I have to admit I haven't posted in a while here, well, only a couple days really. But my excuse is that I’ve been traveling around Japan with little to no Internet. But today, I’d like to take the chance to share with you a couple of the things I've seen over the last 2-3 weeks.
For this article, I’m choosing more of a diary style format. Makes me remember of how blogging really used to be 10 years ago. Just writing, straight from the heart without making it feel like a perfect "piece" or calling it an "article". Just thoughts, from me, to you.
I arrived in Japan a little over two weeks ago and I’m absolutely in love with it. I’m staying in a friend’s apartment in Ebisu which is pretty close to Shibuya, the city center. As you can imagine, coming straight from New York a 13-hour time difference hits you pretty hard. I spent most of my first week running around Tokyo getting familiar with the city and making the most out of my jet lag.
In the 2+ weeks I’ve been here, I can already rank Tokyo at least on the same level as New York on my list of favorite cities in the world, closely followed by Barcelona. To describe Tokyo as briefly as possible, I’d say it’s a clean and organized version of New York. It’s massive, but everything works smoothly.
Compared to New York, the subway is clean, fast and on time. You also have reception on the train, underground. Everyone is extremely polite and respectful. In the last two weeks I haven’t heard one car honk, compared to New York, where you can barely count to 10 before you hear someone honking.
The food is delicious. I haven’t had a single bad meal yet and I’ve had Japanese, Italian, American, French and Israeli. I’m obsessed with Japanese sweets. My goal is to try most of it before I leave the country, and yes, I’m fully aware that I’ll have to postpone my beach body goal, yet again, to next year.
Here are a couple more fun facts and observations from Tokyo:
The majority of people I see wear these white medical face masks. I’ve tried to understand why, but so far I’ve heard many reasons. Some people wear them because they’re sick and they don’t want to spread germs any further. Others wear them to avoid getting sick, even though they’re healthy. Pollen and allergies is a big reason. Air pollution is too. Although, according to my research, these masks are pretty useless when it comes to air pollution. Some wear them to obscure their identity, and some wear them because it’s simply a fashion item. Fact is, a lot of people wear them but probably all for different reasons.
Tokyo, and Japan in general, speaks almost zero English. I did expect that I wouldn’t see people speaking English on the countryside, but I was surprised to learn that people (even young ones) in Tokyo don’t speak English. Or at least, they might not want to. For a massive city like this, it hit me by surprise, but you will get along just fine.
Tokyo and the rest of the country still runs on cash. Most restaurants and other shops don’t accept credit cards, which is kinda surprising as most of the country seems very modern to me. On top of it, using cash doesn’t seem to be very compatible with the Japanese obsession with hygiene (nothing worse than touching coins full of germs).
More than 80% of all households and pretty much all public bathrooms in Japan have the so-called “super toilets.” They’re essentially a toilet and bidet in one. Gotta appreciate a clean butt.
Process, process, process. There is a process and rule for everything. I thought it couldn’t get more strict than German, but Japan is extremely organized and lives on rules. It’s very interesting to observe all the little details. I think for me it's interesting to observe, but if you live here or are born here I can imagine it being quite extreme for some of us who're not used to that much procedures. I mean, I even feel bad in Tokyo for crossing a small street where there is no designated crosswalk. (people just don't do that here). Same goes with crossing a street as a pedestrian when the light is red. In New York you cross anyway, as long as there is no car you're fine. In Tokyo, no one does it. The rules are there to be respected, not to be broken, even if you might think a certain rule doesn't matter that much.
Another thing I’m absolutely obsessed with is the architecture, especially contemporary architecture. There is so much of it. I’ve been hunting down new buildings every day and as you might have noticed, my Instagram is finally active again. I'm planning to put up another article just talking about architecture with some images and a little architecture tour.
Let’s talk about shopping. The city is a dream for those who are into fashion, or anything really. Most places also offer tax free shopping which makes it even more worthwhile.
The best areas to shop in right now are Ebisu, Shibuya, Daikanyama, everything around Jingumae and Kita-Aoyama. The best way I’ve found to shop is to explore based on the “brown” pockets you see on Google maps. Those are usually the nice streets filled with interesting things. I’m thinking about another article that only focuses on good stores for shopping; it would be just too much to list them all here.
Last week I had the opportunity to go sightseeing on the two islands Teshima and Naoshima, both filled with dozens of museums and beautiful art. I will be sure to include the best of both islands in my architecture/art article.
After seeing the two islands, we went to a brief trip to Kyoto which was even more beautiful and had a more traditional feel compared to Tokyo. After that, a quick trip to Gifu to check out the Site of Reversible Destiny, a hidden gem far away from the city.
I’ve been traveling with a Japanese friend of mine and have learned a lot about the culture (thank you, Ayaka) while traveling to more countryside destinations and staying at traditional ryokans. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese hotel you could say, but more like an Airbnb with an active host that might even cook for you. I quickly learned how incompatible my body is with traditional Japanese houses. I kept bumping my head and had a hard time sitting on the floor eating on tables that are about 50cm high. I’ll admit that I’m not the most flexible person, so that was a big challenge for me.
Overall I’m in love with Tokyo and can easily imagine living here for a little bit longer. Luckily I still have 10 more days to stay and hope to share with you much more over the course of next week. Watch out for another article soon, diary style again. And of course, the two articles, one about shopping and one about architecture.