Japan gets a lot of flack for being a small and crowded place, but is it really that small? It all depends on your perspective of things. Yes, by land size, it is pretty small, roughly the size of California. But it definitely has a lot more variety than the Golden State.
When I first started traveling I was a pretty typical tourist. I wanted to hit up the big attractions and snap a picture of them. It was like playing sightseeing bingo. How many touristy photographs can I get on this trip?
But I think all that maniacal and systematic cataloging of sightseeing spots, which have been photographed a million times before, leaves you with a bit of a fractured picture. You start to have a sense that Japan (or wherever you are traveling) is pretty small.
After all, let’s face it, there are only a few big sightseeing spots in Japan. And almost all of them involve really old buildings of some kind.
Japan is a little more unique than that, and it shows. There are way more things to Japan than just old castles and temples, which is something that took me a few years to realize.
Coming from America, I have to say that I didn’t put a high value on food. Before I came here, Taco Bell was a treat to me, and I couldn’t tell the difference between ‘new rice’, which is freshly harvested, and the regular stuff. Food was food, and when I first got here, food usually meant some form of instant curry.
Japan loves food though. Not just sushi and tempura or okonomiyaki. They have somehow managed to create millions of variations of food from “sushi pizza” to raw horse. They’re is a lot of variety to what gets consumed in Japan. If you don’t believe me, read all about the different delicacies for each prefecture.
I know now that I was missing out on the absolutely amazing variety of dishes out there. And now when I travel to a new prefecture, one of the first things people ask me is did I try the local food. And nowadays I try my best to give it a try whatever it is. (Yes, even raw horse, which is quite good and healthy apparently.)
Other than Mt. Fuji, mountains don’t get a lot of love from the tourist brochures. Which is a shame because there are a ton of them in Japan. Actually most of the country is considered mountainous. That’s why everyone lives on top of each other. So why not enjoy nature’s bounty?
I’ve done far more mountain-climbing in Japan than I ever did in the States. It’s something that is quite popular with locals as well. It can be pretty surprising to see so many people on a popular mountain. On some days, there might be so many people that there is a traffic jam going up the mountain.
I’ve also found that this is one of the best opportunities for conversation practice. I don’t know what it is about the mountains, but it makes everyone friendly. I’ve met a lot of interesting people on mountains from high school students trying to show off their horrible English to the leather-skinned farmer that gave me a death-defying ride to the station. There are plenty of moments to be had that you just can’t get playing “Tourist Spot Bingo.”
Have you Found a Hidden Piece of Japan?
What is something that tourists don’t do, but should to experience Japan? Let me know in the comments.
Photo by FuFu Wolf