Himeji Castle, Hyogo, Japan. Photo by Hannah Conway.
I've recently been on a two-week trip travelling around Japan. Prior to this holiday I'd only ever been to New Zealand so some may argue that I'd never really been overseas! Having never been to a non-English speaking country, the lead up to my Japanese adventure was exciting but definitely nerve wracking. I didn't have any idea what to expect except confusion, sushi and a LOT of people. Here's what I found:
The transport: Use technology
Upon arrival into Narita there was definitely confusion stepping out straight into the train station. We missed two trains despite being on the correct platform, purely because we were experiencing complete sensory overload, being surrounded by people and announcements that we had no chance of understanding. One thing I do have to mention here is Hyperdia, a phone app for Japanese transport that allows you to search specifically for subway or Japan Rail (which is great for the JR pass holders!) timetables all over Japan – it was a complete lifesaver and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Japan. (We were just so happy to see the new Apple iOS update that was released the week we got back, including full Japanese public transport timetables. SO. HAPPY.)
The food: Do your homework
During our travels we definitely encountered sushi – though completely different to the western idea of sushi. Restaurants seemed to love Wagyu beef and horseflesh sashimi. Yes, raw horse and beef... very interesting. I didn't feel the need to immerse myself in that particular part of culture. Then there was the small restaurant in Osaka, that we were assured by our host was 'very good, big lines for lunch and dinner' so of course over our four night stay we attempted to get a seat every night. By the last night one of the waiters recognised us and promised us a table. We sat down to wait while looking at the menu for the first time, only to discover that it consisted entirely of 'Soup of Small Intestine'… also interesting. We weren't exactly feeling that adventurous, and made a very swift exit; much to the dismay of the lovely waiter who proceeded to chase us down the street to let us know our table was ready… awkward!
The people: It'll all be good
The amount of people, wow. I still can't comprehend that we were in Tokyo with 13.62 million other people. I'm not one for crowds, but amazingly, not once did we feel uncomfortable. Every city we visited had just adapted and grown into the amount of people they housed and everything just worked. Everywhere you go systems are so efficient – because they have to be to survive in these cities of millions of people. They have to be advanced and innovative.
The result: Do it!
Clearly, Japan lived up to and completely exceeded my expectations. The biggest thing I have taken away from the trip though, is how important it is to get out of your comfort zone. I came back with an entirely different outlook on Australia, on tourists, on work, and as cliché as it is, on life. It's made me realise how lucky we are to live here, how important it is to be open minded, communicative and kind to other people, whether they are foreigners or locals. Oh – and how very important it is to ALWAYS read the menu first!