First of all, our list of the words symbolizing our 25-day stay in Japan:
Heated washlet (bidet toilet), fake food, contemporary art (Yayoi Kusama, Naoshima and Teshima islands), Tadao Ando, Halloween, vending machines, manga, refinement, sophisticated, aging, clean, tatami, sushi, Shibuya (crossing), crowded, typhoon, complicated, 7-Eleven, sake, depachika.
What we liked most / our highlights:
- Sumo experience (near Kyoto)
- Naoshima and Teshima Islands
- Our striking zen experience at the Eiheiji temple
- Food (sushi of course, especially the ones in Sushi-ya restaurant in Tokyo, but also our kaiseki experiences in Kyoto)
- Tokyo (see separate summary)
The Osaka evening was also very much liked.
To visit / do during next stay:
- See Kyoto and Tokyo ‘summary’ posts, but mainly: in Tokyo: Ghibli museum (my biggest regret of the trip so far); in Kyoto: Ryoan-ji and the Path of Philosophy (and Nanzen-ji and Ginkaku-ji temples)
- Other excursions around Kyoto and Tokyo: Nara, Koya-san, Nikko.
- Take the bullet train.
- My second biggest regret of our trip in Japan is not to have been able to attend the Jidai Matsuri and the Kurama Fire Festival while in Kyoto, due to the weather. We were at the right place and at the right time to attend these 2 great festivals…
- Experience in capsule hotels, for Isabelle. Capsule hotels feature a large number of extremely small “rooms” (capsules) intended to provide cheap, basic overnight accommodation. Each capsule is a modular plastic or fiberglass block roughly as wide and as long as a single bed, and about that tall. If you’re claustrophobic, you’re not going to enjoy them. Facilities differ, but most include a television, an electronic console, and Wi-Fi connection. The capsules are stacked side-by-side, two units high, with steps providing access to the second level rooms. The open end of the capsule can be closed, for privacy, with a curtain or a fibreglass door. The benefit of these hotels is convenience and low price. They provide an alternative for those who (especially on weeknights) may be too drunk to return home safely, or too embarrassed to face their spouses.
Some other impressions / notes / interesting facts:
- Safety is of paramount importance for Japanese. ‘Safety first’ for everything. The contrast with China is particularly striking. Even to clean the streets, there is one guy in front of the cleaners and one guy behind, for the signaling, both wearing the full PPE gear (when it’s dark, their vests are even blinking…). I was especially impressed by the safety on and around the construction sites. There are panels placed outside the site, which measure the noise level of the site and indicate the number of decibels (so neighbours can complain if the level goes above the allowed limit).
- There are 7-Eleven, Lawson and FamilyMart (convenience stores, opened 24/7) everywhere in Japan, really literally everywhere. I found on the web that there are 20,000 7-Eleven stores in Japan, including more than 2,500 in Tokyo only!
- Japanese characters are the same as Chinese characters.
- We were impressed by the citizenship (civic sense) of the Japanese. Two small examples that I witnessed: a bus driver who went out of his bus to help a woman entering the bus with a stroller and a man who took toilet paper to clean the few drops he made in front of the urinal… They are good citizens. It’s really impressive and our Western civilizations should learn from them. Another striking example of their “civic” way of life is the fact that there are no trash cans in the cities (people bring their trash at home where they segregate them). Japanese also very much respect the rules in general. For example, everybody waits for the green light at the pedestrian crossings (we were always the only ones to cross the roads…).
- Japan is a very safe country.
- Our general feeling is that China seems more dynamic. We only stayed 25 days in Japan so our general impression is obviously partial and biased but we have the impression of an “aging” country (population, economy, infrastructure…). It’s not only an impression: the aging of Japan’s population is thought to outweigh all other nations; nearly 35% of the Japanese population is above 60… By the way, the government has responded to concerns about the stress that demographic changes place on the economy and social service with policies intended not only to restore the fertility rate but also to make the elderly more active in society (we’ve noticed a lot of old people still working, as cashiers, e.g.). How Japan tackles this demographic challenge may serve as a lesson for other aging countries. In terms of economy, China superseded Japan economy – in terms of GDP – a few years ago already (in 2009) and its GDP will soon be twice Japan’s one! And, not surprisingly, India’s economy is forecasted to supersede Japan’s economy (currently #3) in 10 years….
- In Japan, Isabelle replaced her daily beer(s) by sake, the Japanese rice wine which is made by fermenting rice. Unlike wine, in which alcohol is produced by fermenting sugar that is naturally present in grapes, sake is produced by a brewing process more akin to that of beer (where starch is converted into sugars which ferment into alcohol).
- We tried the Coca-Cola Plus, which Coca-Cola introduced earlier this year, in the Japanese market only. Coca Plus comes reinforced with added fiber (and is both sugar and calorie-free). Coca-Cola Plus is being marketed as the first Coke drink that actively improves your health (it was initially marketed as a supplement for those with fiber deficiencies). According to Coca-Cola, the drink can also help control cholesterol levels in the blood if drunk once a day (with meal). The drink (in white bottle) is being targeted at over-40s who still crave Coca-Cola flavour but no longer want to consume so many unhealthy drinks. It’s interesting to see that Coca Cola starts segregating their consumers base by age…