I visited Japan for two weeks with some friends. It was awesome! The food was delicious, the sights were exotic and beautiful, and the culture was fascinating and different.
Here’s a picture of me at the top of Mt. Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan:
We started in Tokyo, and explored many different districts, each with its own unique vibe. We went to Shibuya (the entertainment district), Shinjuku (home to the busiest train station in the world), Asakusa (old Tokyo), Akihabara (the electronics and otaku district), Odaiba (futuristic architecture on a man-made island), and also visited the Hama Rikyu gardens, the Tokyo Tower, and it’s modern replacement the Tokyo Skytree.
After Tokyo, we climbed Mt. Fuji on a whim (the view at the top was so amazing – see pictures below). We also visited Hiroshima (the museum was excellent, but understandably a bit morose), and Kyoto where we visited several temples and shrines, as well as the International Manga Museum. Before we left Kyoto, we paddled a rowboat down the river which was surprisingly hard (we bumped into other river traffic more than once!), but lots of fun.
Lastly, we visited Rabbit Island, which is a small island near Hiroshima, that is overrun by tens of thousands of tame rabbits. It was quite a sight!
We arrived at dusk and there were at least ten times as many rabbits as during the daytime, since rabbits are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the twilight hours.
Some things that make Japan unique
I wanted to share some of the obvious things that make Japan “different”:
- Everyone plans stuff in advance. The Japanese customs agents were surprised and incredulous that we showed up in Japan at 10 PM without a hotel booked in advance for our first night. Travelers and locals who we met along the way were also surprised that we were “winging it”. The extra flexibility was awesome, and we only had trouble finding a hotel on one particular night in Kyoto because it was a holiday.
- Old people are treated with much respect. When we were in Kyoto, it happened to be a holiday: “Respect for the Aged Day”.
- Everyone takes their shoes off inside their homes.
- Most hotels require you to leave your room key at the front desk when you go out (so you don’t lose it?)
- Most hotels have a curfew (usually 11 or midnight)
- People are REALLY quiet on trains.
- People usually don’t walk and eat at the same time. It’s considered rude.
- It’s illegal to smoke cigarettes outside on the sidewalk (to prevent cigarette butts from being everywhere on the street)
- People shower BEFORE taking a bath. People bathe together in groups.
- Most salarymen wear the same “uniform” (white collar shirt, black slacks)
- Most students wear the same uniform (white polo shirt, black slacks/skirt)
- Everyone was well-dressed. No one we saw in public looked like a bum – which is definitely not the case in the US.
- I didn’t see a single homeless person in any of the cities we traveled to.
- Everything tends to opens late (~11am) and close early (~5pm)
- Many fast food restaurants have machines where you buy a ticket which you can exchange for food. So you basically pay a machine.
- English is everywhere (lots on signs, subways, menus, and most people who work in hotels and restaurants know enough words that you can communicate with them).
- Trains / buses are always on time (except for one private bus at Mt. Fuji which was 10 min late)
- Anytime an elevator or door closes with an elevator attendant or conductor behind it, they do a small bow until the door is fully closed.
- A few hotels we stayed at did not allow guests with tattoos because traditionally only yakuza (Japanese mafia) have inked their bodies. Kids are starting to get tattoos as fashion statements in recent years, but most bathhouses and hotels still ban it.
- A pretty large number of people used umbrellas to protect their skin from the sun (probably like 10-20% of people who were outside, mostly women)
You probably noticed that lots of the items in this list are obvious, surface-level differences. In the future, I want to write a longer post about the subtler (and more important) things that make Japan unique.
For now, I’ll leave you with a huge pile of photos from our trip.
Photos from our travels!
You can use the arrow keys to navigate through the photos. There are descriptions on many of the photos with the “what” and “where”.
Last thing: If you’re planning a trip to Japan and have questions, feel free to send me an email and I’ll do my best to help you out.
Japan - Day 1
First day of our travels in Japan!
Japan - Day 2
Our second day in Japan. We visited Akihabara (the electronics district) in Tokyo. Then, we took a boat down the Sumida River to visit Odaiba (a modern commercial district with lots of american-style malls).
Japan - Day 3
Our third day in Japan! We visited Kamakura today (a very old city with dozens of shinto shrines and buddhist temples). We went to the biggest and most famous shrine in the city, Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū, which was founded 1000 years ago. In the evening, we went to the beach and happened to meet some nice Japanese girls who spoke a little bit of English. Good day.
Japan - Day 4
Our fourth day in Japan! We visited an onsen (Japanese-style bath), the Tokyo Imperial Palace (briefly), Shibuya district (the entertainment, culture, and fashion district of Tokyo) (also briefly), and stayed the night in Shinjuku (a really busy city with lots of skyscrapers).
Japan - Days 5 and 6 [Climbing Mt. Fuji]
On our fifth day in Japan, we visited the Tsukiji Fish Market (the largest fish market in the world!) and decided to summit Mt. Fuji, even though we have like no climbing experience. We didn’t check the weather and didn’t really know if it would be feasible, but we figured we’d try nonetheless. After 7 hours of hiking and a short nap, we made it to the top of the mountain – 12,000+ feet high! The view from the top was amazing and totally worth the hike!
At the top of Mt. Fuji there was no running water or restrooms, but I could access Google, Facebook, email, and Spotify. I had perfect signal strength. This situation felt odd. :)
Japan - Days 7 and 8
Our Japan trip goes on! Today, we visited Fuji-Q, an awesome amusement park right next to Mt. Fuji. Then, we took the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto, where we checked out some temples and walked the “Philosopher’s Trail”.
Japan - Day 9
Today, we visited Western Kyoto and Arashiyama. We walked around Tenryuji Temple and paddled a row boat down the river. So much fun! Then, we came back to Kyoto and just chilled in the city. I randomly met some Australian girls who were staying in the same hotel. They were high schoolers in Japan for a field trip (or as they put it, an “excursion”). It was nice to meet some English-speakers!
Japan - Days 10 and 11
Japan trip is almost over! :( Today we checked out more of Kyoto (Nishihongan-ji Temple, the Imperial Palace, the International Manga Museum, and Nijō Castle). Then, we went to Otsu Beach, since we felt like swimming but it turned out we were misled – the beach was pretty uninviting despite what the city’s tourism website said. But, it was still a fun little trip to a REALLY rural part of Japan. The next day, we toured Hiroshima, saw the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, checked out the museum (which was a little depressing, but also really interesting).
Japan - Day 12 [Rabbit Island!]
Today we visited Okunoshima, aka Rabbit Island! The island was used as a poison gas factory during World War II and they tested the chemicals on rabbits. After the war ended, they dismantled the factory and set the rabbits free on the island. They multiplied like crazy and now there are hordes of tame rabbits all over the island. Whoever set the first rabbits free is a genius. This was so much fun! Later, we rode the bullet train back to Tokyo and checked out Shibuya for a few hours before calling it a night.
Japan - Day 13
Our last day in Japan! We ate breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market (one of the largest in the world). We ate fresh sushi, best that we had the whole trip. Then, we wandered around Shibuya for the rest of the day. Jake went shopping for hipster clothes. It was clear that nothing would fit me, since their “large” is like a small or medium here. The salespeople mostly ignored me :( Then, we flew back to SFO. Overall, awesome trip. Way better than I expected. I need to travel more.
(If you liked this, you might like Freedom of Speech on the Internet.)