Having only been to Tokyo and Kanagawa, I’ve seen just a small piece of Japan from the cities I’ve explored (and by explored I mean barely skimmed the surface of the culture and amazing locations in these cities). As my internship mentor reminded me, all prefectures are distinct, even considering the size of Japan as a nation. Based on my experiences so far, I thought I would show you parts of my daily little adventures here in Japan, starting with the things I see everyday — the things I love and respect, and the things I’m still getting used to — captured in black and white.
Rain, Not Snow
The first entity I’m getting acquainted with is… rain — a true separate being in Japan. If it’s a beautiful day on Monday, there will be some rain around the corner for you on Tuesday, just to make sure you’re getting your baths and keeping clean. Here winter = rain, not snow. But the “sunny” side of this is that you have more chances to admire and come to love the morning dew, more instances when you find yourself staring at the shining black streets on your way to the train, and more opportunities to study the myriad of possible umbrella designs. One very handy thing that gets paired along with the rain, however, is free umbrella sleeve stands. They come out of the woodwork whenever it drizzles and stand waiting for you with an endless supply of clear plastic sleeves. Whether this is a courtesy for me (the chick who just walked in swinging around a dripping umbrella that refuses to close properly) or just a selfish means of protecting the store floors, I know not. But I still love them even though I almost always struggle to get my umbrella out of the stand’s catch once the sleeve is on, but that’s my own issue…
Convenience is another aspect of the Japan I see that I cherish daily. Innovations here — at the very least — make me grin and many things in places I’ve visited are executed so well they leave me constantly comparing Japan and the US, with Japan typically coming out as champion; the first thing, if I remember far back enough (to just four weeks ago!), being convenience stores themselves. Japan’s コンビニ are cleaner, better stocked, and feature much better sweets (the most important part, obviously) and whole meals than US convenience stores. I discovered this at the Narita Airport and later realized that it wasn’t just a sparkling version plopped in a place that welcomes travelers on a daily basis; all コンビニ are amazing. Convenience blew me away and back again when we had to stay the night at the airport before checking into the dorms the next afternoon. 9h (nine hours) was wonderfully comfortable, spotless and mod (check out their website, it’s even more clean and minimalistic: ninehours.co.jp). Also… vending machines!! They are everywhere and even line the neighborhood streets where I live. They glow at night offering cheap drinks, both cold and hot, amazingly. Can’t get enough! I’m definitely getting used to these brilliant conveniences.
Art & Culture
Culture — of course — is unique, and although Japan has opened its doors to the outside world’s influence, historically speaking recently, it still has breathtaking sights to see that are untouched and invaluable. What stand out the most to me are art and architecture (a mix of very old and a crazy mix of relatively new), as well as the small everyday quirks you see throughout Japan. Museums, well-designed buildings, and fake food. So far I’ve only had the (quiet and serious) pleasure of visiting one small museum in Shibuya, The Shoto Museum of Art, which features old pottery, paintings, scroll-like textiles and the like. This trip proved difficult as the names and descriptions of each piece featured beautifully impossible kanji, and my Japanese skills failed me as they so often do here. But still, I loved staring at the artwork wondering where it came from and who made the intricate brush strokes that I was inspecting so intently. (Thanks kanji.)
Clothes & Food
A few weeks ago, when my aunt asked me where I’ve visited and shopped so far in Japan, she rattled off some places and mentioned that she wanted to take a look around one shop in particular together. I knew it was coming — the name that instantly makes me picture the brightly colored, unified, minimal interior — a place I often call the “Poofy Jacket Store,” Uniqlo (ユニクロ). Uniqlos are everywhere! They don’t feature that many items but they are very popular in Japan.
Crepe shops are also pretty popular, and I can’t get enough of their cutesy storefronts and delicious wares. They usually feature fanned out fake crepes that reveal fresh bananas and strawberries, perfectly swooped dollops of whipped cream and curls of chocolate and vanilla ice cream. French style bakeries, too, line the hallways of large subway stations and neighborhood streets — I never get tired of this.