Introduction to Japan
Japan is like no other country on Earth. Here, you can sleep in a pod hotel, buy pretty much anything from a vending machine (including beer), get naked with strangers in onsens (hot springs) and even see snow monkeys bathing in onsens! It’s incredible. Lying to the east of China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, Japan is an archipelago made up of 6,852 islands with the 4 largest and most populated being Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku. Honshu, the largest island, is where you’ll find Japan’s most well-known cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima.
Tokyo will blow your mind. This technicolour city doesn’t sleep and nor should you. You’ll be too busy roaming the 200 tiny bars of the Golden Gai in Shinjuku, seeing fish being flung around at the epic Tsukiji Fish Market, designer shopping in Ginza and karaoke-ing in Roppongi. Shibuya and Harajuku are super-cool areas for fashion sistas and fashion mistas too. And the Harajuku girls that hang by the bridge, you don’t just wake up looking like that. Cosplay awesomeness takes time.
Kyoto, the imperial capital of Japan, will show you the more traditional side of the country with its countless shrines and temples. Even McDonald’s had to change its red branding to brown fit in with the traditional architecture. It’s the place to head if you fancy spotting an elusive geisha, but you’ll have to be quick – they dash in and out of different tea houses. Even if you don’t see a geisha, there are loads of venues that’ll dress and make you up as one.
With the world’s tenth largest population (126 million people) in a very tiny country, Japan sure is a compact society. And you’ll need to get used to that, fast. Particularly in Tokyo. There’s no breathing room on trains, you can’t stop moving in train stations and most houses are of Polly Pocket proportions. While things may seem a little cramped, everything flows very efficiently and there’s no pushing and shoving – the Japanese are some of the most polite people you’ll ever meet. It’s the Shinto way of life. Just a note, while many Japanese can speak English, they are often very shy. So carry a language guide or you might just get ‘Lost in Translation’.