Japan is truly a magical place. I think a big explanation for its allure is how different it is to the West. These are my favorite things about Japan!
Japanese food is more than just sushi, ramen, curry, etc. It’s the ability to be simple, and to use natural flavors instead of relying on multiple layers of seasoning and sauces. The simple truth is that the quality of food in Japan is generally better than in America. You can go to affordable spots in Japan and still get food that’s amazing. My favorite dishes are sukiyaki, shabushabu, curry, tebasaki, tenpura… okay, I’m probably naming too many things… but yeah, there’s just too many to name, really. If you’re a fan of sushi, Japan is the no-brainer place to get it. Not one sushi restaurant will have frozen fish, which is a sad practice at many sushi spots in America. Things such as using frozen fish affect the taste negatively, and that’s where the quality shows up in Japanese food.
Onsen 温泉 is the Japanese word for “Hot Spring”. Now, my foreigners are likely to be uncomfortable in an onsen, since you’re naked in big bath with a bunch of other naked people, but going to a Japanese onsen is definitely something to experience. These are magical places that transport me back in time. The setting is of traditional Japan, and is usually a beautiful Japanese garden with great scenery to enjoy while you relax in natural hot spring water. Many onsens are paired with Japanese style hotels, and this is the biggest treat of all. Though a little pricey, it’s well worth it. Stay in a Japanese room, get your onsen robe, head to the onsen, go back to your room when finished, and get ready for a lovely traditional Japanese meal served to you in your room. To me, this was the pinnacle. I took this next photo at an onsen in Fuji that had a special room with your own personal tub right outside. Just turn on the water that pumps directly from the natural hot spring, and experience bliss.
There are so many interesting and fun festivals you can attend. Some are local, and some can be a little far, but they’re well worth the trip. How many of you have been to a Samurai Festival? I have, and it was amazing. How about requesting to leave school early so you can go to the naked festival? Yeah, never thought that’d happen. This festival isn’t a bunch of people walking around naked, but nearly naked. For more information, look here. Here’s one of my videos of the naked festival from back in 2010. There are so many different festivals to attend, and they’re a lot of fun. Festivals are a great way to experience Japan’s rich history and culture.
When I first moved to Japan, I had the opportunity to go to a sumo event in Nagoya. This blew my mind; it was like I actually traveled back in time. The whole event is full of tradition. I felt like I was going to a Medieval Times show, except this was the real deal. Sumo elements have been preserved throughout time. You even sit cross legged on a little pillow, so cramping up is a possibility if you aren’t used to it. If you ever get the chance to visit Japan, don’t miss out on seeing a sumo event.
You might think this is silly, but Japan has amazing public transportation. Everything is on time, it’s everywhere, and you don’t need a car! I lived my 5 years in Japan using only a bicycle and their public transportation. There’s no need to worry about getting a DUI, because subways are everywhere, and so are taxis if you want to pay a bit more. Worried about public intoxication? Don’t, because you can drink in public… just don’t overdue it by bringing alcohol on subways (though I have on a few special outings with friends). The best way to describe their transportation is Benri べんり, which means “convenient,” because it really is!
Japan has absolutely beautiful temples. I was taken aback when visiting the massive temple in Kyoto. I love visiting places in Japan that make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Temples will definitely give you that fix. There are a lot of traditional things to see and experience at temples. Japanese temple gardens are probably some of the most beautiful in the whole world. They’re truly a work of art.
Lastly, I have to give it up to the people. For foreigners being 1% of the population, I think Japanese people do a fairly good job at showing kindness to foreigners. No place is perfect, and it can be easy to find faults, but in general, the Japanese people would put a smile on my face. I find many Americans to be a bit rude. Rudeness is a big turn off to the Japanese people, and it’s something I admire about them. I wish that sort of mentality was more prominent in my own country.
These are the aspects about Japan that hold a special place in my heart. Comment to let me know what you think, or share your own favorite things about Japan if you’ve had an experience of your own!