If there were some awards, to be given to countries based on their culture and lifestyle, award for most the most bizarre lifestyle would no doubt go to Japan. Where to even start about unique things I found in Japan? But I must pen this one.
To really travel Japan one must not only experience the variety of odd phenomena and be fascinated by it; but also try to understand what they mean on a deeper level. What does it speak of the people who have created these and partake in these. While the latter will require some deep and thoughtful investigation, let me share my excitement by telling you briefly about all the intriguing stuff I discovered in Japan and my thoughts about them.
1. Techy Toilets
What on earth! Bidets are found elsewhere too. But Japanese take them on another level. You can press button, for cleaning at two different spots. And if you want to make noise? Well, they’ve got you covered. There is a music button which will play ‘meditative river flowing’ kind of noise to muffle yours. Some toilets seats will go up when you open the door. But what impressed me most was that some toilets had a small tap where we usually have our flush button. The idea is, when you press the flush button on the side, the tap will pour clean water to wash hands, and same water will then go to flush your, ahem, tish. How efficient!!
2. Capsule hotels
These are very gorgeous looking hotels; with reception, lobby, elevators, short on nothing; but beds! Instead they have pods. Sleeping pods. In a large room a space to sleep for about more or less 50 people. Shower area, locker and toilets are separate. In one pod, a person can comfortably sit, and roll around while sleeping. You can charge your gadgets, and dim or brighten your light. If you think of it for a second, 50 humans laying in capsules in one room; how cool! I saw that in space movies.
3. Standing Steak House
Excuse me? You want me to have my dinner steak while standing up? The whole time? Yes, welcome to Japan. I had been recommended a steakhouse called Ikinari by some locals, and they told me this way you will be eating a really high quality meat economically. Its sort of like fast food for steak. I did not fancy the idea of a standing dinner, till I saw they were cutting my meat in front of me, and when I had a bite of that medium raw-ness, it made absolute sense. And I forgot about the fact that I’m standing.
4. High Speed Sushi
When you go Japan thinking you will be travelling in bullet train. You enter a sushi restaurant to have your first lunch, and there is no waiter. You grab a seat, pick up the tablet, place the order. And there arrives your sushi, on a mini bullet train besides you!!!! What the actual f*&^. Who are these people. And then I got a hang of it. I kept ordering the 100Y plates from the tablet, and they kept arriving on the track between 1-2 minutes on the clock.
5. Maid Cafe
If we in Pakistan had maids that looked like these we’d be telling them not to work, instead ask them to tell us about some of their skin care routines. Okay jokes apart these are not real maids, but women working in the cafe dolled up like extremely cute looking maids, for..you guessed it, serving your fantasies, ones that involve a maid. There is nothing immoral that happens in these cafes, the maids are actually barristers and also your company, they serve you with coffee or snacks and they talk to you rather flirt, and tell you things that are not honest but feel good to hear. Like, ‘hey you are so handsome, I love your smile’. ‘Don’t care what other say, you are amazing’. Want some good ol’ fashion ego boost, with some sprinkles? Oh and before everything at some cafes they offer grooming services, like ear cleaning. In the end, you pay for the nice words and gestures, and say goodbye.
6. Robot show
This is insanity. It will be the most trippiest place you will ever go to in your travels. You would want to compare it to something, some other theatre or show, but you wont be able to. Guaranteed. It is a one hour thirty minute, sensorially overloaded show put up by humans and robots. It may or may not make sense, it didn’t to me, but then I tried not to understand what was going on, and just let my self experience. The place itself will mesmerise you with the colours and reflectors; you wont be able to distinguish the walls from floors, even the toilet was in reflective gold, from ceiling to walls to the floor. The best way to define it is, someone wanted to bring their acid trip to real life, they created this place.
7. Japanese curtain
I fell in love with Noren. This is a traditional Japanese curtain made of cotton like fabric. It is designed in several rectangular pieces, hung outside shops/restaurants, bearing the name, serving as a very minimalist shop sign. The split design makes it convenient for people to walk through it. Also making it a nice shade from sun. The curtain also signifies that the store/shop is open, they are taken down/rolled up at the end of day. They are also used at homes. How beautiful.
8. Vending machine for everything
There is a vending machine in Japan for everything. You will guess water, beverages, snacks but but there are ones for cigarettes (pretty much at every corner), canned ramen, bread, hot coffee drinks in cans, alcoholic beverages, french fries, even many restaurants have this ordering system where you browse and select food, pay for it and get the ticket via a vending machine and then go to the counter to get it. You can buy toys, stamps (which are a cool thing in Japan), batteries, umbrellas, gloves. And the ones I really wanted to see for myself but couldn’t find are the ones that dispense porn and other ones that does pantyhose. Just for my curiosity. But maybe next time.
9. Obsession with green tea
Japanese are green-tea-holics. If that is a term. It seems to be their national drink infact their national flavor! You will find several varieties in the cold beverages section of every 7/11. Vending machines have them. Some sushi places have a hot water tap on every seat/table and a green-tea canter is lying there for you to have it on the house. Most restaurants when you get seated will ask you, water or green tea, which will be on the house. Visit any super store and you will find hundreds of confectionary items like chocolate, sweets, bread, dry fruits in green tea flavor. The most high quality brew is called Matcha. And most of your dessert shops/icecream parlors, coffee shops, even ice-cream freezers will have matcha flavoured everything.
10. Mario kart
Why just play the game behind the screen when you can actually, on real roads, in real traffic, drive Mario cars! And even more fun part is you can pick your costume. Tokyo can be unreal. And you know what when you and your group will stop at an intersection, you will feel like celebrities because the rest of the amazed tourists will all photograph you! These people you see in the pictures don’t know they were going to get a feature in my blog, ha!
11. Worlds busiest intersection
Tokyo lives up to the reputation for everything a little out of the ordinary. Like this famous Shibuya intersection, which is said to be the world’s most busiest one. And at the busy hours, it makes for quite a show. Hundreds of locals and tourists cross this intersection at the same time from all directions. And so the intersection is noisy, lit up in neon lights and flashing advertising. There are shops and restaurants and cafes. Tourists are pouring money on the shops. There is a train station right at the intersection so you can see many people greeting each other and many saying goodbye and many like me with their camera running around the intersection trying to capture the madness. There is Starbucks with glass walls overlooking the intersection, where many enjoy it for photography and people watching. It is quite an atmosphere here at Shibuya crossing if you wanna feel it in the air.
12. A baby seat in a toilet
Japanese have a characteristic eye for detail and this reflects in their products, designs and even signposts. For example this baby seat in a female toilet; I have been to 20 countries and have not seen this inside a toilet. They thought about a toddler in a mothers arms, a mother who needs to pee, she is on her own and must take the toddler inside with her.
13. Adulting is uncool
Wait, I just turned 30 and have been all about how can I adult better. And then I go to Japan to find growing up is so so over rated. Nobody here wants to do sober and somber! Anywhere you turn your head, there is manga. Animated characters on every packaging. There are stores overflowing toys and stamps and fluffy things. And there’s gaming arcades and Pachinko houses (slot machine gaming parlors). Even the serious adult things like, sheet (face) masks I picked from drugstores came with character faces printed on them. What on earth is going on there, one wonders. But well, leave your adult in your behind in country is the best advice!
14. Bamboo Forest
There is nothing unique about bamboo, right? We have seen bamboo plants. But wait till you see a BAMBOO FOREST! Yes, an entire area densely covered with tall bamboos. Walk amidst them and realise you may have seen a lot, but you still haven’t seen everything haven’t you. And then you will find small local artisan shops outside temples, carving things out of bamboo. There are toothbrushes made out of bamboo and combs and many other daily use items for which they use this natural material they have in abundance.
15. Beautiful chaos
Tokyo is chaotic; it is also the definition of Japan in many ways. You must have been to Times Square in NYC, to the streets in London, to Louvre in Paris; the quintessential metropolitan capitals of the world to experience the chaos and be a part of it. But the one in Tokyo, is incomparable. There is too much of everything, the constant buzz in the air, loud announcement sounds and overflowing inventory of products in drugstores and multiple storey electronic shops, the narrow alleys which hosts pubs, the five storey narrow and tall buildings where each floor may have a completely different business running; from restaurant to karaoke to a manga cafe. From afar you can see a neon lit sign telling you what’s there on each floor. Take a stroll in the night on the street food market or around a temple, it will show a very traditional asian spirit. The bling on the streets of Tokyo will keep your neck up and moving. And go in November, you will see winter illuminations adding to the eclectic vibe of the city. The chaos I found was beautiful.
This series is not finished yet! Keep following for part 2.