself.
Finally, Japan is great because you can be into whatever you’re into. You like Hello, Kitty and want to dress like her? Okay, that’s cool. Businessman wants to read some manga on the train? No one bats an eye. Harajuku girl fashions. Be my guest. Japan doesn’t judge people for their hobbies and that’s really wonderful in my opinion.
Bonus #11. The food.
Yes. It’s as good as you imagine.
When Devon’s not playing JRPG’s, she’s studying for her Master’s degree in Tourism Administration. Feel free to contact her at Devon@japlanning.com
So what do you think of Devons top 10? Are any of them in your top 10 Japan?
Tell us in the comments below!