Photo of the day: Gion, Kyoto.

We did not spend too much time in Japan but I was able get a general sense of it. Aaron’s opinion probably also influenced some of my thoughts about this country. I compared it a lot to South Korea because they were the most similar out of the countries we visited this trip.

Culture

Compared to South Korea, Japan definitely has more Western influences and also has more diversity. At the same time, here was where we were by default spoken to in Japanese even though we both did not look very Japanese. It was only when we say “English?” that they would switch to English. This was different than Korea and Vietnam where they assumed we didn’t speak their language. Thailand was an exception because we look Thai. Technology is definitely advanced just looking at their toilets and their robots in various stores and malls. Because space is very limited, many stores are built up. Japan is where you can find multi-level stores compared to the wider layout of the North American stores. Efficiency is one thing I really appreciated here. The ordering system and seating at restaurants are optimized so wait time is limited once you were seated. The waits to be seated, on the other hand can be substantial since there are many small bar-seat only restaurants. Most people can probably finish their meals in 10-15 minutes if they wanted to, especially if you were eating alone and not to socialize, which I saw a lot of. Cleanliness is one thing I really appreciated about Japan. For the most part, the washrooms were very clean, there was no garbage on the streets and “clean” and “dirty” areas of the home or the onsens are kept clearly distinct.

Food

There were cheaper options for food here compared to in South Korea, including soba and ramen. There were fewer side dishes and the portion-sizes were smaller so I felt less stuffed after a meal. The main seasoning for food is soy sauce and mirin so a lot of their food is sweet and salty. The spice powder is equivalent to the Korean hot pepper sauce and the Vietnamese Nuoc Mam and is found at the table side of most meals to complement most food. The quality of the raw fish here is definitely one thing I will really miss as well as the quality of their noodles.

Weather

I enjoyed the warmer weather here compared to South Korea. I heard January can be very cold, wet and windy though. I think I would probably prefer to return in the spring time where the temperatures will be pleasant and the sakuras will be blooming.

Language

I definitely did not pick up too much Japanese. I tried learning some basic phrases but I found it more difficult to remember than Korean. I am fortunate that I can read Kanji so I was able to understand some signs and menu items, so I felt I was less confused than in Korea and Thailand in terms of reading.

Top food picks

  1. Gyukatsu @ Gyukatsu Motomura
  2. Fatty tuna at Tsujiki Market
  3. Blue fin tuna @ Uobei
  4. Ramen @ Ippudo
  5. Cheese tarts @ Bake

Most amazing sights

  1. View from Tokyo Sky Tree
  2. Shibuya crossing
  3. View from Okochi Santo
  4. Patch of rape bloosoms @ Hama Rikyu Gardens

Firsts

  • First time in Japan.
  • First time eating blue fin tuna. Eating sushi/sashimi in Canada will never be the same.
  • First time eating at a “train” sushi restaurant.
  • First time staying at a Ryokan and sleeping on a futon.
  • First time wearing a Yukata.
  • First time eating Okonomiyaki
  • First time eating Wagyu – love it!
  • First time taking the “bullet train”.
  • First time sleeping on a “semi-double” bed. It is actually not that bad; it is much more comfortable than sleeping 2 people on a twin.
  • First time in a Japanese onsen!
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