In a slight respite from my usual daily ramblings about the relative successes and failures of my life in Tokyo, this post is written as an open letter as to why you should come and visit Japan, as part of the excellent Japan Matsuri blog, more details of which can also be found here: Japan Blog Matsuri FAQ page.
Given the events of 11th March of this year (for anyone living under a rock and/or in Norwich there was a devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear ‘scare’), Japan might not seem like the ideal tourist location for some, but in my opinion nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst a list of things to actually do once you get to Japan would take up a preposterous amount of space, I believe that the main reasons for visiting can be simplified as thus: the ambience; the scenery; and the people.
First the ambience; Japan is a wonderfully diverse country, constantly in a state of beautiful artistic war between the traditions of the past, and the technologies of the future, the results of which make for a country that is steeped in history, and is also one of the few places on Earth that is modern without being Westernized. Tokyo in particular is one of those gorgeous cities (much like London) that has an incredibly provincial feel to it, meaning that even though you are sharing breathing space with around 11 million people, you never feel completely swamped by the sprawling metropolis. You can find yourself wandering through the youth stained streets of Harajuku one minute, trying to work out if that person really was dressed as a cactus eating zombie with a parrot on his shoulder, and a (reasonably) short train ride later you can be meandering through the old town atmosphere of Asakusa, trying desperately to avoid looking like a tourist even though you may have been living here for a considerable amount of time (trust me you will fail).
Secondly, the scenery; from the snow-capped majesty of Mt. Fuji to the white sands and crystal blue seas of Nijima, Japan really does have it all. And once you get outside of the cities and into rural Japan the landscape is simply breathtaking. Having almost died of cold during my ascent to the top of Mt. Fuji I would recommend investing in some thermal underwear/a functioning circulation system before attempting that particular feat, but even if you are not able to climb Japan’s most revered peak, there are literally thousands more hills, mountains, and trail walks to choose from, all of which offer a captivating and unique glimpse into what for me is the true jewel in Japan’s crown, it’s unrivalled natural beauty.
And so finally the people; of all the places I have visited and lived in across the world, I have yet to come across a more polite, sincere and genuinely wonderful race of people as the Japanese, and nowhere is this more evident than when you are attempting to communicate. Let’s face it learning Japanese is bloody difficult (On the pain threshold I currently rate it as somewhere between having a full frontal lobotomy without anesthetic, and listening to Piers Morgan read extracts from his autobiography), but the one thing that makes it at all bearable is the patience that is shown to you as you attempt to come to grips with the Devils’ Tongue. Can you imagine what would happen if you were in Paris and you asked the shop assistant for some diarrhea, when what you really wanted was ginger, or if in Berlin you happened to call a girl that you met in a club scary instead of cute? Exactly, yet these common (to me at least) linguistic faux pas are just dealt with by the Japanese with a smile, a nod of the head, and a sincere display of gratitude for honoring them with your unrivalled command of their language.
In short, a trip to Japan, be it for a couple of weeks vacation, a few months travelling, or with the intention of residency, is one that you will never forget. And when you do get here and you find yourself trying to explain to the lady in McDonalds that even though you requested no ice in your drink, you still expect the cup to be filled all the way to the top, just remember this: at least you didn’t accidentally give yourself an enema in the hotel toilet on your first night. And if you did, then bravo and welcome to Japan!