The look on most people’s faces when we tell them that we spent ten weeks, not days, travelling through Japan is priceless. It’s part disbelief, part surprise, part curiosity. We get asked a lot if it cost us a fortune, if it was hard to navigate for that long, and finally… just why?! It’s a long time to be spending in one country for a ‘holiday’, I get that, but it really was my dream destination. I’ve wanted to visit Japan ever since I missed out of a school trip when I was twelve; it only took close to twenty years but when we finally arrived in the Land of the Rising Sun, my heart was bursting with excitement and apprehension. Would it live up to the lofty expectations I have held for it over the years? Friends, it did. We can both, hand on heart, without a single ounce of hesitation, say that Japan was our favourite of all the countries we visited during our stint away.
It’s so hard to succinctly explain the lure of Japan; it is a country of contrasts and contradictions. It is fabled for being overbearingly ordered and controlled, yet you will find pockets of disarray which challenge the norm. It is high tech and cutting edge, but painfully traditionally in so many aspects. The cities are big, bold and bright, while the countryside is overwhelmingly green and peaceful. In ten weeks we were able to explore the country at a slower pace than most, taking in all the beauty and quirks of this country, but even then, there’s still so much more we want to experience and are already plotting a return visit… hopefully I don’t have to wait so long next time. Here are a couple of lessons (trivial and otherwise) I learnt from those ten weeks in this incredible country…
Watching oversized and underdressed men push, pull, lift, and hold each other is not my usual idea of fun. On paper, it actually sounds a bit terrifying but in reality it was scintillating. My first foray into the uniquely Japanese world of sumo wrestling did not fail in surprising and thrilling me. I arrived at the arena with very little knowledge of sumo wrestling; the common stereotypes of very large men comically charging at each other were the extent of my shamefully uncultured knowledge, but I truly left with a new-found appreciation of the sport. Live sport rarely manages to hold my attention, however the speed and simplicity of sumo had me hooked, teetering on the edge of my seat, and cheering on the athletes like I had been a fan for years. This was without a doubt one of my favourite and most memorable experiences in our entire Japanese adventure so if you happen to be in Japan during one of the tournaments, you must go and experience it for yourself!
I remember that first sip well; it was chalky and abrasive, something I did not want to drink again. In hindsight, trying sake for the first time at a raucous, much-loved local BYO restaurant was not my smartest move. There’s a reason they suggest you bring your own booze. But I was young and stupid, and the bento box dinners were within easy reach of my university student budget. The sake was promptly chased by a gulp of cheap wine and classed as a tick off the drinks bucket list. The few experiences I had since then were better, though still not enough to turn it into a regular drink of choice. Trying it again in Japan would be the final test; my logic was that if I couldn’t like it here then I wouldn’t bother drinking it again. So to give myself and sake the best possible chance of getting along, we joined sake sommelier Yuma from Ninja Food Tours for a sake tasting class!