Greetings from Japan! I'm writing this while in the midst of a jam packed week in this country. From Tokyo to Kyoto to Osaka and back to Tokyo, my days so far have been filled with nonstop sightseeing and eating.
For anyone who read my Favorite Travel Moments of 2016 post, you may have seen that Japan was very high on my travel bucket list for 2017, so to be here, writing a blog post from the Shinkansen train, feels pretty amazing. Slightly sweaty, as Kyoto is going through a heat wave, but still amazing.
The last several days have been sensory overload in the best way possible, as is often the case when we travel somewhere new. For me, taking in three distinctly different cities has left me with a few initial impressions of Japan that I thought I would share.
By no means does a few days in Japan make me an expert on anything Japanese. These are simply a few of my initial observations as a tourist in Japan:
1. These cities are so clean - Everything is relative, right? Well, I come from a dirty city. Sorry, New York, but it's the truth - ya dirty. Tokyo in comparison? So clean! Kyoto and Osaka? Also clean! Yes, parts of these cities are gritty but in terms of cleanliness, my initial impression of Japan is that it's very clean and the train in particular is almost spotless with very few trash cans in sight. I'm impressed.
2. Many things are very efficient - In addition to being clean, from what I can tell, many things are very efficient, notably the public transportation system. Not to keep making comparisons to New York (okay, maybe a little), but the transportation system in Japan puts the New York MTA to so much shame. Even one of the world's busiest intersections, Shibuya Crossing, is so efficient in how it's set up. As someone who considers herself an efficient soul, I found my efficient soulmate in the form of a country.
3. They are very precise - If you ever buy something in Japan, don't be surprised if you end up waiting an extra 45-60 seconds while the person who rang up your purchase carefully folds your item and/or wraps it neatly and precisely before giving it to you. They are precise in that way. I have found the Japanese people I've come across to also be very precise in their attire - nothing sloppy or unkempt - as well as in their time. Those trains leave and arrive on the dot, so don't be late.
4. People are mostly welcoming and friendly - I wish I could say everywhere I travel is welcoming and friendly but we all know that's not the case. As a woman of color, I am perhaps even more cognizant of how I'm received in a new country. In some places, there's intense curiosity while in others people just don't care. I've found many people in Japan to be overall warm and friendly, particularly in Tokyo. While walking down the street or through the park, so many people smiled casually in greeting. Also, when people hear I live in New York and am of Jamaican descent, they get so excited. Lots of love for both New York City and Jamaican culture. It's been a welcoming feeling to experience.
5. The food is ridiculous (as in amazing) - I had very high expectations coming to Japan because I eat sushi and sashimi at least once a week in New York and love other foods like okonomiyaki, ramen and gyoza. So far, the food has far exceeded my expectations across the board. I've had cheap amazing food, expensive amazing food, amazing food in the train station, amazing food in a random diner that was the only place open on a Monday at 3pm in our neighborhood in Kyoto, and just amazing food all around. So, yes, the food is ridiculous.
6. Styles run the gamut - Having visited three of Japan's major cities, I've had the opportunity to observe the various styles that Japanese urbanites are donning, and the styles certainly run the gamut. I've found many in Tokyo tend to dress classic and simple with minimal colors while Osaka residents have an edgier, more colorful style. Then there are the harajuku fashions and baby girl trend with crazy high platform shoes. These are simplifications but the gist is that styles truly run the gamut from what I can tell, though overall Tokyo feels more subdued than I anticipated in terms of fashion. The other thing I'll say about Tokyo style - many of the women commute in heels like it's nothing. Kudos to you, ladies.
7. There's a lot of fried and carb-heavy food but people are also very active - So much of Japanese food is fried and/or carb heavy. Yes, there's also a lot of fresh fish and other proteins but so many food items are heavy, and yet what I've also noticed is that people are extremely active. I've seen so many people cycling to get from one place to another, running along the parks and rivers and even the children with their athletic bags on the train. I've noticed bicycles everywhere. Perhaps this doesn't seem unusual or worth commenting on but it feels like people are overall more fit and active than many other cities, despite all the fried and/or carb-laden food I see everywhere.
8. So many things are convenient - It's the little convenient things in Japan that I love. For example, the hook on the wall to hang up your coat on the Shinkansen train, the arrows to show you where to go up or down or left or right, the signs of where to board and how far to go in meters and then there are the toilets. I love the toilets. They're not all the same but many that I saw have heated seats and other interesting washing features. One even had a flush sound button for times when you don't want to flush but perhaps just want the flush sound? Anyway, I love these little conveniences that make life easier.
All this to say, I'm really enjoying Japan so far. More to come, but those are my initial impressions for now 😊