Culturally intriguing to me for years, the hustle and bustle of Japan is unlike anywhere else in the world. An interesting contrast of super modern and ultra conservative, I explored Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo to get a feel for old vs. new Japan. Domo Arigato.
Japanese Food – When 90% of my pictures are of delicious foods rather than sacred temples, you know I ate well. From ramen vending machines to matcha ceremonies, Japan made me a sushi purist. None of these Americanized rolls slathered in sauces and coated in flakes, just fresh fish the way god intended – straight from the tuna auction at 5 am. I discovered mouthwatering new delicacies like okonomiyaki, a seafood pancake cooked at the table covered in BBQ sauce, shabu shabu “swish swish”, Japan’s version of oil grilled fondue meat, tsukemen, similar to ramen, but dipped noodles instead of soup, yakitori, grilled meat skewers served at almost every bar, and takoyaki balls, deep fried octopus dumplings sold on the street.
Ryokans / Onsens / Authentic Traditions –The traditional Japanese guesthouse experience is so much cooler than your standard hotel. Exchange your shoes for a pair of wooden slippers and make your way to your tatami mat bed. While you may think paying to sleep on the floor is weird, it’s more comfortable than you’d imagine and the hospitality is second to none. You’ll get to enjoy their private onsen (hot springs) and indulge in other traditions like omakase, a chef’s choice course meal. And if you can sneak your camera in the kabuki shows, more power to you.
Japan was not a great country to attempt as my first solo trip abroad. A very solitary culture, it was extremely hard to meet people and even harder to ask for help or directions (as it’s technically rude to make eye contact). I made the best of it, forcing myself out of my comfort zone and winging it.
Cherry Blossoms – I went at the verrrry beginning of sakura season (late March), and to my dismay most of the cherry blossoms were more dead than in bloom. Still, it was interesting to see the Japanese pay homage to their sacred flower in other ways with cherry blossom flavored ice cream and candies throughout town.
If you can figure out how to use the toilets, you’re doing better than most Westerners because there are a lot of oddities in Asia. From electric eyelash curlers to life-sized cartoons and ninjas, there are plenty of WTF photo opps.
Spa World – Billed as a theme park of spas from around the world, Spa World in Osaka is strange. Separated into men’s and women’s floors by country, you can experience a Turkish Bath, Russian Banya, Israeli Salt Room, and much more all under one roof. The only catch? It’s all naked. And let me be the first to say, I was surprised to learn that Japanese women haven’t shaved since the ‘80s. So not only was I the only white person, but I stuck out like a sore thumb.
Theme Bars – One of the weirdest places I’ve ever been in my life, at the Maid Café, you pick from a menu of schoolgirls to serve you and then order what you want them to do with you (get your mind out of the gutter, it’s totally PG). Play games? Sure. Doodle on your plate in ketchup? Yes, that’s a thing. All the girls have fan boys, regulars who go back to bring them presents like they’re actually in a relationship with them. Then there was the Alcatraz themed bar. If you’ve ever dreamed of drinking out of a baby bottle in a jail cell, here’s your chance. Although I never made it to a cat café, thankfully one just opened in Denver (the third in the US) so I can get my feline fix more locally.
Wondering what else to do there? Here is a suggested Japan itinerary.