I don’t think any country has ever imparted such a sense of calm and zen in me before. Japan is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and culturally rich countries in the world, but it also houses some of the most courteous people I have ever met. As a first-timer there, I am simply in awe.
Japan has left such an impression on me that I wouldn’t mind going back again and again in the next few years. In fact, the reason why it took me so long to get this post up is because I’ve been busy with work and reading up on Japan in between. (Already planning my next trip hehehehe!) What I thought was my dream destination in Europe is suddenly displaced by something that’s closer, perhaps smaller, but equally as enthralling. Certainly all the things you can see (and eat!) in Japan make up for its geographical size.
In the coming days I’ll slowly break down the places we visited in a series of posts. I feel that they’re highly unusual locations so I’m excited to share them, but for now, let’s do a little summary of sorts of the new experiences I had during my first ever springtime visit to Japan! These are just a few of the stuff that I think will give such a great feel of springtime Japan for other first timers as well.
So without further ado, I present to you my very own version of 10 things to experience in Japan, based on my recent springtime trip! 🙂
1. Chasing after cherry blossoms.
Hanami or flower-watching is a practice that many Japanese (and tourists) partake in during the springtime. Each location in Japan has a different timetable where their sakura are at their fullest bloom so plan accordingly! (I’m talking about next year, as this year’s season is already over.) When I went to Japan it was quite late in the cherry blossom season, but I was still able to see a couple of trees here and there in Nagoya and Takayama Old Town.
Cherry blossoms are beautiful. Perhaps we can even call the trees and its branches graceful. Sitting on a bench and watching as its petals float down like snow while the wind blows through your hair is one of the most pleasurable things ever.
2. Spending time in the park.
Here in Manila going on a picnic is one of the least appealing things to me. Apart from the lack of trees and pollution in the air, the natural tendency for me when I’m outdoors is to be constantly vigilant. I simply don’t feel like I can relax and enjoy. In comparison, Japan is one of the most perfect places to go on a picnic as the experience is completely the opposite of everything I just mentioned. Against the backdrop of cherry blossom trees, the park can become quite the romantic place. It’s typical to see couples picnicking here.
While most of Japan’s parks are lovely anytime (except maybe winter), picnicking under the cherry blossoms is a level of lovely that is hard to describe. It’s why many locals crowd in the parks at the peak of sakura season!
3. Seeing an old Japanese neighbourhood in the flesh!
What is the thing that Japan and European countries have in common? It’s that their most charming locations are often their preserved neighbourhoods. Often they are housed in tiny alley-like streets, but somehow that just makes the whole place feel more intimate. As though if you stand close enough to the thousand year-old walls they just might whisper their stories to you. I love being in old places like these, and the preserved towns in Japan definitely are not short of character. For once I get to see them with my own eyes rather than just through the television or anime.
And the bonus is seeing people walking around in kimonos in real life! These girls match the setting of the old town perfectly, wouldn’t you agree? On my next trip here by myself I am soooo going to rent a kimono and walk around town in it!
4. Eating the biggest bowl of warm noodles and soup ever.
Springtime in the parts of Japan I visited is super cold, and that automatically increases the charms of a hot bowl of noodle soup tenfold. Being a huge fan of Japanese food (and noodles in soup), I don’t need to be told twice about eating any of it. Pictured above is a bowl of hotou noodles– hands-down the best bowl of noodle soup I had during my trip. It’s unique to the Yamanashi Prefecture (Mt. Fuji area), which I will talk about on a later post!
And since we’re on the subject of food…
5. Polishing off the most masterfully arranged kaiseki.
The Japanese treat many things as an art, from the packaging of their products down to the presentation of their food. Even the rice dishes in the konbini are artfully done! But I think the most classic examples are the meals we had three and a half out of the five days of our stay here.
Preparing a kaiseki is a type of art wherein balancing the taste, texture, appearance, and colours of food are taken into consideration. Simply put it is a very fancy way to take your meals in Japan, and an excellent way to get acquainted with the many different types of dishes here.
Typically a kaiseki is comprised of rice, a main dish, miso soup, pickled side dishes, sashimi/sushi, grilled meat, a steamed egg dish, and a dessert plate. The main or most substantial part of the meal (shiizakana) can either be a hot pot dish, a futamono (lidded dish), or a yakimono (grilled dish) that you can eat with rice. Occasionally there will be rice and some cold soba served together, in which case I always gobble up the soba just because I’m more a noodle person than a rice person, but let me tell you Japanese rice is the best!
6. Using the vending machine like a madman.
It’s like with every vending machine I see I feel the need to buy something. Japan easily has the most efficient vending machines I have ever encountered, and probably the most innovative ones as well. Ever heard of a takoyaki or ramen vending machine? Yup, they’ve got it here. The most common and basic of vending machines selling drinks houses both hot and cold drinks in one. If you’re trying it for the first time pay attention to the little labels below each drink: the blue stands for cold and red stands for hot.
Japan’s vending machines sell anything from toys to ramen to beer to ice cream, and I can’t wait to discover what else! But while I was here, I kind of fell in love with these bottled yoghurt drinks from Meiji. Great way to start the day!
7. Going crazy shopping in a konbini.
Convenience stores never appealed to me before, but Japanese konbinis are different. There are sooooo many things in here, including art materials and disposable socks and underwear. Oh and if you’re on a budget trip, eating the rice meals in the konbini is a good way to cut down on costs. You don’t have to worry about the taste of the food because the Japanese take quality quite seriously.
And if you’re short on time and in need of gifts to bring to friends and family back home, might I suggest some of these yummy chocolates and snacks?
When in doubt go for all the matcha-flavoured treats! I didn’t meet a matcha snack I didn’t like while I was here.
8. Going to the onsen.
One of the Japanese’s absolute favourite activities is going to the hot spring. Aside from keeping warm in the cold weather, hot springs offer quite a lot of health benefits and are apparently quite good especially for the joints.
Before going for a dip everybody is required to have showered and cleaned themselves already as the onsen is not a place for bathing but rather for dipping and relaxing. However it might be a bit intimidating if you’re not used to Japanese bathhouses, because everybody is required to be completely naked. I personally didn’t have the guts to go into the public spring but some hotels have the option of going to a private family-members-only hot spring. It’s much smaller and in a relatively enclosed space, but it serves the same purpose. It was quite nice actually!
After going to the hot spring, you are discouraged from washing yourself with soap so the sulfurs and healing elements don’t get rubbed off your skin, but you can splash yourself with cool water to get your body back to normal temperature.
9. Sleeping and eating on a tatami floor.
I didn’t know what to expect at first, but the futon is surprisingly soft. I also like the feeling of the tatami beneath my bare feet. (You’re not allowed to wear shoes on a tatami!) Rooms with tatami floors evoke a cozy feeling, especially when the room is nicely insulated too. But being used to sleeping on a bed my whole life I can’t say that I prefer this haha!
But eating on a low table set atop a tatami? Now that I can totally live with.
10. Almost falling face-first into the snowy ground!
This is probably something that others won’t find anything special, but since I live in a tropical country, snow isn’t a regular part of my life. I don’t particularly love snow, but I don’t have enough memories surrounding it that I begin to relish the ones that I create, even if the experience scared me a little. 😛
When we went up Tateyama Mountain to see its Snow Corridor it was raining and windy, but occasionally the wind would come crashing with a fury that can literally push a person off his/her feet. And that is exactly what almost happened to me! I’ve never been up on a snowy mountain before. Never walked on snow this deep either. So when the wind came blowing so hard I almost fell flat on my face! (And almost lost my beanie!) I was trying to regain my balance but when I took a step my foot sank into more than 6 inches of snow, completely negating my efforts to get my footing! Luckily I grabbed onto a nearby rope. Honestly I was a little bit terrified in just that one instance but the snow corridor was pretty neat!
And that’s it for my “intro” to my recent Japan trip! Take note that there are soooo many more things I would like to experience in this wonderful country, chief among them strolling the streets in a kimono and riding the shinkansen, but I’m pretty sure I’ll get to write about those another time! Please do leave a comment below if you have some suggestions on other things to experience in Japan and I’ll make sure to include those on my soon-to-be-never-ending list.
I’ll try my best to get the rest of my travel posts up as soon as possible. I haven’t even started editing my travel video yet but I am so excited to share it with you all! 🙂