I don't like picking favourites but Japan is by far, my #1 favourite country to travel in the the world. But why?
Whenever I try to describe what it's like travelling in Japan, I always explain it as being submersed into a cultural ice bucket. Just, wow. From the moment we landed in the country for our six week explorations, we were confronted with intriguing differences.
Cultural norms in Japan dictate the utmost respect to everyone, and smiles are a permanent fixture. Anger, judgment and ridicule – if they do exist – are masked behind embarrassed laughter, smiles, or stoic expressions. Overt negativity is nowhere to be found. From fetishes catered to by vending machines with used panties, to cartooned versions of everything from feces to donuts, Japan is just… fascinating.
This list sums up why Japan is so weird, wonderful, and arguably one of the most awesome places you can visit.
1. Cartooned versions of everything.
Like this welcome sign to the city of Beppu which made me feel like disembarking the train actually meant I'd beat a real-life video game level.
Or this smiling pile of shit for a laxative ad.
And this laundromat with whales, complete with helpful elephants on the instruction boards inside.
I don't know what this says, but it seems I better listen to what this cute lion has to say.
This sign was outside of some chiropractic-type office. The vertebrate are so happy they're smiling.
This is so damn adorable, how could you throw a can over the bridge onto a boat after looking at this? DO YOU WANT TO HURT THE BOAT?!
2. Arguably the best Engrish translations in existence.
Spot the “charm box” next to the floor toilet? Hint: do not stick your hand in there looking for charms – you will find none.
It's impossible for me to look at this and not laugh. I feel bad as it's more due to the very cross-eyed cat featured dead centre and less about the subtle Engrish.
This next one is so…. poetic.
3. They make plastic food look incredible – and it's everywhere.
Annnnd the real version ain't bad either.
4. Their incredibly bizarre and strangely addictive music videos.
If you get stuck in the rabbit hole of YouTube watching Japanese videos, that's not my fault. But at least watch this one, 'cause 1. It's ridiculously catchy 2. It will give you a 3 minute 55 second full-on immersion of Japanese culture. A-ma-zing.
5. Their toilets play music, spray water in various directions, and heat your butt.
My first introduction with a Japanese toilet ended with music playing and water spraying everywhere while I was still pants-down, standing up, and panicking like crazy.
But seriously, you can choose from a wide variety of music, nature sounds, and water running effects to play while you go, as seen by the electronic panel on the wall. You can spray your front, back, or both with warm water when you're done your 21st century poop. Japan made me sad when I had to return to the real world and sit on a cold toilet seat again.
6. They have the kindest people on earth.
I have so many stories about how nice people in Japan are, but here's a couple of favs.
We were beginning our Shimani-Kaido multi-day biking experience when Ted wiped out on his bike on flat terrain (that last detail was necessary). He recovered with but a small knee scratch, no biggie. About 10 minutes later, a lady in a car pulled over – she had seen his wipe-out, gone back to her house, drove around to find us and offer a makeshift first aid kit (a sandwich bag with approximately 25 bandaids and a full tube of Polysporin). She repeatedly asked Ted if he was okay. Embarassed, he confirmed he was fine and declined (looking back he should have accepted it). But seriously, where else would this happen?
Event two. We were wandering Kanazawa when we felt we were being followed. We hadn't had that sense of concern since being in South America and were unsure what to do. Eventually the couple that had been hovering approached us – they simply wanted to meet, talk and have a photo op. We chatted and talked for a short period of time in limited English – they were super friendly and just wanted to interact. I love Japanese people!
My final brief example is the genuine excitement that Japanese people hold towards tourists. Blonde-haired blue-eyed people like myself (no matter how short or fugly) are continually commented on as being “kawaii” or “cute” in Japanese. They can't even contain it. On a day to day basis, people would walk by me and uncontrollably squeal “kawaii!!!“. This is the only time in my life I ever felt like a celebrity – thank you Japan.
7. Harajuku girls: 'nuff said.
Maybe you only know Harajuku girls from Gwen Stefani's wicked song years back, but they are a real deal. Essentially, girls (and a handful of guys) dress in extravagantly wild attire, unrestricted by the imagination. Walk into the Harajuku district of Tokyo on a Sunday and you'll find a huge collection of young people eccentrically dressed and posing for shots.
8. They embrace the weird.
Everything in Japan is weirdly unique, and things you just couldn't dream up are abundant and/or normal here. Like this parasite museum – the only one of its kind in the world (and yes that is a parasite-filled organ amongst many other parasite infested tissues & animals on display there).
And then there's this plastic smile-trainer so you can have the perfect perma-smile. Better yet, there's the ass cream beside it, which, from what I can loosely gather, will tear your rectum open and give you a whole new amazingly smooth butt.
Or this $52 watermelon, next to the $57 boxed candy that looks like fruit.
This robot restaurant in Tokyo involves dinosaur robot battles and girls operating real 10ft+ robots and is, in a word, AMAZING.
XXL McDonald's French Fries, only found in Japan. That's right, nowhere else in the world has this size of Mcfries. What.
Their obsession with photobooths. Not just photobooths, but dressing in costume, changing your facial features, & becoming “so kawaii it's not fair!”
Last but not least – Japan has the most vending machines of anywhere in the world. Want a hot banana drink in a can? No problem. Melon-flavoured cream soda? Sure. Feel like playing some lotto slots while buying a beverage? Give this one a go then:
9. The weirdest flavours of everything.
Like these gross popsicles: cheese (which, sadly did not taste like cheesecake as I'd hoped) and corn (barf).
Salami Doritos – which were tasty by the way (as were all their other unique Dorito flavours – yep, shamelessly tried 'em all).
This wasabi-flavoured ice cream– which was actually quite palatable.
And this sour lemon flavoured cotton candy – which was delicious.
10. Making everything possible adorable.
Like this insanely cute but 100% real elderly people crossing sign, which makes me want to tear up, it's just so kawaiiiiii!
Or the cutest police station I've ever seen – decked out in stuffed animals and everything cute because who can break the law when it's so kawaiiiii!
These totally real duck-faced construction pilons pretty much sum up how dedicated Japan is to being the cutest country in existence.
So, if you didn't gather from this post that Japan is clearly the best place to travel on earth, then I should probably just shut down this blog now.
Really though, Japan is incredible. It's basically an amusement park. Where else can you be so overcome by childlike wonder just walking down the street? Nowhere, that's where. I am dying to return.
What's your fav weird thing about Japan? Have you been?