Author: Nicola Filchev Editor: Vesselina Vassileva
The small details make Japan different and stunning – the reflection of the sunset over a small river covered with fallen cherry blossoms (sakura) in Tokyo’s quiet, secluded artisanal neighborhood; the sight of a few thousands of deer released in Nara that bow after you feeding them cookies; the amusement parks, beautiful beaches and young smiling children of Yokohama and Kyoto’s ancient castles and bamboo forests.
The breathtaking nature was definitely the highlight of my journey. Even in the most urban areas, greenery was an integral part of the atmosphere. Countless business buildings are surrounded with innumerable flowers, shrubs, trees and built fountains to contribute to the well-being of people in a country where it is not easy to survive.
I wasn’t particularly fascinated by some of the more industrialized and darker cities like Osaka, but there I visited the largest market for food and slots (pachinko) I have ever seen. At midnight, there were several hundred people in a building playing pachinko (most of them alone), perhaps to escape the stress of a hard day at work. The noise of 200 pachinkos in a small hall is comparable to that of a music concert.
During my two-week stay I met four friends from Bulgaria. All four were on the verge of misery or depression. Some claimed that in Japan you could hardly find true friends. If you have 1-2 friends (even not so close ones), you are still considered lucky. Usually, the same scenario plays out. You go out several times, everything seems normal, but at one point they stop responding and vanish. Ghosting was very common among friends, but really depressing for the more extroverted foreigners. It wasn’t a problem for the locals at all, as they loved to spend almost all of their day alone.
Others find it difficult because, although the standard of living is high, many professions do not receive high enough salaries. Their salaries are sufficient to help them survive but they can’t afford to travel much on the weekends. The suicide rate is unrealistically high because many people find it difficult to cope with their parents, bosses and elders’ high expectations.
The quietest nation
The Japanese evoked quite mixed feelings in me. They are certainly the most closed and quietest nation I have ever encountered. Few of them speak English. Most of the time, they are very polite and welcoming, but the longer the communication with them is it shows that their kindness is a duty and not at all so sincere. Of course, there are exceptions – people who have lived abroad. They have taken the best of Japan and the countries visited and have tried to get out of the shell of the typical closed-minded thinking of the Japanese, according to which if you are different then something is wrong.
Young people almost never go out together, have no desire to marry or have children. Many small businesses, such as “paid girlfriend” ($ 40- $ 100 per hour), thrive. You can see very rarely couples on the streets holding hands or even speaking to one another. If they talk, they do it in such a low tone that I don’t even know how they could hear themselves!
It is almost impossible to communicate with strangers unless you are in the right place for socializing – bars or specific cafes. They look at you in a very weird way if you try to start a conversation with them, and they would do anything to finish your interaction as soon as possible so they can return to their comfort zone.
However, after drinking some other beer or sake, they became somewhat relaxed, but still did not talk enough. Somehow, it seemed that it was enough for them to ask a few questions and thus “crossed out” the need to socialize.
I was really sorry I couldn’t visit their nightclubs after 11pm where the really big party happens, especially if you’re a foreigner. I have heard that alcohol was drunk in liters. Then they really relax and start having fun.
In the subway, the eyes of all passengers in an incredibly crowded wagon are staring at their smartphones and do not even look at what is happening around them. I found it very interesting and often stared at their small screens. To my surprise, I saw that almost everyone played games in which they linked different colors and shapes and made long combinations with them, or used a chat system. Only a few older people were reading a book or solving a sudoku. I was incredibly impressed with the speed with which an 85-year-old man handled his puzzle and congratulated him on it. He responded very nicely, while in a similar situation with someone from the younger generation, I was totally ignored.
Prices are not that high. The price of the equipment on the markets where most Japanese people buy is close to ours, if not cheaper. In 75-80% of the restaurants one can really eat good for 10-15lv. In the few fast food franchises that offer standard Japanese foods, you can satisfy hunger for even less.
I almost never came across food that I didn’t fall in love with after the first bite! My top favorite dishes were their sushi, okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Sushi is similar to ours, but there seemed to be less and fresher produce in it. The best sushi could be found near sea markets, but it was much more expensive.
My favorite was the eel sushi which was being burnt with a burner in front of my eyes.Okonomiyaki is similar to a pancake made with cabbage, over which vegetables, meats, eggs and many sauces are stacked! For three days I ate only okonomiyaki throughout the day, and after every meal, besides the incredible taste in my mouth, I had a lot of energy to continue my walk.
Japan is a fabulous place that everyone should visit to enjoy nature. However, in terms of way of living – it is the absolute opposite of my way of thinking.
I definitely advise readers to travel in a group because some of the sights are made so that you can have more fun if you are with friends. I would recommend South Korea as a destination dozens of times more by any criteria, because in my opinion it has taken the best things from Japan and some other countries, and their mentality is much closer to the Bulgarian one.
Other blog posts on tourism , you can find here – Malta Travel guide: Valetta, Mdina, Comino, Gozo, Marsaxlokk , Ruin bars, SPA and other hidden gems in Budapest and 11 typical things to do in Vienna while on Erasmus.