A dream coming true! That’s what I realized when the airplane touched the ground. I have always wanted to come here since my childhood, but even when I was planing this trip I never thought I would feel such emotion for arriving at the country my grandfather was born. Although I also have Italian blood running in my veins, the influence of Japanese culture is very strong on my family, so it felt like I was in some way meeting my origins.
As soon as I had gotten my bags and left the landing area, I was hit by the first shock: I was still inside the airport and there were signs in Japanese but no English translation, or even romanization. I was lost! Although I know hiragana and katakana, and speak very basic Japanese, I cannot read kanji (Chinese characters) nor understand most of what they say. But luckily a good friend of mine went there to pick me up. She took me to the hostel and showed my around the neighborhood while explained how some things work in Japan.
When I arrived to the hostel I had another cultural impact, here you have to take off your shoes before you get in. The same goes for temples and even some museums. During the first weeks here I learned new things every single minute! From daily tasks like using the restroom, taking shower, buying subway tickets or food, to cultural behavior:
* It is considered rude to talk to Japanese looking straight on theirs eyes all the time
* Every time you have to pay for something you will find a small plate on the table. Put your money in there, do not handle directly to the salesperson
* Japanese people usually slurp when eating noodles such as ramen, soba or udon. For them this is an expression of appreciation for the meal
* Every conversation begins and ends with bowing
* There is no tipping in Japan. If a place requires tips a service charge will be added to your check
* As a ‘Gaijin’ (foreigner) Japanese people you try to avoid you, so if someone sitting at your side in the subway change to another spot as soon as it’s free, it’s not because you forgot to use deodorant
* When eating Japanese food, never stick your chopsticks into rice, since it is associated with the rice bowl placed in the funeral altar where they light ?incense?
* If you take the subway after 10PM there is a high chance to meet !drunk! high spirit people going back home after a happy hour. Their behavior at these moments are tolerated by Japanese society
Going back to Tokyo, what an amazing city! Just like other metropolis, it is full of things to do, places to go and the most varied stiles of people in the world! I saw all kind of styles there, from very traditional people using kimonos and yukatas, through normal western social cloths, crazy undefined looks (sometimes nerdish), colorful punks, to cosplays (anime costumes) and lolitas. What was more amazing is that I saw all of these people simply walking on the streets like anyone else without feeling ashamed or being disturbed by others who might not share their values. In other words, they respect each others differences. This is something that is lacking for mankind in the rest of the world.
I think it’s clear diversity is one of the cities main characteristic, and that’s the same for sightseeing. During the day you can go to amazing temples and shrines, visit vivid neighborhoods or go to beautiful Japanese style gardens. Asakusa shrine is a must, one of the most impressive and beautiful (and free!!) in Tokyo. Shinjuku Gyouen National Garden is a great place to spend a sunny day just relaxing. It isn’t free but it’s cheap (only 200 Yen) and totally worth the value.I also recommend visiting Akihabara, even if you not an amine fan nor into electronics (which are what make this neighborhood famous), because this is the place to immerse in one of the most popular universes of Japanese culture, especially on Sunday which is when lolitas and cosplays are ?desfilando? their best costumes. Shibuya is another neighborhood that worth visiting. Best time to go there is during rush hour so you get to see how busy Shibuya cross gets (it’s is considered the busiest cross in the world) and at night when the lights are on. Speaking of which, the night transforms the city into another world! Streets are still full of people and illuminated by bright and colorful neons and LED screens, making them even more attractive and fun. Going out during the day and at night are totally different experiences. The atmosphere is different, the type of people you meet on streets are different and even common places during the day turn into nice sightseeing at night.
I spent a week enjoying Tokyo and I was able to fulfill all of these days with very interesting things to do, and I could’ve stayed more if I had the time. Even if you get sick of the city, you can do short day trips to places around Tokyo. This was a good start for knowing better Japanese culture. But I want to see the other side of Japan, the countryside. So my next step is to go to any small town around Japanese Alps! I’m not sure yet where, but the answer will come in time 😊