Reise durch Japan

26 April 2015

Impressions: clean streets, very polite and helpful people, streets busy as a beehive, very coordinated traffic, visual pollution, islands of peace in the middle of chaos, people sleeping, very efficient public transportation. To "people sleeping": I heard that a worker works in average 6 days a week and going out with colleagues after work is more or less a must — so this might now and then extend your work journey to ten hours a day, reducing your sleeping time — thus tired workers. It was also a contradiction to see that Japanese cities cannot be compared to zen gardens — the cities are chaotic.

Communication and getting around: We landed in Tokyo in the morning and took care of the infrastructure first: SIM—Card, money and transportation. Tokyo lived up to my expectations. Modern but not necessarily western, big and crowded but clean and organized. Although many forums said that european telephones wouldn't work in Japan, an iPhone 5 with a Japanese pre—paid SIM worked perfectly. A smartphone is a big help in a different country. We were a bit worried about how to get around with signs all written in Japanese and finding streets here and there, but nothing of that was a problem with a working smartphone: Google Maps and Google Translator (sorry for the ad) work very well in Japan. Every time we needed directions the app would suggest a route on foot or by public transportation, with very precise departure times and connection trains (and trip fare). Google Maps never made a mistake. Google Translator is in my opinion a breakthrough to communication: you can scan Japanese signs with your camera and the app will translate the sentences to English. Translating simple sentences is usually reliable. It also worked whenever we needed to communicate with someone that did not understand any English: You type in the sentences you want in English and the app will translate it to Japanese so that you can show the message to the other person.

Technology: Although Japan is known for the technology, I noticed very little online services: bus lines, apps for tourists, online shopping, mobile payment — train ticket reservation was not available online, bus plans for different cities, time—tables, museum and hotel web sites were often poorly illustrated, online hotel reservations not always possible. Vending machines were available everywhere though. But technology is very present: restaurants with menus on iPads, where items are taken out of the menu while you're still ordering, automatic toilet seats that wash your posterior ("washlets" — very dangerous gadget if you can't read the buttons), hybrid cars are well marketed, high—speed trains.

Environment: Plastic bags are a plague everywhere in the world, in Japan just as much as in Europe. And here every piece of cake is wrapped in plastic. On the other hand Japanese seem to be very good at recycling. I haven't noticed an awareness towards saving energy either: Japanese keep their "washlets" (automatic toilet seats) on 24/7. The toilet seat is heated all day. Every house has one. I imagine a lot electricity is wasted keeping toilet seats heated when you actually only use it twice a day. Not to mention the amount of energy spent in the vending machines kept lit day and night.

Food: The food here is very healthy — or it can be — and it's listed as a world heritage, as well. Probably because it's so healthy, obesity does not seem to be a problem in Japan. When you visit temples, you see a number of people in advanced age, going up and down steep stairs, without much of a problem. I might be stating the obvious, but the food is good but not everywhere. Fans of Thai food or even Chinese Food will probably miss the spices in the Japanese food. But with time you find the highlights: filled rice—triangles, tempura and the different types of noodle soups. Price is not necessarily an indication for good food. Instead I'd say that we ate best in the simplest restaurants, those around the corner. On the one hand I had the impression that Japanese value good food, on the other hand it's easy to find food containing preservatives, glutamate and colorants — it's a tip for those who value fresh food. It's easy to find fresh food as well. Desserts in a European sense, do not seem to be part of the Japanese food culture.

Highlights: Okonomiyaki, Yakisoba, Tofu, Udon, Soba, Tempura, Gyoza, Sushi, O—Nigiri, Ginger, Sake.

Prices: Japan is expensive: average accommodation in Tokyo costs about 70 EUR for a micro—room. A room in a Ryokan, which is the Japanese version of a bed and breakfast, can be very small for European standards and does not include a bed — you sleep on a futon mattress on the floor. But I'd still recommend the experience. It makes you feel more in Japan. Tickets for museums are reasonable — about 3—6 EUR, even to the most famous attractions. Electronics seem to cost just as much as everywhere else in the world. Transportation is also very expensive and buying a JR Rail Pass is recommended if you're going to be traveling for more than a week. The trains are impressive: High—Speed in a sense that you can travel relatively big distances within 1—2 hours. It's impressive to see a long bullet train speed through a station in 2 seconds.

Japan is an impressive country, full of spots listed as world heritage. Japanese people are friendly and helpful. The culture and the language are interesting. A trip to Japan is highly recommended.

Days: 21

Route: Tokyo, Kamakura, Gotemba, Osaka, Nara, Himeji, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Akashi, Koyasan, Kyoto, Tokyo

Highlights: Kyoto, Tokyo, Himeji, Miyajima, Hiroshima, Nara, Koyasan, food, shinkansen.



Andon Ryokan (very good)

The Edo Sakura (very good)

Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku (very good)


Kumini Hotel (average)


Esaka Tokyu Rei (not good, because of smoker's room)


Miyajima Guest House Mikuniya (Good)


Hitomaru Kadan (average)


Hojo—in (a highlight)


Kyoto Tenseian (a highlight)