I consider myself to be a bit of a dark tourist. I thrive on visiting places that most 27 year old students wouldn’t dream of for a holiday or pleasant day out – places like Transylvania, the North Korean border and Auschwitz to name but a few. In fact this year I’m off to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia (but more on that to come). Through it all, I can safely say that I have had some incredibly weird, although thrilling experiences. To put it in perspective for you; I have been ploughed with alcohol by several (friendly) Vietnamese men and encouraged to eat pig’s insides and snails, eaten dog in Cambodia, and witnessed an elephant play the harmonica. But no experience compares to that of Japan.
The rumours are true; it is in fact all-round bizarre. When I first arrived in Japan our first task was to navigate our way out of Narita in the 45°c heat- something even the Japanese Sat Nav was disconcerted by, and to find our way into the winding, hustle and bustle concrete jungle that is the City of Tokyo. Several hours later, I was met with the glow and unique charm of Shinjuku and looking round, I knew I could only be in Japan.
It’s the little quirky things in Japan that make it so special. The pelican crossings sang as we crossed the road, as did the trains as they approached. The toilets; they speak to you, sometimes offering you a musical accompaniment to your lavatory quest, (with the option of a cleanse). You can buy a can of cold coffee from a vending machine that upon opening, becomes a hot delicious beverage. What next?
For me, the most memorable part of Japan was the food. It is some of the most delicious food I have tried in the world, healthy and freshly cooked & prepared in front of you in before you can say” Domo arigato”. (That’s my Japanese exhausted). Food will not set you back a huge amount of money, it is cheap, however, Japan in other respects is not so low-cost. Be sure to get the best exchange rate possible before visiting, as accommodation proves to be on the pricey side. For budget accommodation, look for converted office blocks or pod hotels; small, but value for money.
Everybody knows the Japanese thrive on being efficient. Whilst in Japan you should get on board with the bullet trains – a 275mph experience that will certainly get you exactly where you want to go (and pretty darn fast). Iconic places to go within the city that I can vouch for include Ueno Park, Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower, or for an even more dazzling view of the city – the Government Building, which is free to enter. There are hosts of temples and shrines wherever you go, but when visiting the western city of Kyoto, make sure you add the Golden Pavilion to your list. It’s coated in several inches of gold, but rumour has it that the moat only came into existence when it was realised that tourists might quite like to help themselves, turning their holiday into a more lucrative occasion! However I found that the true beauty of Japan lied in the rural areas, as we travelled to the likes of Hakone, a beautiful mountainous area, of which is perfect to relax and take in the natural sites, as you settle into your green-clad home.
Lastly on our trip, we took the time to travel to the small isolated city of ‘Ise-Mie’, 8 hours West of Tokyo, where we were able to visit to immerse ourselves in the culture during a local festival, and visit ‘Meoto Iwa’. Or to me and you, that’s two sacred rocks that had been joined in marriage. Only in Japan.