When the lovely, unicorn-loving illustrator Anita Perry said she was heading to Japan with her equally lovely new husband, we all agreed there could be no better honeymoon destination for the quirkiest girl we know! I’ve persuaded her to write a guest blog for The Bitesize Traveller, and I hope you’ll love it as much as I do…
10 magical facts about Japan
I am a HUGE fan of cute (or kawaii as the Japanese say), so the Hello kitty cafes and giant cartoon characters lining the streets delighted me. But it’s not just gimmicks and things for children that are adorable, no its EVERYTHING from the safety instructions on the subway to the MIFFY BANK. Yup that’s right, there is a bank in Japan that has adopted Miffy as its mascot! Oh and not forgetting the Sanrio airplane of course! Needless to say I was in my element.
Oh, the Japanese food! Where to start. It’s simply delicious. From the street stall steamed bun we grabbed as a quick breakfast, to the sushi feast we had for dinner, the food in Japan is wonderful. However perhaps this title is not wholly true as we did find one dish not to our taste; the cold soba noodles popular in summer time, I’m sure lots of tourists will enjoy these but there was something about the texture of cold noodles I just couldn’t get past. Most of the time we had a some idea what we were ordering (lots of places have wax models of the food in the window, or pictures in the menu) but often it was a pleasant surprise as to what would end up in front of us. On one occasion I did manage to order two full main meals (both complete with side dishes of rice and soup) to myself, but they were both delicious, so the only harm done was to my waistline! Seriously I could talk for hours about how yummy the food is, so instead I’ll move on.
3. You will become a celebrity
Outside of Tokyo, especially in more rural areas, if you are white you are something of a novelty, get used to it! School girls will probably ask for a photo with you, and we also appeared on Japanese TV on two separate occasions during our trip!
4. You can order your dinner from a vending machine
This confused us at first, but like everything else in Japan this is actually very efficient. In lots of restaurants it is common to see large vending machines by the door. Here you put in your money, and press the buttons for your order. This usually requires a bit of guess work, but there are pictures of the food so it’s not too hard. You then take a ticket and, very important: give this ticket to the waitress, we missed out this step the first time and were in for a bit of a wait! We also visited a sushi restaurant where we were presented with a tablet through which we placed all our orders!
5. Everything is so damn efficient
Wow. The Japanese have really got things sorted out. I go on about the actual ‘smart’ toilets below. But even the layout of their public toilets are spot on. In the female loos they have a child sized urinal (for little boys with their mothers – smart) Inside each cubical they have a little baby seat attached to the wall – smart. Another detail I only noticed when it was raining was of course, an umbrella hook by each sink so you can wash your hands. They also have a separate areas in most loos with mirrors, so women who want to do their hair / makeup don’t get in the way of everyone trying to wash their hands. Anyway, enough about toilets or you will start to think I’m obsessed. They have umbrella vending machines, and every shop has a little machine to wrap your wet umbrella in a plastic bag (not sure how environmentally friendly this one is, but it does solve the problem of wet floors. Oh and the subway. Now us English we are meant to be good at queuing but the Japanese really put us to shame. Even at rush hour on the subway, everyone lines up in the painted lines on the platform and orderly files onto the train, it’s brilliant!
6. Japan actually is very good value
Before we left we heard time and time again, Japan is expensive. And whilst this is certainly the case when comparing japan to China, Thailand, Vietnam etc, when comparing prices to the UK the were often a lot cheaper. Although we did not eat in Michelin starred restaurants (I’m sure they are lovely, but we had no desire to) we did eat in a wide range of places from smart sushi bars to family restaurants to street food. We never really had to worry about the price of any food as it was always either the same, or in most cases quite a bit cheaper than the UK. If you are traveling and on a tight budget then yes you may well struggle in Japan, but for what you get the food is certainly amazing value. As an example we ate out at a nice sushi restaurant (sit down, nice atmosphere, not a conveyor belt) and ate a huge meal of sushi, had a beer and a cocktail as well as tea with our meal, and the end bill was £25. You can also pick up street food and 7/11 sushi for a pound or two. Entrance fees to a lot of the main attractions (temples, parks etc.) are often just a couple of pounds, or completely free – like the Fushimi Inari-taisha (Kyoto), or the bamboo forest. The most expensive things for us were transport and accommodation – but these are things that can be planned and budgeted for in advance.
We took photos of EVERYTHING. And I mean everything… post boxes, train guards, even a rather decorative manhole cover (we did get some odd looks for that one). But the great thing is everyone is taking photos all the time, even the Japanese – mostly selfies (I have a collection of Japanese people taking selfies, which I love!). And although we didn’t quite go as far as a selfie stick, we did embrace the ‘peace sign’ and selfie culture. Well let’s be honest, I was already there, and my husband didn’t have much choice!
I put this one in because even when I arrived in Japan I still wasn’t sure if I would visit an onsen. Although the idea of a naturally heated warm bath appealed to me a lot, I am the kind of girl who cringes at getting changed at the gym. As it was our honeymoon we splashed out and spent a couple of nights in a traditional Ryokan with a private mini onsen in our room. However I still wanted to experience a traditional onsen.
9. You will be intimidated by toilets
At first when confronted with a toilet that has its own remote control (or even more disconcerting, talks to you) I was afraid. However most of the buttons are fairly straightforward and once I had figured out the simple ones, I realised these toilets are what is missing in my life.
These high tech toilets are not just in fancy hotels, they are everywhere. In train stations, public restrooms and people’s houses! And they are AMAZING. Some of them play you bird sounds, or water fall noises. And my favourite part, heated seats! Come on England, you really need to step up your toilet game!
10. You will love the people
Japanese people are among the friendliest I have ever met. Really truly lovely people. I learnt some phrases to scrape by, but even when we couldn’t communicate easily the Japanese often went out of their way to help us. And everyone is so cheerful, even supermarket workers first thing in the morning will always greet you with a cheery ‘Ohayō gozaimasu’ (good morning). And now I must say a thank you to our friend Yu, who we met nearly two years ago in a hostel in New Zealand, and haven’t seen since, but was kindly our host in Tokyo, we can’t wait to show him some of what England has to offer next!
For more about Anita (and to check out her totally amazing unique crazy designs), check out…
anita_perry on Instagram