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View at Charles de Gaulle airport shortly before boarding to Narita. I only really realised how unbelievably friendly people in Japan were when I arrived in Paris. I haven’t been treated nearly as badly for the whole week in Japan like in the 30 minutes stop over in Paris 🙂 ..

I’m flying back to Switzerland today for Christmas. I haven’t been back home for maybe .. 9 months!

Written by jk

December 20, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Posted in Basel, Switzerland, Travel

Japan

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I’m back from Japan. There’s a lot to say, and I don’t really know how to start or what to focus on. So I’m just going to write a bit about different observations I made, in an unorganised fashion. I went to Shizuoka first to attend the ICITS conference and then spent the rest of the time in Tokyo.

The most surprising thing I learned in Japan is, that you, as European, are the absolute minority. We never really experience that feeling, but it’s rather strange when all you see all day is people who do not look like you. Especially in Shizuoka where I went first, there’s virtually no western people and some locals are even surprised in seeing you on the street! This is a very absurd feeling, but good to experience. Almost the same thing in Tokyo. You would think Tokyo is an “international” city, but it’s not in that way. On the underground, or rail carriage, you are always the only western person. Funny.

The second thing I noticed in Shizuoka is that I’m not very good with japanese food. I love how their food is presented and looks, and I would really like to like it, but I didn’t. Especially in Shizuoka, we almost only had raw fish with very little rice. Almost every lunch/dinner left me hungry. However, their way of eating is definitely more healthy than what we do in Europe. Our food is mostly based around cheap carbs and fat. Their food is mostly protein, good fats and less calories. It shows in the people, as almost all of them are very slim and age well.

We were invited to the conference dinner and afterwards I learned that the food we were presented is the highest form of dining in Japan. Very expensive ingredients, very carefully presented. Here are some pictures, including the menu which was 10 courses!

First course

Check out the whole dinner in my flickr picture set. I’ll skip some dishes now. Japanese food is really much more sophisticated than what we do in our kitchen. Not only is it different ingredients and ways to prepare the food, I think texture plays a much bigger role in japanese food than ours. While we can say something was “crunchy” or “creamy”, a japanese dish creates specific textures just like it creates a specific taste. For example this star in the next picture

which is made out of potato I think, has the weirdest feel in your mouth. I wasn’t sure whether I should be delighted or disgusted.

At the conference I attended, we received very nice looking Bento lunch boxes. Here’s the best shot of a stackable Bento box

Again, notice the funny small star on the top right.

At another dinner, we had sushi. Here you see raw baby shrimps and a sea urchin (the yellow stuff)

After starving for 2 days and being fed up with raw fish, I located an Italian restaurant in Shizuoka. Unfortunately, neither the menu nor the staff could really help me deciding what pasta or pizza to order

I ended up ordering the pizza from the picture on the right of the menu 🙂

After food we can naturally start talking about toilets. As Japan is the leading country in advance toilet technology (I had the strong urge to visit the Toto Super Space toilet exhibition but I just couldn’t find the right building!) so naturally their toilets are more advanced than ours, and mostly electronic.
My toilet in Tokyo had a shocking 18 buttons control panel to fine tune your needs and a pre-heated seat with adjustable temperature. However, the main panel only had six buttons visible and the remaining 12 buttons were hidden, probably only for “experts” (which I didn’t use).

I save you more toilet pictures. Just click on the picture above for more.

So. Transport. Tokyo has a massive underground and rail network with many different operators running it. In Greater Tokyo, 20 million people use the rail network daily. In comparison, in Germany, only 10 million people use the rail daily!

My only reference experience is London, which has an extremely old, fragile, slow, uncomfortable and very expensive underground network. Tokyo has a much bigger one, faster, more comfortable, many more people using it every day, it’s much cheaper and it just works! I bought a suica card at the beginning (like an oyster card) and I used less than 2000 yen (~ £13) for four days full time using public transport. In London, I would have paid the same or more within the first day.

My hotel was in Shibuya. Again some numbers, because I find it so impressive. Shibuya station has daily entry/exits of over 2.1 million people! In front of the station is the famous Shibuya crossing where many thousand people cross the road at the same time. It feels a bit like out of the Braveheart movie when you stand on one side of the sidewalk waiting to cross the road. Two armies colliding.

Everywhere there is sound in Tokyo. There’s different melodies and songs playing every time a train stops. Here’s a short (and bad quality) audio of a train arriving in Shibuya.

However, the size of Shibuya pales in comparison with the close by Shinjuku station, the busiest station in the world which has over 50 exits. Even if you know exactly where you want to go, you won’t find it easily. Here’s a not so impressive picture from somewhere inside Shinjuku, where every yellow word leads you to a different exit (after walking in a long underground tunnel). You are never sure whether you left the station by now or if you are still in it.

Japanese like rankings. There’s a weird store called ranKing ranQueen, which is a funny or not so funny word game of the word “ranking”. The shop only sells the top 10 best selling products (a bit of a paradox here I think). Funnily, the current number 1 in sweets was “Saure Johannisbeeren” from Katjes in Germany

These sour sweets must taste absolutely perverted and weird for the Japanese taste buds, and therefore it’s on the #1 spot 🙂

Also in Shizuoka we were visiting one of the head Shinto shrines of that region, however it was raining so much that it wasn’t very enjoyable (nor did it lead to any good pictures). Here’s one:

There’s many more things to say about Japan.. maybe in a later post. Make sure to check out the pictures for more.

Written by jk

December 13, 2009 at 11:57 am

Posted in Travel