Japan has fascinated me for as long as I can remember and it’s only recently that I've finally managed to spend 2 weeks in Japan. From the moment I stepped out of the plane, I knew I belong in Japan. Everything I experienced in Japan changed my life and the course of my career. I truly believe that Japan is a wonderful country which has to be experienced at least once during your lifetime. Don’t postpone it any further, cancel all your holiday plans and go visit unique Tokyo.
So what is Tokyo unique?
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Crime Rate in Japan
Japan has the lowest crime rate in the whole world, which means you can walk around during the night and feel perfectly safe. I think this is very important for a tourist, especially because Japan is still very much a cash-focused country and not many establishments have card facilities. You don't want to carry large sums of money and fear for your life! I've been to many places and I can honestly say I've never felt safer than in Japan. Solo travellers should really take note of this.
Japan is Culturally Mad
Let’s face it, we travel the world to acquire knowledge and experience new things. Japan is home to world's craziest phenomena. Think maid cafes, love hotels, robot restaurants, cat cafes and hostess bars.
No matter where you come from, you are bound to feel overwhelmed in Japan, but in the best possible way. Nobody does weird better than Japan and no other country managed to combine its crazy with traditional.
Kawaii in Japan
Cute is everywhere in Japan. Japan itself is cute. Cute earrings, cute clothes, cute kittens, cute girls, cute adverts, cute anime, cute shoes, cute cupcakes… everything is cute. And you know what? You are so going to love it. Even the grumpiest is going to eventually give up and buy a bunny shaped phone case... and then instagram it #cute.
Japan is Polite
Everyone is super polite in Japan. People bow to show their respect and smile at others no matter where they are from. I live in the UK, a country well known for its polite inhabitants. The reality is, not even the Brits can match the Japanese manners. Just so nice!
Japan is Quiet
This one is very difficult to explain, it has to be experienced. I was in Tokyo, the world’s largest metropolis and the streets were super crowded, yet, it was quiet. A surreal type of quiet. You couldn't hear the background roar and the chatter.
There are some exceptions of course, like Shibuya where the streets echo the noise of the colourful billboards carried by large trucks.
Japan is Zen
It's fascinating how you can find quiet and secluded places in the middle of a busy city. Take Tokyo for example, in one second you are rushing through Harajuku's madness surrounded by thousands of people and a second later you are wondering around in a park of 10,000 trees called Yoyogi Park. Same goes for Kyoto, the city of 10000 shrines. Explore crowded streets but remember the ancient Shinto temples await at the foot of the Storm mountain, just a short train ride away.
Japan is Spiritual
Wherever you go in Japan, you are bound to stumble across a temple or a shrine. Even if you are not religious, it is common courtesy to pay your respect when entering a temple. You should bow once when entering and when leaving. Rinse your left hand, then rinse your right hand. Pour some water into your left hand and rinse your mouth. Rinse your left hand again and rinse the dipper. If you put coins in the provided wooden box, you should bow twice, clap your hands twice and make a wish. At the end, bow again. Remember these actions express respect and are independent of religious beliefs.
User Experience Rocks in Japan
As a user experience designer, it's an absolute joy to finally be in a country which takes usability into consideration. The awesome Japanese people thought about anything and everything. Everything is intuitive even if you don't speak Japanese. In a busy city such as Tokyo, efficiency is everything.
The Japanese vending machines, doors, signs, hotels, toilets, restaurants, bars, absolutely everything has been thought through. When Steve Krug wrote the book "Don't make me think", the Japanese people took it literally and transformed Japan into the absolute UX heaven.
The Japanese are Considerate
People don't get into your space. People don't scream. People don't shout. People follow all the signs and all the rules. People don't stop in the middle of the road. The Japanese even queue (better than the Brits if you can imagine that) perfectly. In fact, in the train stations, you must check the platform and queue at the correct space (marked by signs) for the right train. People don't bump into you. People will help you, talk to you, smile at you and guide you. The Japanese are just amazing and the most considerate nation I've ever come across.
Amazing Japanese Food
I can write about Japanese food for a decade and still feel that I haven't told you the whole story. In order to understand why Japan has been called the world's kitchen, you have to eat! Try authentic seafood ramen and experience juicy katsu melting in your mouth. Eat all you can eat sushi made fresh in front of you by your itamae. Try dango, mochi and perfectly crisp matcha biscuits. Still hungry? Sample the takoyaki or a real bowl of udon noodles. The food in Japan is simply delicious and always fresh. Check out the best food to try in Tokyo and Kyoto. Love sushi and fresh seafood? Read more about Tsukiji market.
Tokyo is Weird
Japan is super weird and super wonderful. Only in Japan, you will come across a singing toilet, a public onsen (bath) which encourages you to be naked, a whole district dedicated to anime & manga and cafés where grown men come to talk to innocent girls dressed as maids. Not weird enough? Well, how about renting a room in a love hotel, or having a bowl of ramen in the so-called "Piss Alley"?
Japan is decadent
In Shinjuku, you will find Asia's largest red light district, packed with adult entertainment. You will come across things and services you didn't even know existed. For example, men can rent a sleeping mate. No funny business is allowed, but for some extra cash, girls' hair can also be caressed. I already shared my views about Akihabara, a decadent district in its own way. Cute girls dressed as lolitas, old men seeking young girls' company, secluded adult cinemas and hostess bars, clearly show that spiritual Japan has its dark and decadent side too.
Transportation in Japan
When it comes to infrastructure, Japan is unbeatable. Imagine sparkling clean trains which don't run late. Imagine stations which are easy to navigate even if you don't know Japanese. Imagine a subway system which is cheap and reliable and allows you to travel around the whole city without the need of a car. Imagine this utopia of public transport... but wait, you don't have to imagine it - in Tokyo, this is real.
Products in Japan
In Japan everything is different and this includes supermarket products. Even the brands you (think) you know offer some sort of Japanese twists like the matcha or sakura flavoured kitkats. Beyond that, you will find wasabi flavoured biscuits, beautifully packed meringue, perfectly baked fairy cake, world's most decadent confectionery, matcha tea ice cream and red bean paste dessert. Another great thing about products in Japan is the packaging. In Nagano, in Midori, I purchased some chocolates and the vendors spent a few minutes wrapping up my dessert to perfection. It feels like buying presents and not ordinary products. Hungry? Have a look at the best street foods to try in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Did you know you can ski in Japan? Are you aware you can hike on Mount Fuji? Japan is a country of so many dimensions: it has lush forests, mountain chains, serene tea fields, gorgeous beaches and remote islands surrounded by exotic sea creatures. Thought you know Japan? Think again. Don't just go to Tokyo, explore around and be amazed.
Tea in Japan
I'm a tea lover and I currently have a room with over 40 varieties of teas. I love tea so much, I couldn't miss the opportunity to visit Uji in all its splendour and buy a healthy supply of matcha tea of course. I find it amazing that pretty much every eatery and restaurant I've visited, offered me free tea. For a tea lover, this has to be the coolest thing on Earth. I expected to spend so much money trying all sort of teas in Japan, when the reality was, I drank more tea for free than I could have dreamed of.