Impressions of Japan

115 comments
Asia, East, Japan
A Book Fair at Osaka's Shitenno-ji Temple

A Book Fair at Osaka’s Shitenno-ji Temple

Dreams do come true. It is something that we are constantly reminded about upon seeing other people’s dreams fulfilled as well as ours. However as we grow older sometimes we forget about the dreams we had when we were much younger, for there is no shortage of distractions out there.

I grew up reading manga (Japanese comics) and watching anime (Japanese animation), and at school not only did I learn about the atrocities the Japanese caused during World War II, but also its technological advancement in the decades after its defeat by Allied forces.

At the age of 10 or 11, I learned how to use chopsticks and tried to eat everything with them. My father asked why, and I confidently replied that I wanted to go to college in Japan. I ended up graduating from a university in Indonesia, though, but the dream to visit Japan remained. A friend once told me that she’d only heard positive things from her friends and relatives who went to Japan, even those who at first were not too keen on going. But distractions kept me away from visiting the country for so many years.

As a budget traveler Japan’s notoriety as an expensive destination certainly didn’t help, and the availability of cheap flights elsewhere in Asia meant putting those plans on hold. However a few months ago James and I found affordable return tickets to Japan, and last week I finally embarked on a dream trip to the land of the rising sun. So, did it live up to my expectations?

Osaka Castle, One of the City's Landmarks

Osaka Castle, One of the City’s Landmarks

The Creamiest and Most Delicious Takoyaki I've Ever Tried

The Creamiest and Most Delicious Takoyaki I’ve Ever Tried

Matcha (Green Tea) Heaven

Matcha (Green Tea) Heaven

Brightly-Lit Restaurants at Shinsekai

Brightly-Lit Restaurants at Shinsekai

The people were very friendly, polite and considerate. When they talked they always bowed as a gesture of respect to others, when they walked they always gave way to the people walking toward them, and when they worked they did things very efficiently. A middle-aged female employee at a convenience store in Kyoto, upon seeing that we were tourists, gave us a map of the neighborhood and circled the most famous places of interest for us to visit. A young bus driver, also in Kyoto, offered us day passes which saved us quite a lot of money as we relied on the city’s public buses to go from one place to another.

The food was always delicious everywhere we went, whether it was a very expensive small restaurant in Kyoto, an affordable place at the train station in Okayama, or a small takoyaki (octopus balls) stall in Osaka. Even the desserts we bought from the local convenience stores were of the same quality as those served at fancy cafes. When being delicious was not enough, the Japanese did know how to make things look even more appealing, quirky, or kawaii (Japanese for cute). Tako tamago (boiled quail egg-stuffed baby octopus) at Kyoto’s Nishiki Market was a perfect example of such a dish.

Okayama, meanwhile, was where we tried fresh fruits of superb quality. The green grapes (Muscat of Alexandria) were so sweet, succulent, and tasted exactly like the grape candies I knew from my childhood. Eating them was such a pleasure, minus the guilt of having too many candies. On the other hand, the black grapes were big, juicy, and tasted like red wine minus the alcohol.

The Black Castle of Okayama

The Black Castle of Okayama

Okayama's Koraku-en, One of Japan's Most Beautiful Gardens

Okayama’s Koraku-en, One of Japan’s Most Beautiful Gardens

An Example of Japanese Traditional House

An Example of Traditional Japanese Architecture at Koraku-en

Okayama's Manhole Cover, Depicting Momotaro (A Character of A Japanese Folklore)

Okayama’s Manhole Cover, Depicting Momotaro (A Character of Japanese Folklore)

A Bowl of Sawara-don, One of the Specialties from Okayama

A Bowl of Sawara-don, One of the Specialties from Okayama

Japan’s technology is well-known for its reliability and sophistication, and I experienced some of its finest firsthand. Shinkansen trains (Japan’s bullet trains) transport people from one city to another through a vast network of high-speed railway lines which not only cut travel times, but also increase productivity. Meanwhile, the express and local trains, in spite of traveling at a much lower speed than the bullet trains, arrived and departed more or less on time during my week-long trip to the country. Aside from the impressive railway network, technology was implemented well into daily life. We came to Kyoto for its ancient temples and palaces, yet we got a hi-tech welcome at our hotel. Check in was done through a series of protocols which involved emails, access codes, a smartphone, an iPad, and no human interaction.

However embracing sophisticated technology doesn’t necessarily mean the Japanese are turning into a robotic society. Turn on the TV and you will find programs with bright-colored animations, background music which reminds you of the video games you grew up playing, and news programs where pink, peach, and other pastel colors replace the usual muted colors of news programs elsewhere in the world.

One week in Japan exploring the Kansai region (visiting Osaka, Himeji, Kyoto and Nara) and the Chugoku region (where we explored Okayama and Kurashiki) ended too fast for me as last night I returned to Jakarta with its constant traffic jams, pollution, and other problems the city has been facing for too long. It made me wonder, did I just visit one of my dream destinations? Or was it merely a dream?

Futuristic-Looking Shinkansen Bullet Train

A Futuristic-Looking Shinkansen Bullet Train

The Imposing 14th-Century Himeji Castle

The Imposing 16th-Century Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle Viewed from the City's Main Train Station

Himeji Castle Viewed from the City’s Main Train Station

A Street at Bikan Historical Quarter, Kurashiki

A Street at Bikan Historical Quarter, Kurashiki

Splendor that is Kinkaku-ji

The Splendor that is Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion)

The Alleys near Yasaka Pagoda, Kyoto

The Streets near Yasaka Pagoda, Kyoto

Endless Vermilion Torii (Japanese Gate) at Fushimi Inari Taisha

Endless Vermilion Torii (Japanese Gate) at Fushimi Inari Taisha

Unagi no Kimo (Eel Liver), One of the Best Snacks We Tried in Kyoto's Nishiki Market

Unagi no Kimo (Eel Liver), One of the Best Snacks We Tried in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market

The Spice Odyssey series will continue next week. So please be patient for the complete stories from Japan.

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

115 thoughts on “Impressions of Japan”

  1. Many thanks to this wonderful post, I literally traveled to Japan with you. Recently Japan has relaxed the visa requirement for Indian citizens and I hope I’ll be able to explore this great country.
    Singapore is the only 1st world country (some don’t agree with that) I’ve been to. Bama, do you find any similarity between these 2 countries or is Japan in a completely different league?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Speaking of the visa requirement to travel to Japan, Indonesians used to have to apply a visa in advance. But now the holders of biometric passport can visit Japan up to 15 days without a visa. I wonder if that is also the case with Indians. I would say Japan is a completely different league, Sreejith. Yes, Singapore is clean and orderly, and the public transport is very reliable, but Japan not only has those qualities. It is the culture that sets the two apart. Being kind, polite and considerate to others is deeply ingrained in the Japanese society, and the food, architecture and many other aspects of their culture are so refined. Japan has expansive, albeit sometimes a bit confusing, railway networks. It is also home to impressive ancient castles, palaces and temples.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Nah merasakan sendiri kan saat berhubungan dengan orang-orang Jepang itu? 😀
    Wah Okayama bagus ya… saya hanya transfer kereta di kota itu pas mau ke hiroshima. Pengen sih ke castle dan kebunnya tp ga cukup waktu.
    Dan Himejiiiiiii….. the white castle. Pertama aku ke Gimeji masih renovasi, kemaren hanya liat dr kereta malam2 sinar uplightnya luarbiasa. Duh pengen banget kesitu lagi.
    BTW, foto makanannya keluaaaar…. bikin lapar dan bikin gemesss.. langsung ke aeon deh 😀 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Membuktikan sendiri apa yang selama ini orang-orang bilang. 🙂
      Saya malah pas nginep di Okayama sempet kepikiran mau ke Hiroshima. Tapi setelah dipikir-pikir kayaknya waktunya kurang kalo dipaksain ke sana waktu itu. Himeji di foto-foto aja udah keliatan bagus banget, pas melihat langsung dengan mata kepala bener-bener bikin kagum. Mbak, udah jamnya makan siang kok. Selamat meluncur ke Aeon! 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Congratulations! I’m glad reading your story!

    Visiting a new and totally different place/country always makes me amazed. To see a lot of new things—that tends to be strange or unique—, to taste authentic local food, and indeed to meet people with different culture.

    Great pictures, as always 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks a lot for your kind words!
      What you said is true. To travel is to understand the world better — by interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds, tasting new dishes, and learning the history of places we go. I’m glad you enjoyed this post!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I wish I stayed a few more days in Japan — it was bright and sunny the day my friend and I left the country. Thanks for reading, Laura. And have a wonderful time in Japan!

      Liked by 1 person

    • And each city has its own manhole cover design. It would be really cool to travel across Japan and take photos of the different manhole covers. Thanks Yuna!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, yes, it’s true. So for next travel to Japan, hunting ‘kawaii’ manhole’s pattern is a must. At least for me. Sometimes even a district has its own distinctive manhole pattern.
        It’s really nice!

        Liked by 2 people

    • Wah iya bener, Oshin legendaris banget memang, gak cuma di Indonesia tapi juga di beberapa negara Asia lainnya. Salam kenal juga, dan makasih sudah menyempatkan baca postingan ini ya.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I am so much looking forward to this series! Your first post is already a treat for me. You know I love Japan (I even studied Japanese) and lived in Kyoto area for a couple of months. A society full of respect, beautiful historic structures and great food. Japanese society also has its disadvantages however; it looks perfectly structured from the outside, but there are also a lot of rooted social traditions that withhold young people to really change things. The strict social norms and values keep society strangled (although I don’t know if that’s the right word) and the popularity of extreme manga and anime for example show the Japanese need a way to escape daily life. But overall Japan is one of my most favorite places with Fushimi Inari shrine on top of the list! It’s intriguing and fascinating. Your pictures make me want to visit again soon…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Emiel. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about the Japanese society, which in spite of having so many good qualities, also faces real challenges as you mentioned. It is an aging country, and more needs to be done to ensure its place in the 21st century. I read that such problem persists particularly in the corporate world where the structure is very rigid and can be frustrating for young talents. However, there are sure a lot of things we can learn from Japan. Hope you’ll visit Japan again sooner than later!

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  5. Great post! As someone who lives in Tokyo, it’s always interesting to read about people’s impressions of Japan. Looking forward to seeing more from your trip!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for reading, Celia. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to visit Tokyo, but I’m already eyeing on it — along with Nikko and Matsumoto — for my next trip to Japan, whenever that is.

      Like

  6. Pantesan sepi2 aja, ternyata ngabibita ke Jepang toh 😉

    Deskripsi makanannya tolong jangan bikin ngabibita ya, hahaha!

    *lagi hobi pake kata ngabibita*

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hehe, udah berbulan-bulan gak traveling soalnya, jadi gatel pengen ngabur. 🙂
      Makanannya kamu pasti suka! Bahkan ya, makanan yang kami beli di Family Mart semuanya enak-enak. Masak ada spaghetti pake uni (sea urchin) coba! Udah gitu kemasannya kawaii semua.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Bama so wonderful to read that your childhood dream really did come true. Sometimes one can find such a good deal on a flight it is impossible to pass up. The people sounds so friendly and helpful. Wonderful to hear. Your photos are gorgeous which is of no surprise. Hopefully the settling back into Jakarta has not been too difficult.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It really was a nice trip, Sue. And like other memorable trips, time flew too fast. Returning back to Jakarta has been relatively easy so far, maybe because it’s the weekend so I have the whole Sunday to just rest before having to deal with the stresses again. Thanks for your kind comment, Sue!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Places like Thailand and Bali must have looked and felt so different back then. Today I believe there are still pockets of tranquility in both places. But we have to do our research to find them.

      Liked by 1 person

    • And thank you for your kind words. Japan is one of the places which left deep impressions to me. Such a special country it really is.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Congrats on finally getting to Japan! Love your photos. I think of all the places I’ve been, Japan is one of the top three that I still think about often. The subtleties and etiquette of the culture really leave an impression. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Kelly. I know! I had a positive image of the country prior to my visit. And after traveling for a week there I can say that it is also one of the countries that left deep impressions to me.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Banyak yang bisa kita pelajari dari kota-kota di negara Jepang agar kota-kota di Indonesia setidaknya bisa lebih manusiawi. Terima kasih sudah mampir di blog saya ya.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. There’s quality preserved not just in cars from Japan, but also so much to be seen in nature! A country of great uniformity .. ❤

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  10. Sometimes it’s scary to visit a place you’ve had in your dreams for so long! It sounds like it lived up to expectations, though – I’m glad! Japan is on my list also, but Asia in general has SO many places that are on my radar and it is so far away … I think I’ll need to retire and just park myself in that region for a while to catch everything I want to see. Your trip looks great; I loved the photos and the descriptions of what you guys saw and ate.

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    • Expectation is one of our biggest enemies when we travel. Over the years I learn to lower my expectations and let the real experience leave its mark on my memory. There are indeed so many places to see in Asia, and in fact I still want to go back to some of the countries I’ve been to because there are just too many interesting things to visit. Thanks Lex, and hopefully you’ll get that chance to go to Japan sooner than you think! I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Oops! I just made your expectations go high. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I have just returned from a trip in Japan and I also loved it! It was so great that I’ve just started my blog where I’ve written about Nara and the deer… I would love you to check it out!

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  12. Wonderful post! I literally traveled to Japan through this. Infact, it’s one of my longings since the time I’ve read and seen Memoirs of Geisha. Guess your pic of Endless Vermilion Torii (Japanese Gate) was there in the movie. Craving to see the Sakura Blossoms. Lets see when it happens…Thanks a bunch 🙂

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    • Hi Natasha. I’m glad this post gives you a glimpse of how the country is like. I think the movie has sparked people’s interest in Japan, but I have to admit I haven’t watched it. The Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of the most popular places in Kyoto because of the torii, and it was really hard to take a decent shot without a single soul in it. If you want to see the cherry blossoms, you should go in April. Hope you’ll see those pretty sakura soon! Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. When reading this post, I feel like traveling there myself 🙂 The Inari mountain is a place I have wanted to see. Must be gorgeous up there 🙂

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Indah. Actually Fushimi Inari Taisha was very crowded when I went — it’s one of the most popular places in Kyoto anyway. So I wasn’t so keen on going up to the top of the hill, plus it was already quite late in the afternoon. It must be beautiful though up there, I can imagine.

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  14. Ah, Bama-san, we have a same story. When I was a kid, I grew up with those manga, anime, then continued to cosplay and j-pop music in my high school years. I still listen to my old japanese songs, it’s strange that I didn’t feel them old-fashioned. The music has always been felt new for me. Now I understand why my father and sister still listen to their old songs. The songs grew up with us will always have a place in our heart.

    Good to hear that you had your dream came true. Japan is still a dream to me, don’t know when I will make this dream come true. Even 5 days are enough for me, as long as I can set my foot on the rising-sun land…

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    • Nugie-san, I think quite a lot of Indonesians share an affinity for Japanese culture, thanks to the manga and anime we grew up with. However I’m not too familiar with J-Pop, and the only Japanese songs I know are the ones from the anime. 🙂

      Never give up on your dream of visiting Japan, Nug.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Bama, it was such a pleasure to introduce Japan to you on this trip. Going back as an adult and seeing all these familiar places with new eyes was a real treat. I think we were so lucky to have such favourable weather on the days that mattered most. One of the wonderful things about travelling in Japan is that it changes in every season – we simply have to go back for sakura in spring, and you’ve already heard me rave about Hokkaido in the winter.

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    • Thanks for so many things, James — my first trip to Japan was made easier because of the fact that you could read kanji. I’ve been doing some research on the places we should visit the next time we go to Japan, and the list becomes longer every day! Hokkaido, Matsumoto, Nikko, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and even Okinawa are some of the places I’m eyeing right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I love this! I love that you visited somewhere that you had wanted to visit for so, so long. Japan is such an incredible country.

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    • And now I’m craving for more. I would go back in a heartbeat — and hopefully longer than just a week. I knew Japan would be great, but I was still deeply impressed nonetheless. Thanks Rebecca!

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  17. Kuliner nya bikin ngiler tapi mahal, dulu gw kesana jajan nya kalo malam doang setelah diskon kalo siang makan onigiri ihik ihik
    Semoga adarejeki lagi buat balik ke jepang

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    • Saya sering banget di sana beli onigiri demi berhemat, hehe. Satu hal aja sih kekurangannya Jepang… mahal!
      Amin amin.. Saya juga pengen banget nih balik lagi ke Jepang.

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    • If you’ve tried chicken liver before, this shouldn’t be too bizarre. I personally think that eel liver was one of the best snacks I tried at Nishiki Market in Kyoto.

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  18. I love your first impressions on Japan. My son is desperate to go to Japan but since he’s only 14, I’ve told him that he has to focus on learning Spanish first, Japanese next and then perhaps, as a high school graduation present….!

    ‘Great photography Bama!

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    • I wish I could speak Spanish as it is today the lingua franca of many countries, especially in the Americas. A trip to Japan as a high school graduation present would be very memorable for him, I believe. Not only the moment itself, but also it’s Japan!

      Thanks again, Victoria!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I am so glad to be know Japan as amazing and beautiful. Thank you. Not only Osaka, other prefectures are also good I promise.

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    • After my first trip to Japan several weeks ago, I’ve already planned for future trips to other parts of the country. One visit is just not enough for a place as beautiful, unique and exciting as Japan!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. My japan trip is coming very shortly, next month, and I seriously can’t wait for it to happen soon!

    Reading your blog just makes me dreaming, or should i say it imagining, it even further.. Btw, excellent snaps! love every single pictures taken (y)

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    • I wish you a very pleasant and unforgettable trip to Japan, Hendro. I myself am hoping that one day I can return to the country in winter to experience the snow for the first time. Appreciate your kind words!

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  21. We’ve always wanted to go to Japan, and yes…the idea of ‘Japan is expensive’ always holds us back. But we’re planning to go there next year, hope our dream will come true…like yours 😉

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    • Well, at least you’ve been to other exciting destinations around the globe. 🙂 I just read your posts on traveling to Morocco and South America, and I can assure you that you’ll have a totally different experience in Japan. Book the flights and enjoy Japan!

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  22. Your photos are incredible! Looking at the green tea ice cream it brings back memories of when I cycled around Kyoto and stopped for green tea ice cream and enjoyed the view of the Osaka Temple

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    • Much appreciated, Alana. I can imagine how nice it must have been cycling in Kyoto and Osaka. I had had green tea ice cream prior to coming to Japan, but trying it in the country where it originates from was really special.

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  23. How nice that you could visit a country that you’ve always wanted. I’m living in Japan right now, and I enjoyed reading your blog. Your photos are beautiful too! Enjoy the rest of your adventures around the world!

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    • Oh Japan… there really wasn’t anything to dislike during my stay last October. However, I do wonder whether my perception of the country would be different if I lived there, since the Japanese are known for being a hardworking society. Thanks for dropping by, Jen! And have a great year ahead!

      Like

  24. poetsjasmineblog says:

    I loved your article. I am a fan of Japanese anime and manga, plus I love Japanese people and culture (I’ve never been to Japan). I would love to go to Japan someday. Your post is like a ray of hope. It’s full of optimism and I feel so blissful after reading such a brilliant piece. Please write more. Thank you for this. ❤

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    • In Japan, anime and manga are pretty much everywhere. I do believe you’ll appreciate Japanese culture even more when you are actually in the country. I can’t wait to go back and explore more — Hokkaido, Kyushu, Okinawa, even in Honshu there are still so many interesting places to visit! Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll visit Japan sooner than later.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Anthony. I’m glad this post and the photos in it brought back some good memories of Japan. It really is a special place.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Happy to see your dream come true… I love Japan, the culture and traditional architecture, Once I spent few night in Ryokan (Traditional Hotel) to feel more like Japanese, sleeping in futton is amazing experience… You should try too…

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    • Hi Maxy (or whatever your real name is :)). Actually our hotel in Kyoto was designed to look a bit like ryokan, with tatami mats as well as futons. It felt so cozy indeed. Thanks for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Therie says:

    Japan is definitely a dream! It’s amazing how there is no shortage of beauty in Japan. I can’t wait to travel to Kyoto this year! Thanks for the amazing read!

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    • Basically my trip proved what people have been telling me about, that Japan is a very beautiful country. Hope you have a really great time in Kyoto, and thanks for dropping by!

      Like

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