Putting my recent experience in Japan into words is not an easy task. It is undoubtedly the most culturally unique country I have ever visited and there are so many aspects which amaze and fascinate in equal measures. The beauty of the country is primarily in the richness of the Japanese culture, which makes a vacation here a trip of a lifetime.
The cuisine is the obvious one; one traditional meal led me to brave eel, monkfish liver, raw king prawn, mullet roe and cornetfish.
Far from a meal at Wagamama’s, the streets are lined with shopfronts showcasing the array of dishes on offer. From ramen, katsu curry, salad and sushi, each restaurant specializes in just one specific dish or cuisine, so you will decide before you enter if you fancy soba noodles, ramen, sushi etc. It works well until two members of your party disagree on the dish of the day. The food markets are also an entirely new shopping experience, as you will find foods that you struggle to identify, but are clearly an everyday essential to locals. Fish is everywhere and in every variety imaginable, they eat it raw, pickled, fried, steamed, boiled.
Beyond food, shopping is an essential part of Japanese culture. The cities are lined with shops, boutiques, department stores and markets. It seems to be ingrained in their culture and it is a delightful experience. Seek out districts such as Ginza in Tokyo and Gion in Kyoto, where the vibrant colors in the shop windows draw you in.
Traveling around the country is made disturbingly easy with the gloriously efficient bullet train which runs like clockwork. Traveling at speeds of up to 300km an hour, the train is an experience in itself. From Tokyo you can quickly find yourself in the mountainous Hakone and even Kyoto or Hiroshima at remarkable speed. In Hakone you can step into the Japan of the past, by enjoying a stay at one of the authentic Ryokans, where you will be graced by their amazing hospitality, ‘Onsen’ bath spa’s, futon beds, nine course traditional Japanese dining and yukata ‘gowns’.
From palaces to pagodas, temples to gardens, miso to sushi, the wonder of Japan is in the detail and the little things you pick up and observe along the way. These are just some of the highlights that I experienced. My time in Japan is so far removed from any country I have ever visited before. I was lucky enough to go when the autumn leaves were still in full flourish and the richness of these colors will stick with me for a long time to come.