To step foot in Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun, was a dream came true for me! I still remember the urge to go to Japan for an exchange year when I was barely 17 years old. Something about Japan that attracted me – culture, food, language, school, manga, anime, etc…everything as seen in Japanese series! However, that didn’t happen 13 years ago. I would be lying saying that I expected nothing after all these years but to be frank, I don’t know what to expect anymore as my expectations changed over the years. Therefore, being in Japan for half a month gave me probably just a small insight of Japan! As much as I enjoyed my stay there, I couldn’t imagine myself living there for good. Nevertheless, I would definitely love to visit Japan again and explore more. Japan seems to have more to offer and half a month wasn’t enough.
Just being there for about two weeks, I’ve notice…
1. Japanese are extremely polite and friendly. I could ask for directions only in English and no matter how poor their English is, Japanese are very helpful. I only wished they didn’t apologise that much for not being able to speak better English. Seriously, I hope they lose their temper sometimes. I can’t imagine having to hold all the feelings in and continue smiling and be nice, even though deep down I was mad. I just can’t read their emotions, it’s cheerful all the way, all the time! When everyone was so friendly, I became more polite. Before I knew, I had started to bow, say thank you and all the basic greetings before meal, after meal, etc.
2. Eventually foreigners started speaking Japanese (even though broken) when they stay longer as English is not necessarily being used everywhere, not even in touristic areas. Looking like a Japanese, everyone just spoke to me in Japanese. Maybe I could pick up the language one day.
3. Japanese with heavy make ups! If I had stayed longer in the city, especially areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku, I think my barely-visible make up would turn something else. I went shopping at Shibuya 109 and it felt like walking into Disneyland. All the sales girls looked like princesses from cartoon characters!
4. The coolest automatic toilet! I really appreciated having the toilet seat heated during the winter. It took me quite some time to figure out all these buttons to wash separate areas with different strength of water volume, etc. There is even a button to make the sound of flowing water so that someone next door doesn’t hear any noises! However, I wonder how much electricity being use to generate all their automatic electronic gears!
5. Shinkansen (bullet trains) really makes travelling within Japan easy. I took Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto and requested for a window seat overlooking Mt. Fuji. The view was magnificent. However, most of the time, it was almost impossible to look at buildings close by due to the fast speed of the train. It was better to focus my vision further!
6. Japanese are all about following the laws. Fortunately, most things work in Japan as people abide by the rules. Nobody drink and drive! People line up to get into the public transport and they wait until everyone gets out before walking in. I just took the ERL to Putrajaya from KL Sentral and it was different. I stood beside the entrance, allowing the passengers to get out. The next thing I knew, everyone else, even those behind me just bypassed me and walked in while people were still getting out! In my head, I was thinking, hell, where’s your manners??!!
7. Food is healthy in Japan and delicious too! Apparently the same food kept appearing in my head each time someone asked me what I would like to eat. All my head told me was udon, soba, rice and sushi! And I think I tried more internal organs over a meal in Japan than I ever had in my entire life in Malaysia. Surprisingly, the food was very fulfilling. I always felt hungry before I ordered my meal but half way through it, I already felt full. I blame it on the weather…I just felt hungry the whole time! After half a month of Japanese food, I was more than happy to have Malaysian food!
8. Talking about food! It’s polite to say itadakimasu before meal and gochiso sama deshita after meal. Of course, if the food is good, just say oishi ne! It’s rude to slurp the noodles but trust me but while eating zaru soba (cold noodles), do slurp!!! It actually tastes better! I remembered a Japanese friend encouraged me to slurp and she said it was alright to be loud. It was hard to do it initially as I didn’t want everyone to turn and watch me slurping noodles! However, once I did it, I understood why zaru soba has to be eaten this way!
9. Japanese walk a lot! I barely saw any obese Japanese! With all the walking they have to do, I think it is understandable. Just when I thought I might lose some weight walking whole day but it was the opposite. Apparently I walked a lot but I ate more! I’m still in denial, hoping the scale lied about my weight!
10. Customer service is ichiban!! Despite the fact most of them only converse in Japanese, they are always polite and helpful. I was really touched to see this. I was seated in a bus and when a man on a wheelchair wanted to board the bus at a bus stop, I was surprised to see the bus driver came down and told him nicely to wait. He then went to get another staff. After moving the bus nearer to the pathway, the bus driver folded two seats to make place for the wheelchair while the other staff pulled out a platform that connected the bus to the pathway. They both then helped wheeled the man onto the bus. It wasn’t just the courtesy of the staff that amazed me. The other passengers who waited patiently in line outside the bus only get on the bus after the handicapped man. I could bet 100% that people in wheelchair would never opt to take public transport in Malaysia and everyone would just push their way to get on the bus. When the bus arrived at his bus stop, the bus driver once again pulled out the platform, helped the man get off the bus and adjusted the 2 seats back before driving to the next stop! Salute Japan!!
11. Green tea obsession! Green tea is quite common nowadays worldwide. However, in Japan it’s common to have green tea or oolong tea daily. The ‘real’ green tea in Japan…omg! People who appreciate the taste, they would always say oishi!! For me, I like the smell of green tea, however the taste…pure bitter! Usually it is served with sweet dessert, which was what I always had with green tea! They also have more products with green tea, e.g green tea kit kat, cream puff, chocolate, etc.
12. My fav – manga and anime! Of course I didn’t understand Japanese but having to see all these characters on shelves – keychains, biscuits, fridge magnets, puzzles, toys, towels, stationary, stickers, pins, etc! Luckily my only addiction is One Piece! Even so, I had to hold back the temptation to buy anything with One Piece! In the end, I still bought Monkey. D. Luffy collectible figure!
13. Not forgetting Manga Coffee Shop!! I always thought it sounded so cool, a place to sleep! I really hoped there’s such a place in Malaysia. Imagine walking downtown for hours, I could just pay a decent amount of money to have a nap. Extremely helpful! Just to try it out, Asuka, my Japanese friend brought me there! Well gotta say, it was cozy! Wifi, drinks, computer, tv and pillows, mattress were available! It’s cheaper than staying in a hotel!
14. How could I forget Onsen!!! This should top my list actually! To be frank, I was feeling uneasy about going naked among all these naked women! Yes, someone told me, everyone has the same thing! True but still…walking stark naked in public (although enclosed) ain’t something I do at all! However, just one time and it felt natural. I know, sounds weird but it wasn’t that bad. In fact, I got addicted to onsen. It was definitely one of the things I looked forward to do at Narusawa! They really know how to pamper their customers with hot shower (well, we didn’t have shower at the accommodation), all the facilities (hairdryer, moisturizer cream, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, scrubs, you name it, they have it!), free-flow green tea and water, massage, set menus, etc.
15. 15 days in Japan so I’ll make this my last, even though I think there’s more. Being there during the start of winter made me realise that I actually can’t stand the cold. I could get by sweating in hot climate but to freeze the whole time felt torturing! Every morning I dread to wake up in a warm climate where I weren’t freezing! Not everywhere I stayed has heated toilet seat. I swear my butts froze when I used the toilet! All I could think was finish the business and pull my pants up! It was probably the first time I brushed my teeth and washed my face in such icy water! In my head, I thought 很委屈啊! Many said it’s colder in Switzerland. I obviously didn’t remember so, maybe because every house there has centralised heating, even though without heated toilet seat!
There are four seasons in Japan. Almost every Japanese friend said regardless of the season, it’s always full of tourists. I would definitely like to go back to Japan to experience other seasons. It barely snowed when I was there but I doubt I would go back during the winter again!