InsideJapan Tours staff have all lived and worked in Japan and love the place, people and culture. We all get excited with the prospect of seeing a new Japan film or television programme. The upcoming adaptation of Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” is one to watch but the current Channel 5 broadcast, “Justin Lee Collins Turning Japanese” promised so much but was a bit of a let down. JLC who is usually full of enthusiasm seemed to give a negative slant on some of the different aspects of Japanese culture. Perhaps Japan is a bit too far East for the West Country comedian.
Slightly concerned that JLC is giving off the wrong message about Tokyo and Japan, I have compiled a list of the more positive aspects of Japanese culture referred to in the programme in response.
Japan really is great.
Shibuya and Shinjuku fit the stereotypical image of Japan with neon lights, high rise buildings and lots of people. Each district has their own buzz and excitement, but this aspect of Tokyo life is not for everyone, but Tokyo is massive and has a huge variety of areas; old districts with traditional wooden buildings, quiet temple grounds, local shrines and serene Japanese gardens. It is safe city with relatively no crime and as such is a breath of fresh air.
So long as you do not travel at peak rush hour (approx 730-0900) or on the last train from Shibuya/Shinjuku (approx 0030), you will not experience crammed trains. The Tokyo subway system is immense, but it is relatively easy to use. Trains are on time, clean and can get you just about anywhere you want to go. Trains are also cheap with the average journey costing just over £1. A pleasure to travel on.
Tokyoites and Japanese in general do work hard, but they also play hard. It is fun experience to go to a Japanese Izakaya (bar/restaurant) in the early evening where you will probably meet salary men winding down after a long day. You may be invited to join the locals for a drink or bite to eat and you will see beyond the stony faced exteriors and a warm hospitable people.
They are not everyone’s cup of tea and you certainly wouldn’t stay in one if you were claustrophobic, but they are fit for purpose. A capsule will have enough room to sit up and lie down. You leave your belongings in a locker when you arrive and change into a yukatta (Japanese dressing gown). There are usually nice Japanese baths to enjoy and rooms to relax in, prefect if you have missed your last train home. Alternatively, Japan does have some superb western style hotels as well as some of the most luxurious traditional Japanese accommodation to choose from and the full rang in between.
Japan is a foodie’s paradise. From back street noodle bars to Michelin star restaurants, Japan has it all. Tokyo itself has more Michelin star restaurants than any other city in the world. Wherever you go in the city and indeed Japan, there is a fantastic choice of restaurants to suit all budgets and tastes. You can choose to eat very fresh fish that is still moving, but you may prefer your fresh melt-in-the-mouth sashimi or sushi not moving, cooked succulent meat, noodles, tempura or even western style food. Oishi!
The seaside temple town of Kamakura is a short train ride from Tokyo as is the mountainous Hakone national park region close to Mt. Fuji (both approx. 1 hour). JLC flew to Hakodate in Hokkaido for a ‘get away’. Hakodate is a nice small coastal city compared to Tokyo, but there is a wealth of wilderness, wildlife and natural scenery that covers the northern island of Hokkaido, all a flight away from Tokyo.
We shall look forward to seeing the rest of JLC’s series on Japan and I hope that he puts more of a positive spin on it. Tokyo is not necessarily everyone’s favourite place, but Japan has a lot more to offer with its mountains, tropical beaches, cultural heritage and its wonderful people. Japan is just a very different place to the UK or anywhere else in fact and this is part of the attraction. So long as you go to Japan with a good attitude, I am sure it will reach and far exceed your expectations.