Sliding Doors Our Impressions of Japan.


Where do I start ? Japan has been so different from the rest of Asia.
We have always felt extremely safe here, even more than home. This experience is bourne out by the fact that in rural areas people don’t bother locking things away even things like tools. We often see things like GPS left on car dashboards and some people don’t even bother locking their cars or front doors for that matter. That’s not to say there is no theft or violence, I am sure it happens occasionally but it’s very rare. It is really nice to be able to wander around a city using phones and cameras etc without worrying about them being on display. We didn’t go to Tokyo but even in Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima which are all big cities we never felt even remotely unsafe even late at night. We have also free camped all over Japan and it is an excellent and safe place to do so, some of the places we have stayed we would not dream of repeating in Europe. Even when we have been occasionally rumbled people have always been tolerant and nice, in fact I cannot recall a single incidence of someone being rude or angry in the entire time we were there. Japanese society can be quite closed and regimented but both adults and children seem very well behaved and polite. It could be described as a Utopian society indeed there are parts of it we would want to cut out and keep but it is not without its problems. Bizarrely the suicide rate in Japan is amongst the highest in the world especially in the younger generation, there can be a lot of pressure to perform well and stigma attached to perceived failure.
The Japanese have somehow manged to merge high technology, natural beauty, ancient tradition, old fashioned manners with the thoroughly modern, in a way that seems effortless. It certainly isn’t, Japanese people work very hard with long hours and the standards of service almost everywhere are excellent. Some shop assistants at home and in Europe could certainly learn something about customer service from them. People are so enthusiastic to help and serve you better and equally mortified if something goes wrong or if you are kept waiting. They do not skimp on manpower either because that inevitably means bad service so its not uncommon to see twice the amount of people doing any given job that you would at home. To give some examples most fuel stations have attended service and in all but the quietest there are 2 or 3 attendants who literally come running out to serve you. In shops if you can’t find what you want and ask an assistant they run off at a funny little trot lest you have to wait too long. When we had to use public transport it was always incredibly punctual and I can only remember one occasion when a train was late, it was only 3 minutes but it still warranted an apology in Japanese and English for the delay. The only downsides to their culture is that if something isn’t 100 per cent correct or complete there is no bending of rules or that’ll do it just doesn’t exist in their thinking. Also all the manpower involved with this level of service means that most things are correspondingly expensive. Despite their seriousness and professionalism at work the Japanese do have a good sense of humour and you hear them laughing a lot but there is a time and place for it.
Most westerners perception of Japan as a country is probably that it is a sprawling metropolis of cities. This is cetainly true around Tokyo and Osaka but a large percentage of Japan is rural. There is a central spine of mountains running down the country, this means any large cities are on the coast and provided you don’t mind mountain roads you can easily escape the cities. Roads in cities can be very congested and we often made better progress on the small mountain and coast roads than on some of the main highways. The junctions (or intersections as they call them) are all controlled by traffic lights and are the traffic is very stop/start in towns. It is very time consuming to cover any distance in Japan because the main highways go through all the towns. The other options are the mountain roads but by there very nature they are incredibly twisty and it can be tricky to connect them to get to where you want to go. The third option is the expressways which are similar to our motorway network. These are definitely the fast way to get around but the entire network are toll roads and if you pay as you go they are expensive. Locals pay less as they have a system called ETC installed on their cars and bikes. This stands for Electronic toll collection and it is a cashless system which records when they drive on to the network and they pay a monthly bill straight from their bank account. Japanese drivers are generally very curtous and careful drivers and most stick to the (fairly low) speed limits without question. Southern Japan is it’s industrial and commercial hub and it is a lot busier than the North. Curiously though the south is also the tourist mecca although there are interesting things to see and do almost everywhere. We both preferred the north of the country, it is quieter and more rural. The people were really nice the traffic is a lot lighter and agriculture is the main preoccupation. We were still spoilt for choice for places to visit and the countryside was beautiful. The south was a lot busier but you could still find beautiful out of the way places in the mountains and on some of the coasts. We were spoilt for choice for interesting places to visit wherever we were in Japan and we could easily have spent longer there.
Japanese food was a revelation for us, the portions were always small for my appetite but it was always super fresh, immmaculately prepared and delicous. We tried lots of food in Japan that we might previously have turned our noses up at.
Neither of us are fussy eaters but we were not big on seafood, we have since had octopus, shrimp, squid, mussels and lots of other weird and wonderful things and liked them all. We also got fairly proficient with chopsticks, we had both used them a handfull of times at home but not for a long time. The rice in Japan is special sticky rice so you can eat it with chopsticks and rice is served with almost every meal including breakfast. We however miss western cakes and sweets the Japanese do have them but they are an aquired taste mainly full of air or to our taste buds uncooked filled pastry, we introduced some to good puddings so hopefully it will spread amongst their friends.
We also sampled public baths and hot springs several times, the Japanese are incredibly clean people and think nothing of spending hours scrubbing themselves at hot springs. We were the cleanest we have ever been after some of the sessions in them. I wonder what they thought of us sometimes when we turned up somewhere having been camped in the mountains for a few days. We were always treated with curtousy and curiousity and if they were disgusted by our sometimes grubby appearance they never showed it.
We were treated with incredible kindness and generousity by many people in Japan. Many overlanders and travellers don’t come here as it is expensive (not helped by the strong yen at the moment) but they are missing out on a fascinating and unique country. If we stopped for too long people would enquire if we ok or go out of their way to show or explain the place we needed.
The reason we spent so long in Japan is that there is so much to see round every corner. At some point you think enough temples till the next one bowles you over with it’s magic or beauty. We could easily have spent longer in this country. Some of our best finds were off the beaten track probably not even in travel guides that said some are touristy for a reason we did a good mix of both.  

A few reasons why its time to leave Japan
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•  You can’t stop bowing to everyone
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•  We are hearing  Christmas music in the shops
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•  You get upset when the toilet seat isn’t heated in a public     convenience
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•  You express a long drawn out aaaahhhh when people are explaining things. (Very Japanese !)
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•  You expect everything to work first time.
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•  You wonder why no water comes out the tap until you realise you have to turn the tap on i.e its not automatic
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•  You start to understand what people are saying.
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•  You can’t seem to slide the door open and then realise it’s a push one.
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•  Its about to start snowing
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•  We haven’t been eaten by any bears, time to quit while we are are ahead
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•  You make a peace sign every time anytime anyone points a camera at you. (Again very Japanese, never did figure that one out.

  1. #1 by Lyn&Arthur on December 13, 2010 - 8:59 pm

    We hope that some of the wonderful people you have met & been so kind to you are reading this, if they come to visit the UK we hope they have a simular experience over here, we would be happy to help anyone who wanted to visit Somerset. (Karen’s Mum & Dad)

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