When you see a glass, do you see it half empty or half full?
Do you live for today or dwell on the past?
Do you thrive on positive contact or wallow about what people may have meant?
Whether you are predisposed to your personality traits by birth, or you believe that you are who you are by virtue of nurture and how you interacted with those around you as you grew up, there are indeed other factors that determine your outlook on life.
One of the main factors that determine your attitude towards others is in fact your country of birth, or to put it in more specific terms, your culture. A country that is a prime example of this is Japan.
Japan is a country known for many things – sushi, sumo, anime and technology – but running through the core of the country is an admirable balance of respect and regime, with the structure of these coming together to make a country who is revered for its values. So imagine a society that puts elders first, instils in children a sense that if you behave correctly towards others, this will be repaid in reciprocal respect kindness – sound idyllic?
Whilst there is no suggestion that living in Japan adds up to a perfect existence, or that people from other countries and cultures are distinctly lacking in similar moral values, the overall ‘vibe’ of the country does ooze an enviable feeling of satisfaction. Indeed, the rate of serious crimes such as murder is statistically one of the lowest in the world, suggesting that respecting your fellow humans runs deep into the Japanese psyche.
One of the reasons for this may be that there are subtle reminders about how to behave towards each other wherever you go. Public parking areas not only make allowances for the disabled and parents with young children, but also the elderly and pregnant ladies. The tradition of taking your shoes off as you enter a home is not just an age-old tradition, but a way of life that signifies how you should treat the belongings of another. And one that is hard to get used to, is that in Japan there is no tipping – a job should be done correctly without any added incentive and a clear price makes financial exchanges seamlessly cordial.
This all adds up to a place where if you put down your phone and walk away from it in error, return and it is likely to still be there, or put your bag on a chair that’s meant for sitting on, and it is likely to be frowned upon.
In other words, Japan is a country that values values.
We arrived at the airport around 1:00am which meant waiting till 5.30am when the metro lines opened to head to our hotel! Nothing strikes boredom into the heart of any traveler than the idea of waiting around in an airport, however, we were pleasantly surprised with how we could fill our time. We started with a mini tour of the airport followed by a tasty croissant at one of the cafes which happened to be open at that time; Cafe Cardinal.
We then came across quite a novel idea where you purchase a small wooden tag from a vending machine (obviously), write a personalized note onto it and hang it next to thousands of others on their Wishes Wall. Another great and strangely exciting discovery occurred inside the restrooms at the airport. They were seriously high tech with a range of buttons positioned on the wall which would clean the toilet for you!
Tokyo Subway: The mayhem begins
When it came to transportation, our luck was about to run out when we ventured inside the subway for the first time. Unlike the toilets in the airport, the only thing we were impressed with here was the locals ability to actually read the evil metro map! If it wasn’t bad enough that we had to try and figure out where on earth we were going, it was all written in Japanese. Obviously. A smaller map in English gave us a little clue, but not much. I passed on much of the navigating responsibility to my husband, then at least I couldn’t be blamed if we got completely lost! However, near the end of our trip we had almost mastered the metro map!
Accommodation: Everything in small in Japan
We finally arrived at the Yokohama Sakuragicho Washington Hotel and were extremely happy with our hotel choice! Set in an awesome location just 2 minutes from the train station, there was a great array of restaurants, attractions and cafe’s just a short walk away. Not only was the location perfect, but the view from our room was stunning, overlooking the large Ferris wheel in the bay.
Even though the rooms were really small (like most things in Japan) we had everything we needed and wanted! Checking out of a hotel is normally a standard procedure passing your key to the front desk, but not here. Machines are available for you to simply insert your room card, pay any remaining fees and away you go!
After robots checking us out of our hotel we took a different approach to our accommodation in Tokyo, staying in a wonderful place through Airbnb. Our host was just great and the room was rather spacious, which is always a plus!
Theme parks ban the Selfie Stick?!
Japan boasts an abundance of attractions to suit everyone’s taste and even though we had only a short time here, we managed to fit quite a bit in! Just like Dubai, there were many theme parks, zoo’s and malls like the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse which we thoroughly enjoyed, Akihabara where we picked up some amazing cosmetics and even Tokyo Train station, yes, you read that right. This station is no ordinary train station, but is home to an unbelievable underground shopping mall with every retail outlet you could imagine!
Disney Land was a simply magical place (obviously!) which brought back so many childhood memories as you pass by Disney princesses and enjoy all the bright colors and fun activities. But as you can imagine it was super crowded and we had to queue for hours to get on a single ride!
Lines weren’t as bad at other theme parks such as Yokohama Cosmo World which had a ton of great rides but also had the most baffling rule I have ever encountered. Signs covered the park completely banning selfie sticks. I know everyone has a different view on the Selfie Stick Trend but that was just amusing!
Visiting the Amazon in JAPAN?
Roller coaster rides can give you the screams and excitement but nothing can compare to the feeling of returning to your childhood like a trip to the zoo! We can’t rate the Yokohama Zoo; Zoorasia high enough. Each area throughout the park was themed, so you would take a journey through different areas across the globe from the Amazon to the Dessert all in one place, seeing the different species which walk the lands.
In comparison, Ueno Zoo was nothing to write home about. It was considerably smaller than Zoorasia and nowhere near as nice, however, our trip wasn’t for nothing, we wanted to visit the panda’s, an animal you can’t see at Zoorasia!
Hot chocolate with a group of cats!
Japan is known for the weird and wonderful and if you are cat lovers like we are, then a trip here would not be complete without a visit to the Cat Cafe. Enjoy a drink while being surrounded by purring felines! It can be quite torturous as they have a rule that you can’t go around picking up the cats, you have to wait for them to come to you, which is fair!
I mentioned in my previous blog post about some of the struggles we had finding food, however it wasn’t all doom and gloom towards the end of our time in Japan. While exploring ChinaTown and browsing at the souvenirs we came across Strawberry Cheesecake KitKat. Yes. Strawberry. Cheesecake. KitKat. To be honest, if you don’t at least get yourself a different flavored KitKat in Japan your trip pretty much doesn’t count!
Combining culture with couture
The big tourist attractions are all well and good, but we wanted a little culture on our visit too. Sankeien Gardens is a photographers paradise, with open ponds, tree’s in full bloom and historic Japanese buildings to explore made for a wonderful contrast and a beautiful experience. Japan has an intriguing way of combining history, beauty and shopping, so at least when you are browsing the different shops you can also feel as though you are getting a bit of culture too.
Sensō-ji Temple was another location which we loved so much we returned for round two! Not only do you get to admire the stunning ancient Buddhist temple, but the surround area is home to an array of shops, which kept me happy on more than one occasion! Asakusa was a similar area which combined plenty of shops as well as the Buddhist temple; Sanju.
Yes, malls seem to dominate Japan, however, you can get your culture-fix without being tempted to splurge on ANOTHER pair of stilettos. When we came out, we knew that Japan was famous for its innovative technologies and advanced forward thinking, so it was great to see it in action at the Mitsubishi Minatomirai Industrial Museum which is perfect for the geek which lives within us all as we browsed through all the latest gadgets and technologies.
If you don’t fancy getting your geek on at the Museum, then you can let your inner art critic out at the Hakone Open Air Museum which has some amazing art pieces. We were lucky enough to be blessed with gorgeous weather that day which made for even more incredible views!
Lake Ashi stole my heart
Coming from Dubai, I have seen the big theme parks, the flashy shopping malls, I wanted something more. Up until this point, I had seen a fair amount in Japan considering the short duration of the trip however, nothing stood out more than my trip to Lake Ashi in Hakone. Out of the hustle and bustle, my lungs were filled with fresh air as it’s cool grasp swept gently across my face with majestic mountains dominating the surrounds. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to access the mountain due to the surrounding volcanoes being rather active! However, ever single time I look at my photographs taken here, I have the overwhelming feeling to take a long deep breath.
My time in Japan will never be forgotten. It was crazy at times but I think that’s just what makes Japan so unique. Maybe next time we could stay a little longer and return back to the beauty of Lake Ashi for one more breath.
“I can’t walk down the streets of Japan without finding something unusual or peculiar. It’s just so stimulating.” – Michael Booth
If you’re from Dubai and plan on going to Tokyo, or the other way around, here are some things to keep in mind.
It’s VERY clean!
If you are from Dubai then you probably know all too well how clean the streets are, after all we are known for it (cleanest city in the region). Just when you thought you couldn’t find a city to match Dubai’s level, think again. Tokyo really goes above and beyond to keep their malls, streets and even public toilets at an A grade of cleanliness!
When travelling to different countries in the world, you may sometimes get the feeling that you don’t quite fit in. That you stand out because of how you dress or the color of your skin which can make for an uncomfortable vacation. This is not so in Japan. The country is highly diverse and welcoming to visitors from around the globe, so there is no need to worry about feeling like a stranger in this already wonderfully strange land!
It seems no matter where you go in Japan, the service is outstanding. Whether you are in your hotel, eating out at a restaurant or relaxing in a spa for the day, the staff go above and beyond!
Great food options
If you have a craving for it, there is a high chance that Japan can supply! It’s amazing how varied their food options are, which ties in with how diverse the country is as a whole. A word of warning though; with less than 1% of the Japanese population being Muslim, they haven’t quite mastered vegetarian or Halal dishes just yet!
Like UAE, the crime rate is low in Japan which makes for a very relaxing trip however, this doesn’t mean you can disregard all common sense and think that nothing bad could ever happen! Be cautious but relax and enjoy your holiday knowing that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world!
If you are planning a getaway with the family to Japan then you are in luck as just like Dubai the country is geared towards families offering attractions and services to meet the needs of all ages. On a side note, there is no need to worry about clothing as the Japanese are really quite modest themselves!
We have all heard about the mayhem which is the Tokyo underground. With their map offering little to no reassurance, you really should add on an extra half an hour to your journey as the “helpful” map is a language of its own! It may be a little hectic at first, but unlike Dubai, public transport in Japan can get you anywhere you need to go for much less than a cab charge. Just remember that all services stop running at midnight, which isn’t too much of a problem when all the shops close by 10pm anyway!
Pay before you eat anything!
Have you ever walked through supermarket and started sipping on a bottle of water you just selected from the fridge before you have reached the register? Well if you do as Maysm did and tried this stunt in Japan then you would be in for quite a shock as our attendant freaked out when we passed her the bottle of water we were drinking!
Being adventurous with food – Maybe not
Now, when we are travelling to exotic and foreign lands, we always strive to try new and weird delicacies with the motto “Well if I don’t like it, I’ll just throw it away!”. Not in Japan. There is a distinct lack of garbage cans ANYWHERE which means if you don’t like what you have just purchased, you are stuck with it till you get back to your hotel!
Why’s that? – ‘You can’t find a rubbish bin in Japan because of a religious cult that killed 13 and injured 5,500 while trying to install a messianic yoga instructor as the new Emperor of Japan.‘ Full story here.
The Japanese people are extremely polite, but they are also VERY quiet. To the point where speaking loudly on the metro or trains is not allowed and even your phone in these areas MUST remain on silent.
With the era of the selfie stick in full bloom, you may be tempted to slip in a shameless selfie with you and your friends whilst at one of Japan’s theme parks. This wouldn’t be a wise move as selfie sticks are completely banned with signs dominating the parks, looks like you will have to do it the old fashioned way and ask someone nicely!
Travel in the right direction
Japan is one busy place, we all know that. So when moving with a large crowd or up an escalator, make sure you keep to the left to allow enough space for people to overtake you!
Just like in England you will queue for everything, there seems to be a line for just about anything you can imagine having to wait for. So if in doubt, join the back or make your own line, just to be polite!
Be on time
Things in Japan run like clockwork. Literally. A lot of Asian countries might be known for being laid back and “late for everything” but Japan is different. It could be said that they are ahead of time and if you walk into a restaurant with a 7pm reservation, they will not greet you or seat you a minute before!
We’ve all watched this video, right?
Unless you are fluent in Japanese then you are bound to encounter a huge language barrier as not many people speak English. It’s best to be prepared with a few common phrases, a translator app like Google Translate and also, keep the name and address of your hotel written in Japanese on a piece of paper. Picking up a business card from the front desk to show taxi drivers and locals is another great tip!
For a country so forward thinking and highly developed in all areas of technology, there is a distinct lack of ATM machines that will accept foreign cards. So, to avoid a sticky situation, always keep some extra cash on you until you can find an ATM which will accept your card!
Japan’s tap water is 100% safe to drink, really!
If you are coming from a country where tipping is mandatory or just seen as polite; then leave your guilty conscious at home because contrary to Japan being an extremely polite country, tipping is considered VERY rude! Servers are paid a good living wage unlike those working in places like the US so if they owe you a single yen in change, wait and receive it.
Japanese people are so wonderfully friendly and polite, even though you could probably get away with a certain level of “mistakes” because you are a tourist, it is always much nicer if you follow the simple tips above to begin with.
Before departing on our trip to Japan where Maysm was attending a conference in Yokohama, we had very few expectations of the country we would be visiting. All we expected was to witness first hand the Japanese’s love for technology, their innovative inventions and their overly polite nature. Our only real concern was regarding food. Being Muslims, we were curious as to how we would find the food options available to us, but we thought, it’s only for ten days, if we have to give up meat and go vegetarian, it’s not the end of the world! We soon came to realize that it wouldn’t be that easy. We happen to dislike seafood and with sushi bars dominating the streets of Japan and their need to include some sort of seafood in every vegetarian dish, we were hitting some unexpected obstacles. An even bigger problem revealed itself when we couldn’t even grab a bowl of chips because they would have been fried in pork fat.
The language barrier only exasperated the issue. There was so much variation on the words alcohol and pork that even if we were told a dish was free from both, it probably wasn’t. This problem persisted until we discovered an app that would make things a whole lot easier; HalalNavi. The app contained a whole bunch of restaurants and would show which dishes were free from pork products and also present alternative options.
The app managed to magic up other wonders like directing us to a Turkish Halal restaurant which turned out to be a Circassian restaurant! With such a small minority of Circassians in the world, we couldn’t believe we found one in Tokyo of all places!
Even though we only stayed for ten days, we couldn’t get over how polite everyone was. At first we were slightly dubious about how genuine their kindness was until we took the Metro one evening to get back to our hotel in Yokohama. A rather intoxicated Japanese gentleman was sat next to my husband and proceeded to what I can only imagine was to use my husband as a human pillow. Gently pushing the sleepy intoxicated man off, he suddenly regains consciousness. Oh no! I thought, please don’t turn into a fight! On the contrary; the man couldn’t be more apologetic for his actions. Wow. Now these are genuinely nice people!
Over our ten days in Japan we only encountered two other women wearing Hijabs. With less than 1% of Japanese residents being Muslim, this was not a common sight. As we walked down the street we would get the feeling we were being stared at, only to turn around and for that person to look away quickly. On that note, at no point did we ever feel isolated or threatened by these stares. They were looks of pure curiosity, nothing more.
After accidentally stumbling across a festival in Tokyo we were confronted with a lot of curious locals. They would point at our Hijabs and mutter a question in Japanese. I can only imagine they were asking us a question or maybe paying us a compliment. A word we got rather used to was Kawaii, meaning cute in Japanese.
Even though we had a few obstacles with finding suitable restaurants; We loved our time in Japan and even though there is only a small population of practicing Muslims, we were greeted with only curious and polite looks from the locals (a few requested to have photos with us!) and a ton of great memories from our short trip to this fast paced land.