NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
Well, it actually happened, Sophie’s Japan Blog has reached 100 posts! To celebrate, I thought I’d do something different this week, so here’s Sophie’s Top Ten things about Japan! Enjoy, and post below and let me know what your favourite things about Japan are!
10) Anime, manga and video games
Let’s get the geeky stuff out of the way first by putting it all in one place! My interest in Japanese cinema and pop culture almost certainly started with video games; namely the ‘Final Fantasy’ and ‘Ace Attorney’ series. After joining my university’s Anime and Manga society, I discovered a whole new subsection of conventions and cosplay… along with some wonderful people. It’s weird, it’s loud and it’s proud – and it makes up a good part of my personality and conversations with friends.
9) Vending machines
Fun fact: there is one vending machine per 23 people in Japan, and Japanese vending machines are the greatest vending machines in the world. There really are no photos to describe the joy I felt on first discovering vending machines in Japan. Need some regular soft drinks? Done. ‘Dragon Ball Z’ or ‘Detective Conan’ energy drink? Done. What about bags of rice, fortunes, disposable cameras or instant noodles? No problem. Freshly-pressed suit and tie? Well, if you’ve been working so hard and missed the last train back and are stranded in the city, done! UK, adopt these please!
Here’s something else that the UK needs to adopt – a good train service! Japan is famous for its super fast and reliable bullet trains, the shinkansen. What’s so great about them? Well, some cool features include the rotating chairs and the way the train rolls up perfectly on the platform and doors open on the designated door numbers painted on the floor. Also, they are fast, clean and never late! A two minute delay to a train can make the news! My train out of King’s Cross the other day was delayed by half an hour because “the driver was stuck in a taxi heading over from the depot”… Again, we’re missing a trick here!
7) Shrines and temples
Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are some of the longest surviving features of Japanese architecture. Shinto shrines are dwellings of the Japanese gods and people visit to pay their respects. The Buddhist temples are not primarily a place of worship but a place of safekeeping for sacred objects. It is common to find shrines and temples alongside each other in Japan and they are still widely frequented by locals and tourists alike. Many of them have been standing for centuries and are steeped in history and tranquil beauty. One of the most famous Zen Buddhist temples is the Golden Pavilion of Kyoto (above).
Omamori, meaning ‘protection’, are amulets sold at religious sites and dedicated to Shinto deities and Buddhist figures. These small charms are kept inside a cloth bag and may contain a prayer or religious inscription, and are made sacred through ritual. It is believed to be unlucky to open your omamori. Some provide general blessings, whereas others traffic safety, exam success, successful marriage or pregnancy. Of course, they make brilliant souvenirs.
Yakitori, ramen, gyoza, tempura, okonomiyaki, mochi… Japanese food is absolutely delicious. If you’ve eaten Japanese food before, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve never tried it, find a local Japanese restaurant in your area and go as soon as possible! Some of my favourite London locations are Shoryu Ramen and Tokyo Diner. Of course, it’s much better to try it fresh in Japan if you can get over there…
Manners are very important in Japan and one of the first things that strikes you when visiting is how polite and helpful everybody is. There are codes of conduct for everything from greeting, doing business, taking a bath, visiting shrines and temples and even living in your own house. One of my fondest memories of my last visit to Tokyo was seeing to businessmen, one standing at the doors of the subway and the other on the platform, bowing at each other so eagerly as they were leaving each other that the doors kept sliding open and shut! The behaviour comes completely naturally to you in Japan and the politeness and sense of order will make Japan feel like your home away from home.
3) The tea ceremony
The best way to explain the intricacies of the Japanese tea ceremony is to show you this video from iffywiffy! Japanese green tea is made by grinding matcha leaves into matcha powder, which has a distinct green colouring. It takes a long time to complete the ceremony, but it’s not just about making a nice cup of green tea. The ceremony is quiet and meditative and brings the people present closer together. You can of course buy matcha powder in England,’simply add water’ and it’s still delicious and is a much healthier alternative to your regular cuppa at work.
2) Living history
Where else can you find a flashy vending machine next to a centuries-old Shinto shrine, or spy a sumo wrestler boarding the Tokyo underground? Only in Japan! Despite how cheesy it sounds, the phrase ‘old meets new’ sums up Japan perfectly for me. Whether it’s the architecture, food, clothing, music or shops, there’s a little bit of traditional Japan around every corner. Long traditions are still going strong in Japan; it’s perfectly normal for teenagers to pay their respects at their local shrine or temple in a way that is extremely rare in the west. In this way, I find Japan completely unique from any other country.
Alright, maybe you guessed that this would be my top choice. Samurai were the military nobility of medieval and early-modern Japan. These warriors followed a set of rules known as the bushido; the way of the warrior, the samurai code stressing loyalty, chivalry and honour. Japan was under rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate, a ruling family of samurai, for over two hundred years and it is for this reason that many of their teachings are still found in every day life (see points 4 and 3 especially). My love for samurai can be explained by two things: my love of history and the amazing armour and weaponry.
Thank you very much to everyone who has been reading this blog over the (nearly!) past two years! Here’s to plenty more posts to follow…