My first encounter with Japan was during the 80s on a transit flight across the Pacific. I was sceptical about the transit as it was a long haul flight and wanted to get to my destination as quickly as possible but fortunately, I took my ticketing agents advice. It’s located in the northwest Pacific Ocean and is approximately seven hours from Malaysia by flight. It was wee hours in the morning when the plane landed at Narita and without a jacket, I felt the cold as a result of some drizzle and autumn chill. I was also bemused by the first thing that caught my attention at the immigration counter with the word “alien” on the signage. Having only spent half a day I managed to catch the hotel coach downtown. It was an astonishing experience with three words in my mind; clean, efficient and friendly. This place is worth multiple visits.
Also known as the “land of the rising sun” Japan is a uniquely homogeneous society racially and ethnically. They are mostly discriminatory but as they are exposed more and more to the international community on an unprecedented scale, it has made them tolerant and free of bigotry. Today, Japanese society embraces a rich variety of cultural forms and enjoy Western music, art and theatrical performances. Of course, they have also developed their own phenomenal contemporary culture: manga, pachinko and karaoke.
My second trip to Japan was 28 years later and I wasn’t disappointed. There are a massive number of places and activities to experience. However, due to constraints, these are just a few of my picks.
Tokyo is a bustling city like any other where noise and traffic is a nightmare. Yet a step back from the main roads you will suddenly find yourself in a tranquil back alley and bits of the old city like temples and shrines.
The eponymous Tokyo Tower or “Tokyo Navel” as printed on the guide book stands 333 meters high is the second tallest structure in Japan. Visitors will be charged admission fees. It’s comprised of four observation points. For the more adventurous the ascending stairway is open to the public on weekends and public holidays.
In the main observatory, there’s a guide board, lookdown window, café and a souvenir shop. It is recommended to visit the tower on a clear day to fully appreciate the spectacular view.
For avid shoppers, Ginza or “the place where silver is minted” is not to be missed. Tokyo’s most stylish shopping street is concentrated with exclusive high-end shops and restaurants. One unique department store, Burberry Blue Label which is only available in Japan is located in the vicinity.
Mount Fuji standing at 3,776 meters is the highest mountain in Japan and about 100 km southwest of Tokyo. On a clear day, it’s visible from the city. There are several routes up the mountain with the ascents divided into stations. It’s possible to hike but most travellers take a bus to the Kawaguchi-ko fifth station, about halfway up the mountain where a Swiss-chalet-style gift shop marks the end of the road.
Kyoto, previously Japan’s imperial capital is my favourite. It reflects a more traditional version of the country and is home to a sublime collection of temples, palaces, shrines and gardens. The awe-inspiring Kiyomizu-Dera with its wooden platform overhanging the valley is one of Kyoto’s defining sights. On my way up to the temple, there was a colourful crowded parade of souvenir shops and galleries.
Indeed sushi and tempura are easily available in our home country and globally but there’s a plethora of Japanese cuisine that may provide new and delicious discoveries. Regional specialities abound and should be explored. It’s difficult to explain but somehow Japanese cuisine embodies a certain subtlety of flavour and mix of texture rarely found in other cuisines. Another significant feature that impresses me is the exquisite presentation which looks like it has been painstakingly crafted.
Vending machines are ubiquitous so we don’t have to be concerned about thirst and hunger pangs.
At the recent Tokyo Olympics, foreign journalists were fascinated by convenience stores or konbini. It’s undoubtedly one of the best things about living in Japan. One of them even dedicated an entire story to the myriad of snacks he sampled.
A unique and delectable pastry I discovered was the Tokyo banana. It has a short shelf-life and a smooth texture that melts in your mouth.
There is far more to discover beyond these highly enjoyable stereotypes and it should be on every traveller’s list at least once. To travel is to live – Hans Christian Anderson.
Chuck is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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