Until you experience Japan for yourself, it is hard to convey the unique splendor it arouses. Tokyo, Japan’s largest city, is at once a bustling cityscape with all the trappings of urbanization, while also an oasis of sprawling gardens and lush flora. This juxtaposition is played throughout the city and its surrounding, offering a harmonizing medley of modernization and nature. The streets are often lined with manicured kuromatsu, or Japanese black pine, a species native to Japan, and public areas and walkways are usually bestrewn with vibrant flowerbeds. This is of apiece with the overall cleanliness of the city. Many of the streets are absolutely immaculate and it is not uncommon to see the proprietor of a restaurant or business tidying up the area outside of their residence.
Such zeal for cleanliness does not stop at the threshold, rather, it intensifies when entering the home. The house is treated as sacred, piety takes the form of sacraments in orderliness. For example, one does not wear shoes in the house and if one chooses to wear house slippers, said house slippers shall not be worn in the bathroom.
The bathroom is another holy place in Japanese culture. A testament to Japan’s technological advancement and almost neurotic desire for cleanliness, they represent a halcyonic confluence of Japanese proclivities. Infamous are the Toto toilets which one will find even in public restrooms, which are an ingenious accoutrement to the bathroom experience and absolute game changer in practice. One need not know how to read Japanese to partake in a ritual butt washing, since, as with most instructions in Japan, functionality is conveyed via subtle pictography. (A dotted water jet striking a pair of aesthetically curved, half-moons providing an artful facsimile of the human buttocks, for example). Positioning and pressure are also configurable to accommodate the power user.
Toilets aside, what I found most astonishing was the general sense of safety. Children starting at 5 years of age can be seen taking the subway to and from school or meandering their way down busy sidewalks. This was completely foreign to me and accentuates the difference in perceived security of America and Japan. This feeling of general safety is, from what I have gathered, an outgrowth of a greater sense of community experienced in Japan. This makes sense from a biological evolutionary standpoint. When the group is superior to the individual, it follows that harm done to one, is harm done to all.
Placing the group above the individual is common place in Japan and is reflected in their work culture as well. Teams consist of individuals, some with more or less authority. The ultimate goal, however, is not one’s personal advancement, but the advancement of the team and the accomplishment of shared objectives. Even as a red-blooded American who derives his grounding principles from individualism, I cannot help but given credence to the power of nation-based identities giving rise to an expanded circles of concern.
Japan, like Germany, is a culture with which I am absolutely enamored. I plan to return to Japan and in the meantime have endeavored to learn the language. Follow my language learning journey here.
Before You Go
Download the Japan Travel app.
This app makes navigating large cities (e.g. Tokyo or Kyoto) incredibility easy. Where this app really shines is the route search, which gives accurate and timely directions from your preferred point of departure to your destination.
Get a Suica card.
A Suica is a prepaid e-money card for moving around and shopping in Japan. Simply load money onto the card and scan it at points of entry or exit to automatically deduct the cost of your fare from your balance.
Bring an umbrella.
The weather in Japan can fluctuate wildly over the course of the day. Having an umbrella on hand, or buying one there, is highly recommended. Like most everything in Japan, the logistics of having 9 million people carrying umbrellas on any given day have been scrupulously considered. Almost every establishment has an area to securely store your sodden parasol.
Things To Know
- Don’t worry about restrooms. They are ubiquitous and very clean.
- Nigiri, a thin slice of raw fish over pressed vinegared, rice should be handled from the rice whether that be with your hands or chopsticks.
- People do not get going until 8AM or 9AM. If you want to experience something in peace and solitude, get going early.
Places To See
Meiji Jingu Shrine and Yoyogi Park
Located in Shibuya, Tokyo, this experience offers a beautiful and tranquil stroll through the meandering paths of Yoyogi Park culminating in the imperial Meiji Jingu Shrine.
Wash your hands and try to forget the gaudy lasciviousness that is Kabukichō. This is where most of the tourists come to be dazzled by cartoonist attractions and cheap entertainment. This is not the best Tokyo has to offer.
Situated on Tokyo Bay, Odaiba offers a nice respite from the city and many live events. There is a lot to see and do.
Acute insomnia from a 14 hour time difference might enable you to be at the fish auction by 5AM, however the fish market does not disappoint later in the day. Tsukiji offers the freshest, most delicious sashimi in the world.
Ueno Toshogu Shrine
The Peony Garden at Ueno Toshogu nestled in the Ueno Onshi Park, is truly beautiful in May.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
A perfect location for the serious floraphile, this green space snaked with paths and dotted with small ponds and shrines is exquisite.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forrest
Watching sunlight play softly off the leaves falling amidst towering bamboo is truly surreal. There is a subtle magic and enchantment which pervades Arashiyama, which must be experienced. Again, get here earlier before the throngs of people arrive.
Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine
Luckily this experience requires a bit of physical exertion, so those of feeble resolve quickly turn back leaving the hallowed path to the summit unsullied.
Beautiful, when not swamped with ogling tourists. Hit this one early in the day to allow for some reflection. If not, you will be stuck in a jostling flow of human cattle.
Places To Eat
Disregard the variable ratings on Google Reviews, this restaurant is actually quite good. Even an orthorexic like myself could find something clean and healthy to eat. Raw cabbage, tomatoes, chicken, and hard boiled eggs are all on the menu which is all under ¥400. The beer is also great.
Ramen Zundou-ya Shinjuku Shop
Simply the best rāmen in Tokyo. Hands down. Full-stop. Period.
Jasmine Thai Yotsuya
Great lunch destination if you are in Yotsuya and have a hankering for Thai.