Contributed by Bryan Mendoza
No beating around the bush, Japan is my favourite place on Earth. It is a country of contradictions. Where old meets new, prim meets peculiar, and where modernity coexists in perfect harmony with nature.
It was Jun 2018 when I finally set afoot the Land of the Rising Sun. My trip was packed: eight days, five major cities, two concerts to attend, and friends to meet. It was on this trip that I realised just how addictive Japan is. It has everything: rich history, hyperactive streets, well-preserved architectural wonders, and a wonderland of the best-tasting cuisines you’ll ever have in your life (no exaggeration here).
I could cite a hundred reasons why I adore this beautiful country but here’s my top 29 for a start.
In addition to its transportation system that arrives unbelievably on time (on the dot), passengers are quiet and go about with others in mind.
2. Respectful commuters
This photo captures the rush hour in Tokyo where commuters line up for their turns on the escalators. There’s not even a sign telling people to do so, they do it instinctively.
3. An environment that is friendly and convenient for people with special needs
At bus stops, trains, restaurants, concert venues.
4. Kawaii kids!
5. … and waitresses
6. Vending machines
It’s everywhere! Everywhere!
7. Thoughtful locals
In Japan, people do not tell you how to reach your destination, they bring you there. As in the case of this chef sending me off to my accommodation.
8. Only in Japan can you find beautifully designed manhole covers
Even in areas outside the city!
9. Convenience stores
You can’t go a block without passing at least one — and it has everything you need: bentos, desserts, office items, shipping services!
10. Concert scene
Your attendance and seat number are decided on the basis of the ‘lottery’ selection process. Also, you get to enjoy listening to the artists as applause is demanded only after every song number. There’s a concept of personal space, so expect not to be shoved by frantic audience members.
12. Marriage of culture and modernity
A perfect example is Meiji Shrine, a Shinto jinja located right in the very heart of Tokyo adjacent to the crazy Harajuku Street.
13. Respect to religious norms
Wishing tablets, fortune papers, and a lot more! Buddhist temples built alongside Shinto shrines are a common sight.
14. Matcha-flavoured anything!
It’s common especially in train stations to be given a pack of tissue paper — with advertisement flyers attached! How can you say no to free tissue papers?
16. The crazy scramble at Shibuya Crossing
17. Expectation meets reality
What’s on the menu will be served to you exactly as it is — or even bigger and better. The hardest part about Japanese food-tasting is selecting from the menus!
Especially in Nara, they own every block!
19. Unique practices
In this photo are omikujis, which are fortune-telling paper strips. You draw one and get a fortune ranging from great curse to great good fortune. Should you pick a bad fortune paper, it is customary for you to tie it up on these wires to counter the curse. Interesting.
20. Coexistence with nature
Deeply rooted in Shintoism, Japan’s oldest religion. It is by Japanese beliefs that to achieve nature’s full blessing, one has to exist “with” and not “against” it.
21. Respect for the old
How Japan manages to preserve its cultural heritage while coping with modernisation is still a mystery for outsiders. In this photo is Pontocho alley giving visitors a slice of the glorious Kyoto era.
22. The izakaya experience
A more casual, laid-back bar experience to those looking for the most authentic Japanese vibe. In this photo are me, Ms. Bizen, Pres. Matagawa of Morioka, and friend-turned-family Mr. Shinji.
23. The shinkansen
24. Cute Japanese students!
25. Ubiquitous recycled items
When I asked my Japanese friend why there are a few trash bins in the streets, she replied, “We are expected to bring our trash home and reuse it if we can.”
26. Realise your anime fantasy!
You can visit real-life locations of your favourite animations in a pilgrimage called seichi junrei, the closest encounter you could ever have with your beloved characters.
27. The extravagance
Especially in Tokyo’s Harajuku area, you can dress up and be whoever you want. Where ordinary is not a word and everyone is basically Lady Gaga.
28. Security and safety
I lost my phone and had it returned 20 minutes later. Just one among the many lost-and-found stories of foreign travellers in Japan
29. The rest of its people
My trip to Japan was special because of my beautiful Japanese friends-turned-family.
I was on the bridge in Arashiyama with my host mother when I sentimentally and quite dramatically swore: “I shall return”. Four months later, I really did come back — and for the same 29 (and more) reasons. It’s good to be home.