Since being a little girl, I have dreamed of going to the Land of the Rising Sun. I adored from afar Geshia, sushi, bullet trains, Kimonos and all things Japanese.
Over the years the closest I ever got to Japan was Thailand but being told how expensive it would be to travel to this great land, it was put on hold.
In 2011, Japan’s tsunami and nuclear disaster made me decide it was time to get my ass into gear and head there, that and feeling like I am having a midlife crisis and wanting to live abroad. Oh how I love England but hate the cold, politics and work ethics but in 2014 I plan to leave Blighty for good……
I am almost at the end of of journey while I write this blog. I am on a train from Matsue heading for Tokyo and then in two days I will board a flight bound back to Great Britain!
What I have learned in my near four weeks here are the following:
Its not as expensive as believed. Hey I live in the UK and its bloody expensive there?
Travelling around is brilliant, quick, effective and always on time. The train system in Japan is one all countries should adopt. I bought a JP rail pass for 21 days at the cost of £400.00 and have travelled from Tokyo all the way to Matsue, via Kyoto, Gion, Osaka, Hiromshima and even up to Mount Fuji and back. Saved a fortune using this cross country. Suica pass, paid 2000 yen at Narita airport but on return will get 500 yen deposit returned. This card is for all the metros and trains not on the JR pass line. Top up as and when you need it and very handy to have. You can also purchase things in shops with the card? Local day bus tickets are also available at a cheap cost so look out for them in each destination. In Hiroshima, I bought a street card unlimited pass for 600 yen and in Matsue a unlimited ticket was 500 yen. Good value. One form of transport I have not mentioned? Your feet and legs, I have walked for miles and miles and even wore out a pair of shoes in the process. Once you have your bearings, its not hard to navigate around. I saw some of the best sights that way.
Clean, its immaculate and they take great pride in not only the streets but also in their own appearance. This now leads me on to the toilets. Boy, its like having a computer to wash your botty? Will let you into a secret, toilet habits are a problem I have suffered for years. Not only could I never go on a public toilet with someone in the next stall but actually letting a partner see me on the loo was always and still would be, out of bounds. In Japan they have toilets that make a flushing sound while in motion, extra strong deodorants to cover any nasty smells and a even a bum/fanny washer, set to a temperature of your choice? I have been in loo heaven for a month. They even had a spare child seat in toilets for mothers to place babies while dealing with their toilet needs!
On the subject of clean, I read up about Onsen. This is a hot, usually out doors, naked herbal spring water bath! Now being outgoing and not afraid of my own nakedness, I have to give it a go? Problem number one, most places won’t allow tattoo’s and number 2, not found anywhere on my trip. When I arrived in Matsue, I noticed that on the tourist maps, a few places marked with Onsen. Matsue, is not a place English speaking tourist are known to visit so finding the ladies in the tourist information could communicate with me, they became my bessie mates for this part of my journey. A local Onsen was called for me and the lady explained that I was Western, female and tattooed, would it be a problem? No was the response, so off I pop, towel in bag for another new experience. What I have forgotten to mention is the said ladies in the Tourist Information, after asking where I have come from and how I found out about the place (my reply, research and internet), thank me profusely for coming to visit. I felt like the queen on a royal visit from Lancashire with the amount of thanks they were giving me! After my stay, I did see why all the thanks, I was the only Western, white, English speaking person there? Back to the Onsen, I hand over my 1000 yen, given directions by finger pointing and limited language skills and pointed in the direct of the ladies area. Now its three floors up in a hotel, not what I expected from my readings but in for a penny or should I say Yen?….. The changing room was a porno wicker furniture delight from the 1970’s. The pool was behind a sliding door and once i was naked as the day I was born, proceed to pool. At this point I am alone until I reach the pool, there are three middle age, totally naked, Japanese women, carrying on with their washing routine, sitting on small stools like milking maidens, porcelain skin and not a tattoo insight! In walks, brazen, naked very tattooed me and I manage to clear the place in 5 minutes, imagine sticking a vicious dog in a play ground of young kids and watch it empty lol, yep, that’s the scene? Don’t get me wrong, I am so use to my own company, being alone sometimes has its advantages. I had the whole place to myself for a good hour. I would recommend these herbal baths for aches and pains and the temperature is heaven. After the amount of walking I have done a good soak in a bath was just the ticket.
Politeness, the Japanese are unber polite and bow ALOT!!! I test this theory by bowing back and it becomes a game of who can bow the most… great fun until I get board and move on. They also have a delightful habit of greeting you with a saying ‘massey massay” as soon as you enter anywhere. Sometimes they don’t even have to see you, its like they have built in person radar!!!! I later find out, this phrase is just a greeting of hello or something similar? Still not sure if I should repeat it back so my Northern gob is shut lol!!!!!!
Drinks, vending machines and alcohol. Vending machines are everywhere and I do mean EVERYWHERE, even place like, temples, up Mount Fuji, middle off fields etc. I only saw machine that vended drinks and food but have been told you can get clothes as well? Will keep looking for these……. Alcohol, is a big thing here in Japan and seeing drunk Japanese men is hysterical as they bow even more with head drooping related alcohol drinking and the people opposite also then have to bow in response, I watched two old boys so drunk and bowing their heads so much they nearly head butted the table lol……….
Surgical face masks, these are worn more in major cities than outside in the country. I even saw black ninja masks worn by hip trendy kids. At first you think its a fear of pollution but Japan is very clean and use electric cars so not much pollution at all. It turns out the reason is, the Japanese have allergies and don’t want to sneeze or pass on any bugs they maybe carrying? Personally, I think its now become fashionable to wear and its a trend? If I was to wear one, I would have to paint my red lips on the outside …………..
Women and fashion. On my journey I have noticed four groups of style and fashion in Japanese men and women.
Number one, young girls: They can throw anything on and attach anything they like to themselves. They are so young and pretty they can carry it off!
Number two, mature ladies: They have great style and elegance in their attire and the shopping malls are full of clothes for them. I did not see one scruffy or over made up ladies. Take note here Western ladies, NO and I mean NO Scouse brows here!!!!!….,………
Number three, traditional dress: How wonderful to see so many people, not only women in traditional dress here but also men as well. Kimonos are bright and beautiful and make any lady of any age look stylish and elegant. Men in traditional dress look very handsome and even majestic in a samurai warrior way.
Number four, men’s fashion. Suits are still big over here and men still wear them on a Sunday. I do love a man in a suit, they look very smart. Black is the colour of choice here and I did spot a rather dapper young man who had matched a pin strip suit to a b&w checked shirt and a white tie! Shouldn’t have gone well but he pulled it off rather well! ……….. Let you into a little secret, shuush now, keep it to yourself, I actually got very smitten with some of the local men, swoon, swit swoo ……………
Accommodation. I wanted to experience everything possible so I booked:
Chisun Inn Tokyo. See bookings.com
Great hotel, good location and even smoking rooms- downside not very good wifi. Only in the lobby.
First capsule cabin Kyoto. Bookings.com
8 days in a first class capsule, loved it. Take ear plugs, get use to the quiet and blackout corridors and prepare for no doors on your capsule just a curtain but excellent security. This made my time here special and so glad I experienced it. Would so do it again.
Ryokan Sansui Hiroshima . Bookings.com
Two nights here was enough, Love the lady who owned it but felt very alone here and never saw anybody in the place even though it was fully booked, Mattress on the cold floor was also not good for this old girls hips …. rained the entire time as well so that didn’t make me feel any better. Maybe try in warmer weather??????
Toyoko Inn Matsue . Bookings.com
Great hotel, clean, free breakfast, non smoking rooms but no English spoken. Very close to everything including the ruddy bars, found that out on my last day walking around lol ……. no I didn’t go, cheeky……….
Smoking. Yes they still smoke in bars, restaurants and hotel rooms. Ask for non smoking rooms, there are some but take fabreez with you if not? The one smoking room I had, wasn’t sooooo bad but always ask. They do smoke on the streets but lots of places are now smoke free. Sure in time, they will be like the Uk and other places and have a smoking ban, totally. Was expecting it to smell more but then as previously stated, its bloody clean here …………
Wifi and phone signal. There is free wifi but you have to track it down. Starbucks coffee shop is a favourite, go in sign up, log in and off you pop….. Our kid was very frustrated our first week in Tokyo with lack of wifi but did not bother me. They were only with me for 6 days and once I moved, I have no problems finding free wifi! …. Phone signal……. nope not got one. You can rent phones at the airport but they need to be pre ordered and expensive. Get your calls via skype and use that via wifi. Worked well for me and kinda like not having to answer my phone. Spent in total about £25.00 making calls. Before you go, get your friends and family signed up on skype. That way its free!?……..
Tourist attractions. Most are free but some you do have to pay a small fee. In Matsue, as a tourist, you get an even cheaper deal than the locals. I ventured into lots of temples, shrines and gardens. Japanese are very proud of their gardens and it shows. Try and take in as much as possible, you never know what you may discover on your journey?
Cherry Blossom. Happens late March to early April and is amazing. The locals are very keen photographers and a good cherry blossom tree can see hundreds of people taking pictures of it.
On weekends and good sunny days the locals will take picnics to the local park and enjoy the cherry blossom.
Geisha experience. You can book a day package in Kyoto and Gion for being dressed in traditional dress, Meiko, Geisha and Oiran. Its a wonderful treat and makes for some great pictures and memories, trust me, I picked the hooker dress lol….
Shopping. As a westerner, I found no problems in fitting into the clothes in the shops and malls and as a lover of vintage, I was in my element with the shops in Kyoto. Root around and you can pick up good bargains , I know I did. One problem was shoes? They don’t use the standard numbers as we do ie, 6 7 or 8 etc, its all small, medium, large or LL. I am a standard size 7 and LL was sometimes too small. I did pick up a very snazzy pair of Wizard of Oz Dorothy red and sparkly DM esq boots for less than £20.00!
Tips before you travel. I spent months researching each destination and making sure the accommodation was suitable for single female travelers. Research trip advisor and Japanese web sites. The one joy of travelling in Japan alone is there are no supplements for a single room as in other countries. As previously stated, I found Japan to be very reasonable and inexpensive.
£400 JR rail pass
£1000.00 roughly for 5 accommodations in 5 locations.
£1500.00 additional spending money, food and day trips.
7 nights Tokyo
8 nights Kyoto
2 nights Hiroshima
3 nights Matsue
2 nights Tokyo
I hope this little blog will help anyone wishing to visit this great country and if you have any questions about travelling there, let me know?
Hope you get a chance to visit one day?