I’ve been in Japan for a little over 1 month and my expectations did not disappoint! So much has happened in this time and it has been like a whirlwind. I arrived at Kanazawa (on the West coast of Japan) just as the sakura/cherry blossom season started. It was a purely magical sight to see. For those who don’t know, Kanazawa is a smaller city full of nature, is centered around one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens, Kenroku-en, and is a wonderful place in Japan to explore if you prefer to avoid the hustle and bustle of Tokyo or Kyoto. Cherry blossom season is a must-see experience but there are plenty of other festivals and seasonal events to see if you happen to miss it. The trees holding these small and delicate flowers lined the streets throughout the town. A festival was held at Kenroku-en and people dressed in traditional kimonos and hakamas came to view the flowers, eat, drink and celebrate this special week of Spring.
As a foreigner, I initially got many stares and puzzled looks from people when I tried to communicate and even come across people who completely walk in a different direction when they see you coming but Japanese people are generally kind and are interested in helping you and may strike up a conversation about where you are from. Japanese people are also very polite and like to praise me on my broken Japanese. Being my first time overseas, I compared everything to their equivalent in Australia. Everything including living spaces, transport, food and cultural norms was different and it made the transition from Australian life to Japanese life all the harder. Living spaces in Japan are condensed and upon arriving in my university dormitory, I was shocked by the size. To be fair, it had everything I needed: a bed, bathroom, kitchen and storage space but seriously how could I possibly live in a room that is the size of regular bedroom in Australia? After settling in, I laughed because it is more than enough for what I need and it is extremely comfortable and low maintenance. And now everyday after uni or just a day out in the city, I can relax and call this room “home”.
Transport in smaller cities are mainly buses, taxis or bicycles. Personally, bicycles are the best options. It gives you the freedom to travel wherever you want whenever you want and the roads are extremely safe because you can either ride on the wide footpaths or the designated bike lanes. I bought a bicycle from the local bicycle shop near the university and in a month I’ve used it so much. It is so satisfying riding from one campus to other each day and passing the beautiful scenery that looks like its frozen inside a picture hanging on the wall. Its a common cultural norm in Japan to travel by bicycle and I definitely recommend it.
And now for the all important topic of food haha. Food in Japan is cheap…ridiculously cheap. 380yen for a bowl of ramen at the university cafeteria. No seriously any restaurant you go to you’ll find a good deal and grocery stores are like department stores. They are huge and sell many delicacies. My first experience shopping at AEON, a Japanese grocery store, was overwhelming. It had a section which sold freshly made takoyaki and okonomiyaki, a bakery, a section with fresh cooked tempura and skewered meat, a salad bar, a sushi and sashimi section as well as the stock standard aisles full of drinks, packaged food, meat, fish, confectionary and fruit and vegetables. This was just my local grocery store and it was huge. There was even a section with imported foreign foods so for those who cannot live without vegemite or tim tams, do not fret! I tend to try something new each time I go shopping. Most of the time it works out well and you can try something weird and wonderful.
My advice to anyone coming to Japan would be to get involved in absolutely everything whether it be something culturally specific to Japan like visiting castles, temples and shrines, participating in traditional tea ceremonies, dressing in kimonos, playing Japanese instruments or related to popular culture like cosplay and going to maid cafes. Of course be prepared for some unexpected complications but more importantly embrace every experience even when things are not going to plan because sometimes you can discover hidden treasures like I did when I was walking behind a shopping centre and found a historical samurai district. Just get out and about whenever you get the chance and see the real Japan.
Adjusting was possibly the hardest part of integrating into Japanese society and their way of life and as time passed I thought “when in Rome, do what the Romans do”…and so I stopped comparing each aspect of daily life in Japan to Australia and just took it for what it was. My whole outlook on Japan changed and now I relish the fact that I have this opportunity to be in Japan.
Rachel – 11410432