A beginner’s guide to Japan
Japan is a fascinating country that somehow effortlessly blends the ancient traditions of yesterday with the technology and ambition of tomorrow. It’s also a surprisingly easy country to visit - even if you don’t speak or read any Japanese.
Here’s a quick guide to some of the essentials.
It’s not just the face masks that everyone wears, but throughout day-to-day life in Japan there seems to be a general awareness of cleanliness and hygiene that’s quite impressive.
If you ask locals why they wear face masks, they’ll tell you that you wear a face mask if you have a cold so that you don’t pass on your germs to anyone else. However, in reality, the ubiquitous face-masks seem to have become a bit of a safety blanket in every respect.
You’ll also see a lot of hygienic wipes in Japan - whenever you’re in a restaurant or a cafe, whatever you order will be accompanied by a small, disposable hygienic wipe. It quickly becomes second-nature to wipe your hands before every meal.
Japanese food is amazing and surprisingly diverse . You quickly begin to appreciate the regional and seasonal variations in the cuisine as you travel through the country.
While it’s hard to beat really good sushi and sashimi, my favourite dish in Japan is always tempura - covered in batter and deep-fried is the only way to eat vegetables.
One of the best ways to experience the huge range of local produce that’s available in Japan is to visit the food markets. Plus, you should also embrace the street food – even if you don’t know what you’re ordering, it’s worth giving it a try.
Japan’s ancient traditions and customs are fascinating – whether it’s Kabuki theatre, Sumo wrestling, or their talents for garden design and calligraphy.
It’s also intriguing to explore some of their more contemporary cultural developments, such as anime and manga – the graphic art predominantly found in comics and novels. Some of the themes explored in the world of Anime can be fairly extreme and deal with subjects that might otherwise be considered taboo, with a heavy emphasis on sex and violence.
Japan is famous for its trains, and the Shinkansen or ‘bullet train’ really sets the benchmark for what train travel should be - constant departures, and a fleet of modern trains that are spacious and efficient. The service on the trains is incredibly professional – neatly uniformed ticket inspectors bow politely as they enter each character and then bow politely again as they leave the carriage once all tickets have been checked.
The other main mode of transport seems to be cycling. Cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto lend themselves to cycling because they’re flat and have wide pavements. Cyclists and pedestrians share the pavements – this makes it particularly safe for the cyclists, but a bit hair-raising for the pedestrians who have to be on their toes to dodge the numerous cycles as they wobble uncertainly along.