Japan was one of most wonderful destinations we had ever been to. I always imagined two sides of Japan – the historical and traditional Japan of temples and geishas, against the hyper-modern cities, cartoons and robots.
In-between it all, there are so many tiny quirks and conveniences that are the cherry on top of an already alluring destination.
Convenience store snacks
Starving at midnight (on our way to the Airbnb from the airport), we picked up a few onigiri for dinner. In essence, they are balls of vinegared rice, commonly wrapped in seaweed, coated in sesame seeds and spices, or filled with fish, chicken, or other fillings.
They cheap, filling, and incredibly tasty. The seaweed if even kept separate, to be as fresh as possible. Who would have thought that the Japanese konbini (convenience store) would be such a lifesaver!
Cool robot toilets
The control panel that comes with a Japanese toilet are legendary, by now. It might all seem a bit too much at first, but you won’t be able to go back to the old way once you’ve experienced heated seats, the butt water jet, and even a fake flush sound to mask any noises that you might make!
Every town and city in Japan has a mascot, a cute, colourful character that usually reflects the identity of the place. A dancing leek, a bear dressed as a samurai, a smiling monk, a factory with cutesy eyes.
We saw kawaii cartoons advertise everything from hangover remedies to cartoon monks; the natural beauty of a snow-speckled winter forest lit by stone lanterns; the subway trains that play little video game tunes at each station, I even became fond of the naked-only hot springs.
Purikura was one of the irrelevantly fun activities we did in tokyo; an extra cutesy photo booth which you edit with enlarged cartoon eyes and cat ears!
Just walk into our of the purkura parlours, take your picture in one of the many booths, and follow the instructions to make your picture as kawaii
The compact Tokyo house
Like many other post-war houses in this area, the house was cube-ish, clean and geometric, a sensible construction in a whole neighbourhood of small houses. It was our Airbnb, and I loved it!
It felt very compact, like the rooms of an apartment were rearranged to form a mini 2-story house, which had shrunk in the wash. With such thin walls, the house was icy cold, so we let ourselves in, took off our shoes, and turned the heater up a toasty hot temperature.
Train station food (and free samples)
The biggest train stations in Tokyo are usually crammed with food courts, bento box shops for your next shinkansen trip, and clusters of stalls selling desserts and fresh ingredients. Ignore the fact that they exist in a train station – the quality of the food is top class. Whether you want a lunch box served in a plastic train, or you want to try chocolate donuts, train station food is irresistable!
Fudo Dori – a look at every day life
We were staying in Hatsudai, a little-known suburb west of Shinjuku. Its lovely central walking street was named Fudo Dori.
Fudo Dori was awake in the morning. The weather was fresh and cool, but clear and beautiful. We went in search of hot food. We passed a dog barber, trimming a poodle to give it an afro, a tail afro, and afro feet. A delivery driver was securing a plastic bowl of soup to the back of his motorbike for delivery.
Many of the shopkeepers were very old, selling fruit, vegetables and mystery fried things. Then we found the restaurant we were hoping for, a cute local diner with a small dining room, a fresh coffee station, and some local men reclining with cups of tea, watching game shows play out on the TV. Our Teishoku arrived – a Japanese set menu with rice, miso soup. We couldn’t wait to finish our breakfast and start the adventure!