The last thing a person wants to see when exiting an airplane is a long queue at immigration. That particular line feels like a rite of passage, a sort of “do you really deserve this vacation?” test that you must pass before the fun can begin. Every time I have been to Japan it has been the same long waits, rude staff, and unnecessary amount of questioning.
Something I have been asked before is “Why don’t you ever blog about your trips to Japan?” The short answer: Immigration. You read right, but it is not what you think. Immigration is the only thing I don’t absolutely love about Japan!!!!!!!!! (Yeah I used way too many exclamation points, so what? I do what I want.) I have never blogged about Japan because I fear sounding like a middle school girl who is at her first concert and just got a backstage pass and winks from her favorite boy band. Yeah, I may be that bad, please bare with me.
The number one, most cliché question to ask a traveler is: “What is your favorite country?” To which the answer is almost always (insert hipster tone): “Well, man…they are so different and unique, it is hard to pick one…” I really don’t know which of the two I hate more, the question or that answer.
Cut the crap!
My favorite country is Japan, no questions, no buts, no beating around the bush.
Japan is a phenomenal country, and while there are other pretty awesome places, the fact remains that Japan has been the only country I haven’t lived in where I visited twice (and possibly a third time is on the horizon).
Don’t be scared!
In the traveling community, there seems to be a fear of comparison. You don’t want to say you liked something better than something else as if everyone will think that is an absolute matter of fact. Just because I think Japan is freaking amazing and the mention of Hong Kong makes me yawn, doesn’t mean everyone is going to either agree with me or go grab their pitchforks. People have different opinions and are entitled to those opinions. If we don’t say when we disliked a place, what makes a blog better than a country’s official website? This entire site is based on the notion of comparing world heritage sites and I am not about to shy away from it now.
Why is Japan so awesome?
Japan embodies everything we love about traveling. There is a lot of talk about places being ‘too touristy’ or ‘too fake.’ While these are terms that can be misleading, I think I’ll attempt to clarify. People who complain about these things dislike places where the tourist has a direct effect on the normal flow of things, thus making a place / experience / restaurant ‘unauthentic.’
Take venues that are labeled “tourist restaurants” for example. What makes them for “tourist” and not for locals? The only thing I can reason is that this restaurant is somehow different from other restaurants in that is caters more to foreigners. This might mean a different style, experience, ingredients, or something I might not have even considered. Whatever it may be, my purpose of traveling is to experience a place as a local would, so changing it makes it undesirable.
Aren’t you going on a tangent here?
Maybe, but I had a point. Japan, to the best of my knowledge, has almost everything about its society built by Japanese, for Japanese. Look at Japanese movies, shows, landmarks, fashion, countless subcultures, and even its Shinto religion. They often make headlines in western countries as being “strange” because they aren’t made to cater to foreigners, and I think that is what I love. The ‘like it or lump it’ attitude is intriguing and makes me come back for more.
But, isn’t it expensive?
No… NOOOO! Should I get into this? Gosh, given the amount of people who tell you “Japan is too expensive,” how could I not. I too was scared away from Japan for 2 years while living in Korea (another place I love) by hearing stories like “it is an outdoor Disneyland” and “three nights, 1000 dollars.” Turns out, I was talking to people with far more ‘upscale requirements’ than myself. While the entry tickets to some of their monuments can be a bit much, overall, it is not that expensive.
I would actually make the claim that the US is considerably more expensive than Japan, and more so now that the Yen has plummeted. I will give a more detailed account later, but minus the plane, I spent 500 USD in Japan for 5 days. Keep in mind that this included gifts for all my coworkers ($50), transportation (to Kyoto, Nara and around Osaka), guest house (single room, $20 a night), and some beers at night in downtown Osaka. Spending 50 a day including hotel is totally doable. By today’s exchange rate, this would be about 380 USD, about the cost of a night in an expensive Vegas hotel, just to put it into perspective.
My second time in Japan? 200 USD for 4 days, including car rental and 8 bucks a gallon of gas.
But what about the people?
Everyone always says “it is all about the people” and you could not ask for a friendlier bunch. Outside of those airport terminals where they seem to round up all of their malcontents, I did not meet a single unpleasant Japanese person. Everyone I asked for help went out of their way, and everyone I casually chatted with was more than willing to shoot the shit.
The people that make Japan special though are the ones who just went above and beyond simply to help out with no ulterior motive. While I normally try not to question someone’s integrity, time and time again people have been overly friendly in Peru, Mexico, Cambodia, and the US in places where they either expected a fat tip, or flat out asked for money at the end of our conversation. While I understand the need in some of these countries, was our connection real, or did I just look like someone who would be easily duped?
With Japan’s culture where you don’t tip and crime is almost negligible, you can rest assured that every connection is legit. I had people volunteer to be my tour guides twice on the same day for no reason other than to keep each other company. Yes, rest of the world, take notes.
So, why haven’t I ever talked about Japan?
I feel like it has hard to do justice to such an amazing country.
Japan… I think I’m in love with you.