Japan: A Perfect Paradox

Japan — By on October 24, 2011 at 6:00 am

Japan GardenBy Jenny Avallon
Special to The Lost Girls

Japan—the land of bare feet, excessive vending machines, organization, and, of course, the heated toilet seat. My marathon through this impressive country was both somber and uplifting, quiet and chaotic, business-like and out of control. This is truly a society of beautiful contradictions.

Places to Visit

Kyoto: One of Japan’s richest cities in terms of heritage, this historic gem is chalk-full of charm. Find yourself getting lost between winding cobblestone streets, stumbling into ancient temples which are still in use, listening to the not-so-distant hum of bells, and observing how the old and new seamlessly intermingle. This beautiful city is sure to enchant, transport, and enlighten the historically-minded traveler.

Tokyo: A visit to Japan is incomplete without spending at least 2 days in this rapidly growing capital. As a nearly futuristic city, Tokyo feels fast-paced and cutting-edge. Spend an afternoon wandering through the Electronics District (referred to as ‘Akiba’ by most locals); the skyscraping buildings, buzzing gadgets, flashing lights, and wild clothing choices are sure to entertain.

Osaka: Often referred to as the “Vegas of Japan,” this city is popular with partiers, night owls, and expats across the globe. Perhaps it is the bright lights that lure you in, but it is the diverse company and vibrant culture that will make you want to stay. In any one bar you can find a range of Westerners, local Japanese, Australians, and a variety of Europeans. Perhaps due in part to the herds of foreigners here, it has a distinctly European flavor in some places.

Things to Do 

Karaoke: A trip to Japan is simply incomplete without a visit to an authentic karaoke bar. This is much more than just a drunken activity for the Japanese, so it is important be mindful of your manners while breaking it down. If you’re really looking for the full-fledged experience, you are able in many places to rent out an entire room for you and your friends to rock out in private.

Enjoy an Onsen: Though it might be a bit out of your comfort zone, an onsen (also known as a ‘bathing house’) is a quintessential Japanese experience. Your experience will differ with regards to style, nudity (full or partial), and amenities depending on which one you pick. The one that I visited had multiple different types of baths: one outdoors, one with herbs (it felt like you were in a giant tea pot), one with carbonated bubbles, one that was the same temperature as the sun’s center, and one cold bath. Though it might have been a bit uncomfortable at times, I will say that I left with my mind feeling extremely relaxed and my skin feeling smooth as a baby’s bottom.

Stay at a Ryokan: Many Ryokan’s can be found all over Japan and are an absolutely wonderful glimpse into Japanese culture. Though you shouldn’t expect five star amenities, if you pick carefully the Ryokan can be both comfortable and quaint. My experience included an entire hotel with no shoes allowed, fresh pots of tea delivered to your room, authentic Japanese robes, and puffy duvets to make sleeping on a grass mat on the floor just a bit more comfortable.

Eat Kobe Beef: Though Kobe was not on my list of must see cities, it is absolutely a worthwhile stop for the beef alone. Famous around the world, you will not find a more melt-in-your-mouth delicious piece of steak than in Kobe, Japan. Though many of the restaurants capitalize on this market by overcharging quite a bit, if you pick carefully it shouldn’t break your wallet too badly. Always remember: authentic is better, so pick your restaurant carefully.

Don’t Leave Japan Without…

… Eating your dinner on the ground. For whatever reason, this experience is the one that drove home that I was, in fact, in Japan. The bounties of fresh seafood, deliciously salty noodle soup, and ever-flowing hot Sake all with my legs crossed on the ground at an inexpensive restaurant in Tokyo after a long day of touring is an experience I will not soon forget. So, go, take a seat, and drink in all the beauty that this beautifully paradoxical country has to offer.

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