Saturday, 20 July 2013


A swarm of tourists following a man with a flag around London is the image that the word ‘Japanese’ would have conjured in my mind, before my flight landed at Narita Airport, Tokyo.

The first thing that struck me about the city is how clean it is, the second that people genuinely queue for the tube and the third that people don’t eat or smoke on the streets.

It is as chaotic as you would imagine a city with 30 million inhabitants to be, but it also has a sense of calmness about it – its people seem focussed, respectful and dignified.

Parts of the city and the city of Osaka that I visited, you would imagine should belong in a science-fiction movie where flashy neon lights make a suffocating blanket of colour. Arriving at any of the main tube stations, you can simply feel everyone marching to a rapid drumbeat. The kanji character signs make the tube stations a jungle of foreignness at times, I got lost repeatedly.

In the electrical area of Tokyo, Akihabara, I found tides of businessmen playing on video consoles after their day's work. Besides electronic retailers lining the streets, you can find robot restaurants and maid cafes where the waiters dress up as certain characters.

The mayhem of the world's biggest fish market, Tsukijishijo, and dodging the scooters carrying purchased fish at 6am were definitely highlights of Tokyo for me.
Women often walk around with sun umbrellas as to ensure their skin stays as pale as possible; judging by how well they age, we should take note.

On a trip to Hakone with my friend, Liz, we stayed in a traditional Japanese hotel, a Ryokan, bathed naked in the traditional baths, Onsens, and took part in traditional and ever popular in Japan, karaoke. Heartfelt karaoke.

Egg ice cream featured in the trip to see the active volcano, Mount Fuji.

In search of a paradoxical mix of what the country could offer, I visited an esoteric Buddhist town, known as Koyasan, after taking a subway, two trains, a cable car and a bus from the city of Osaka. I slept in one of the sacred temples with the monks, dinner was served in my room at 5pm, and then I wasn't allowed to leave until morning prayer at 5am. Rather than discovering my inner spiritual being, the only thing that I discovered about myself was that I didn’t like Buddhist vegetarian food and it simply made me crave the madhouses of Japanese cities.

The attractive city of Kyoto is where they still have geishas, as well as endless temples, - according to a Japanese couchsurfer I met, it simply takes an intense interest in Japanese culture and 6 years of training to become a geisha. After I asked him endless questions about Japan, he joked that I could qualify; always good to have a back up career option...

Japan boasts one of the world's lowest crime rates and in comparison to a trip round South America, it is far less exhausting for a woman. I am told by people who have lived in the country for a while that ‘passive aggressiveness’ is common.

I don’t think that I have ever been anywhere where I have had such a yearning to know so much more about the way of life and its people by the time I leave.