It was always my intention to visit Japan one day so when the England Rugby team qualified for the World Cup final in Tokyo and I found reasonably priced last minute flights the excitement got the better of me. I love the nervous excitement of discovering a new country and a new city, the people, the smells, the sounds. It’s a sensory overload and the land of the rising sun didn’t disappoint.
Flying to any long haul destination from Ibiza is always a hassle but I didn’t realise just how far away Japan is, a mere 10700 kms. So after a 27 hour journey I found myself in Tokyo.
The first thing you notice is how calm everyone and everything is. Trains have constant reminders to not talk loudly, to keep your phone on silent. No public displays of emotion, everything is kept under check, eye contact kept to a minimum. A calmness that I hadn’t seen anywhere before and a million miles away from the always overly dramatic Ibiza.
Japanese are friendly and polite in the extreme, it’s an important part of their culture, pleasantries are exchanged at all times. Everything is orderly and organised for convenience with the minimum amount of fuss. This is a very focussed country, built on rules and regulations.
Uniforms are everywhere, from parking attendants to bus drivers to road sweepers to the guy who holds up the sign that says ‘end of queue here’. If builders are working in the street then there’s several uniformed personnel hovering around with illuminated batons making sure that nobody is under any doubt about it.
The public transport system in and around Tokyo is superb if slightly baffling although every major city is confusing at first. If there is a problem there’s always a uniformed officer on hand to help, with friendly politeness of course.
One thing you can’t help notice is that fashion is taken very seriously in Japan, it that thrives on it, embraces it, loves it. It’s edgy in a way I’ve never seen before in Asia. They may not display their emotions publicly but in their fashion a freedom of expression is shown, it’s also androgynous at times with some blurred lines.
Food is everywhere. All convenience stores sell hot, delicious offerings and there’s more restaurant choice than you could ever need and it doesn’t have to be expensive either, a delicious bowl of noodles costing around 800 Yen, less than 7 euros.
What is abundantly clear is that Japan takes its collective personal hygiene very seriously. Faces masks are always in sight especially on public transport, this is a country that has a germ phobia. Public toilets are easy to find at all times with soap and tissues always on display. Inside the toilets cubicle the wonderful lavatories offer you a wide range of ‘services’ including shooting a jet of water to clean your behind.
Technology is an obsession. Robots clean floors, machines take your restaurant order. Mundane human chores have been alleviated in so many ways.
One thing I couldn’t get used to and was like a step back in time is that Japan still allowed smoking in bars and restaurants. As a vehement anti smoker it was like a horrible memory being revisited when the person on the next table lights up while you were still finishing off your meal. Very strange for a country so serious about its hygiene.
The Rugby World Cup in Japan was an amazing success and it was a pleasure to see it first hand (even though my team didn’t win). Japan has been on my to do list for many years and it was great to finally see it. It’s no wonder that everyone I spoke to raves about the county. It’s one of the safest in the world, the people are friendly and polite, the food is delicious, transport is easy and accesible and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Recommended!