Found a note from Kerrie where she was reflecting on the awesome holiday we had in Japan back in 2012…
Japan was an amazing place, I really loved it! It is nothing like the rest of Asia and nothing like Western countries, it really is like another planet!
The public toilets (and there were a lot of them) are immaculately clean, always well supplied with paper, electronic taps and hand driers. We had a few laughs at the music you could play and the fake flushing noise. Sometimes it took a while to find the flush button!
Somebody has made a lot of money out of making that plastic food – just about every restaurant has it’s menu displayed in the window for all to see. It is so friendly the way you are greeted when entering and leaving a restaurant, we said simply konichi wa on arriving and arigato on leaving – the only two words we know. Other words were used to us, so we weren’t saying the right things but hopefully no-one minded! We all enjoyed the food, much of it was familiar to us from what we eat here in restaurants, what was surprising was that there was very little foreign food around, a few Italian places selling pizza and pasta and MacDonald’s and KFC of course. As always we found the street food to be yummy.
We found we could get by not speaking Japanese, people were obviously used to most tourists being able to speak some Japanese as looking blank and shrugging our shoulders did not stop people chatting to us. The funniest people were the cashiers in the toll booths, they obviously talk to each motorist as they pay, so nice, but we had no idea what they were telling us! Japanese people are all so friendly and helpful that much smiling and pointing could get us what we wanted in restaurants and shops (although most people did have a few words of English to help us). I have to admit that I did panic a few times – there are times when “hello” or “thank you” do not work, I found myself blurting out Tamagotchi!!! – I don’t think anyone noticed!!!
It was cold when we were there, we were given a hot pack one day and bought some more for ourselves, these are little sachets of some chemical, they do not appear to be activated, they just know when they have been unwrapped and we want them to get hot – curious – I am hoping my friendly translator can solve the mystery for me! Hot drinks were the preference in the cold weather – we were surprised to see not only hot drink vending machines but also hot drinks in plastic bottles held in hot “fridges” the way cold drinks are kept in convenience stores. There were cold and hot sections. We did not know what we were buying, Molly was more adventurous and got some interesting drinks!
We went to a couple of markets, one, in Kanazawa, is nearly entirely fish, mostly King Crab, they are huge, I couldn’t believe how much fish was there. The other market is in Osaka, this is more eclectic, there are loads of things I did not recognise and I have to say, loads of things that looked disgusting! We tried a few things which we expected to taste one way and were surprised when they tasted completely different (mostly fish derived!)
We travelled around a fair bit, avoiding Tokyo and Osaka this time, we stayed in some smallish towns and saw a lot of the countryside. We got around fine in our Nissan Xtrail (such a luxury to drive in a decent car for a change). The GPS we had did have English (but there was still a lot not translated), this did not actually matter – the software on the GPS was superior, we did not get lost once and it took us to the door of the places we input. The only problem was that it seemed to have an option of “do not use toll roads” at first – this did tend to extend the journey length by a lot (the Japanese do seem to like traffic lights – and everyone follows the road rules!!!!), but meant we got to see a lot more of small towns. Once we changed that option we went on to the magnificent toll roads – these were expensive but very quiet. There were hundreds of tunnels, some very long , just slicing through the mountains. There were also regular rest places, where David could try to get something bazaar from a vending machine.
As we arrived home in Malaysia I realised one of the reasons why I liked Japan so much – it was the stark contrast between here and Japan in so many things. There was the rude, inefficient reception at Malaysian customs, the airport staff chatting and ignoring customers, taking everything slow. Then once on the road there was the general disregard for road rules and basic lack of courtesy for other road users, I was also reminded of the holes and bumps in the roads. It is nice and warm here though!