Japan: More Than Just Mangas and Animes
January 1, 1970
by Reg Alvarez
JaFun from the mountains to the megalopolis
When you hear the word Japan, anyone can immediately associate it with ramen, kimono, sakura, geishas among many other words which we have used in daily conversations. However, I would like to target some readers who want another perspective of what Japan can offer rather than the obvious. So, what else is there really, you ask?
Japanese Architecture: Preservation and Innovation
My goal is not to bore you about this topic if it is not your cup of tea. At least know general ideas and take a moment to appreciate them. Added knowledge or learning is always a good thing. I am simply telling you though, that as a traveller when we go to an unfamiliar place, you look around and observe the surroundings such as nature and man-made buildings right?
Generally, the Japanese build with nature in mind and work around trees and century-old structures rather than uproot or destroy or implode them. They preserve their gardens, castles and temples and observe proper etiquette which tourists are required to do so too.
If you are into Architecture just as I am, you can google famous architects if you haven’t yet. The Japanese architects are masters of their skill. Try looking up for Kenzo Tange, Shigeru Ban, Fuhimiko Maki, Takaharu Tezuka among others. Personal favorites are Tadao Ando and Kengo Kuma.
When I was there, I made a list of buildings I want to see which were made by these architectural geniuses. Tokyo alone is an architectural pilgrimage from century-old temples to contemporary hotels and shopping centers. They juxtapose traditional and modern buildings together and innovate construction techniques from the past to the present. Example is Asakusa Temple near Kengo Kuma’s Asakusa tourist center in Tokyo. In Osaka, Kyoto and Nara, design of the buildings there can be a bit different but each of these place is unique and can leave you in awe.
Japan and its people
Japan as a whole speaks about the locals living there. They are honest and trustworthy which I experienced first-hand. When my friends and I were at Lindt Ginza, we ate, paid for our meals and hurriedly left without realising that my friend dropped her money. One of the lady staff had to run a block just to reach us and hand back the money. When we were walking in the streets even at night, I do not have to act and put my guard up as if someone will take advantage. When my shoe laces get untied, I wouldn’t have to put my phone back in my bag. I can just leave it on the floor for a while and no one will snatch it from me. They are disciplined and courteous even when they do not speak or have limited English vocabulary. A kind store lady helped us read our Nozomi shinkansen tickets even though she does not speak our language and tried to point where our platform really is. She saved us from missing our train. A young millennial who is rather tired from work and just needs to get home still managed to smile and help my friend with her luggage since there was no elevator in one of the train stations. When I met up with my high school friend, she introduced us to her Japanese friend who was more than willing to pick us up in the airport, treat us in real, authentic Japanese restaurants with fresh sushi and handmade yakisoba. He drove and toured us in Tokyo despite his busy work life. He even managed to insert Mt. Fuji in our itinerary even though I told him I would rather stick to our schedule. He told us that he chose that particular day because it is not cloudy and there is a snow in the peak of Fuji san. This, I would not ever forget and I will never regret not following my stuck-up plans. I am advising you, if you find yourself in a similar situation, to trust them because they want you to experience what Japan really is.
Of course, any nation or anyone is not perfect. We hear other qualities they possess too. They tend to be workaholics but only because they want the best of service and in return, they give their best as well. I have noticed that they are serious and fast-paced during work days but on weekends they are either more laid back or fun as long as they are with their family and friends. How proud they are of themselves for the reason that they were raised and trained in school to keep their honour.
Culture and Traditions
Osaka, Kyoto and Nara are nearer each other and are much accessible because of their very efficient train system. Each of these place is just different. If you consider yourself a culture vulture, I suggest you to go to Osaka first. Osaka is much modern with taller buildings and as per my own observation, there are more expats there and more western brands like H&M and Zara Home can be found. You can book a hotel in Osaka then just use the local trains to go to the Arashiyama bamboo forest and Fushimi Inarii in Kyoto then take another train to Todai-ji Temple and deer park in Nara. Better yet, just reserve a room in a traditional house in Kyoto complete with tatami mats for a full-on cultural experience and sip green tea wearing your kimono or yukata.
Since Japan is a mix of tradition and modern, it can cater to any type of traveller. I suggest experience the best of both worlds. Tips I can share is to order pocket WiFi online. Again, Google search engine is your best friend. When you are able to find a rental WiFi online, you can simply state the hotel name and address and they will deliver it to you. After using or before departing, just simply drop them off at any post office. Another is to get yourself a PASMO card. You can actually print your name in the card. My friend helped us with this and is printed in Japanese characters. It would be cool to do that and can serve as your souvenir but printing it in such a way is not a necessity. Just purchase the card and reload them whenever and will save you time for lining up every time.
Good luck and enjoy Japan, fellow roamers!