I am one of those lucky people who has the odd bit of travel thrown in with their day job. Except this time, the “odd bit of travel” was a three week trip to Japan. The purpose of my trip will become clear in a future post but for now I wanted to share with you the experience of arriving in Japan and my first few days whilst I cleared the jet lag, found my bearings and began embracing the eastern culture.
I flew to Japan via Seoul International Airport in South Korea. Due to the amount of international transfers that Seoul accommodates there is consequently an incredibly high number of people whose only site of Korea is inside the airports walls. It appears that this has spurred them on to pack as much Korean culture into the airport as possible. Whilst finding my way to my gate I was greeted by these beautiful women in traditional dress, playing traditional music and singing – traditionally, of course.
After a blast of culture strong enough to make me vow to come back and escape the airport walls one day, it was back on a plan and I was soon over Japanese soil. It was not the warmest of greetings however. Rain was lashing down and Japan looked rather miserable from where I was sitting. A depressing thought when the last view I’d had of England was a clear blue sky.
The report that there was a typhoon on course to blow right into Yamaguchi, the prefecture which I was heading to in a few days time, hit me all of a sudden.
Then I got distracted by having to navigate the Japanese subway system, my first bullet train and choose my first obscure drink from one of the THOUSANDS of drinks vending machines (they are on most streets in Japan, at least 2 on every train platform and in every public building – thankfully as you soon learn that to survive the humidity you need to drink ALL THE TIME.)
When I arrived at my hotel I was incredibly impressed with the functionality of it all. No bigger than it needed to be without feeling claustrophobic. Everything is controlled electronically from the panel by your bed and you even get instructions on how to use your pillow, in case you weren’t sure.
This was the first time I had time to really inspect the many, many buttons and settings on a Japanese toilet. Never before has a toilet had an option to play sounds over the top of me doing my business so no one else can hear. Never before have I been presented with the option of having water shot at my bum and even had the option to adjust the temperature of said jet. I guess icy cold may have been quite a shock!
I went to meet some of my team who had arrived a couple of days earlier who promptly ushered me into one of their new favourite eateries which they had dubbed “the pen restaurant” and I very quickly realised why. To order at this restaurant you are given a menu and a pen, you then simply tap the pen on the menu item you want, the quantity of the item and the big green button. Your pen then speaks to you in rapid Japanese and your order is sent straight to the kitchen. Simple, effective and great fun for us simple folk.
Food is the thing I remember most about my first few days in Japan. I went through many different Japanese dining experiences in quick succession. Lunch on the second day was the best chicken katzu curry I’ve ever eaten. I soon realised that ordering curry never just means a curry in Japan, it comes with the bumpf including but not limited to miso soup, tea and some jelly like substance that looked like Turkish delight but tasty, well, nasty.
On the second evening we went more traditional and found a restaurant in which you must remove your shoes and then you climb into the seats around a sunken table. I have no idea what I ate, all I know is that it tasted damn good.
Our third evening’s dining experience was different yet again. This time we chose a tiny little place and squeezed five of us around a table no bigger than a metre long by half a metre wide. This restaurants speciality was different varieties of meat on sticks, like mini kebabs, all cooked by this fella in front of all of the customers.
The other thing that I remember most from arriving in Japan was the sunsets. The sky appeared to forget the impending typhoon for half an hour every evening just long enough to create its own unique artwork as the sun dipped below the mountains and it was stunning every time.