During our two months in Japan, we learned that it is a strange, but wonderful, land of contradictions. Its style and culture is an unlikely mix of very traditional, with strict adherence to rules and rituals, and hi-tech innovation. It's people are both extraordinarily polite and conservative, and at the same time excitable and slightly whacky. It is an amazing combination of old and new, stern and happy, serious and fun.
You can see it in their architecture, which ranges from stunning old temples - which you will be seeing a lot of in future posts, to modern skyscrapers.
You can see it in their toilets, which will sometimes be traditional asian squat style, and other times whizzy sit down ones, with music, and cleaning jets and heated seats - with Japanese character control panels that can be a bit intimidating when you first see them!
You see it in the reaction of people to foreigners; we didn't come across it, but we were assured by an English bar owner, who has been in Japan for many years, that some Japanese can be quite scathing of foreigners and their less than perfect attempts at the language. All we saw was the opposite, people being incredibly friendly, going out of their way to help us, chatting in bars (sometimes more in gestures due to no shared language), sharing their food with us, and even buying us drinks.
You see it in their pastimes, from refined traditional dancing with its intricate and delicate movements, and their highly ritualised tea ceremonies, to their obsession with karaoke, and their penchant for cat cafes and maid cafes. I'll talk more about the maid cafes when we get to Tokyo.
You see it in their food, from the dainty and perfectly formed sushi and sashimi, through hearty katsu curries, scarily dangerous fugu (puffer fish that, if not prepared absolutely perfectly, will kill you), and to rice dishes and desserts that are molded and decorated into cats, pandas and even Snoopy.
And you see it in their clothes. Most of the time, most Japanese wear normal, fairly smart clothes. A businessman is most likely to wear a formal black suit, while casual clothes have the usual dangerous would see on any high street. You will see a few more people wearing character sweatshirts or backpacks, such as Snoopy (Snoopy is really popular here), Hello Kitty, or others. But it is when women get dressed up that the distinction really hits. And it really is 'dress up'. For some, dressing up is all about the beautiful, elegant, restrictive and traditional kimono. We saw a lot of this around the cherry blossom. But for others, it is about cosplay. Dressing up as characters from manga (Japanese cartoons), or other fictional entities. You can see this in the next post on the Nipponbashi Street Festival.
Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.
Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.