This interview is part of a new series where I interview readers of AVO Magazine about their first trip to Japan. A while back I posted a message that asked for those who are interested to be interviewed about their first Japan trip, and I got a message from Helena of the website IndoRotterdammert. In 2015, she did a group tour in Japan. She talks about her experiences in this interview.
AVO: Let’s start with the most important one: when, how long and with who did you go to Japan for the first time?
Helena: I went to Japan in 2015. I took a group tour which started in Fukuoka and ended in Tokyo. The group tour lasted 3 weeks. Actually, it was way too short. I really wanted to stay longer.
AVO: How did you prepare for your trip to Japan?
Helena: I often search the internet for information about the places which I will visit. I found the most important thing would be to explore the variety in Japanese cuisine. My blog IndoRotterdammert and my company Eating Habits focus on promoting (food)cultures, so that was the main reason to visit Japan. Reading a lot of cookbooks was also part of my preparation.
AVO: What made you decide to go to Japan? What attracted you?
Helena: As indicated above, the rich food culture. They really pay attention to the preparation of the food, as well as the layout of the plate. After all, the eye wants something too.
AVO: After you arrived in Japan: what was your first impression?
Helena: I think there was a good reason that we started in Fukuoka. Despite it being a big city, it’s less massive than Tokyo for example. What stood out to me the most was how clean everything was. And that it actually feels very Western.
AVO: Did you choose a hotel, hostel, guesthouse, ryokan or a different place to sleep; why did you choose this option and how did you like it?
Helena: Aside from a hotel we slept in a ryokan as well. Which was quite a strange experience. Very minimalistic with a mattress on the mats. Despite that I slept wonderfully, I completely relaxed in that room. We also slept in a Buddhistic temple. The night was very short because we had to get up really early for the morning prayers, but it was a very special place to sleep. You don’t get opportunities like this very often.
AVO: What did you do to get rid of your jetlag? Or to prevent this entirely?
Helena: Regarding of where you are going on your travels, it’s always better to adjust to the rhythm of your destination immediately so you just keep going. That way you won’t have time to have a jetlag. I always rest when I’m back home again. :-)
AVO: Did you pick a route to take during your first trip in Japan, or did you stay in one place? And why?
Helena: The group tour brought us to Nara, Osaka and Hiroshima, among other places. Despite having only three weeks, you often want to see as much as possible.
AVO: How did you handle your budget? Did you set a budget beforehand and did you manage to keep it?
Helena: The most important part had been the trip itself, this included the costs for the travelling and the accommodation to stay at already. The only budget I had every day was for food. Because I mainly went for the street food it wasn’t too bad in terms of the amount of money it cost me.
AVO: What stood out to you the most during your trip?
Helena: I love the Japanese people. On one end they are very calm and polite, but when you see them in a karaoke bar or one of the many game paradises that all goes out the window. They’re still polite, but everything except calm. What I saw as well were small groups of children happily running after tourists to ask them questions in English for a school assignment. One was very confident: “What’s your favourite color?”, while another was a bit uncertain: “Do you have a pet?”. They are super sweet and cute.
AVO: What is your best memory from your first trip to Japan?
Helena: Definitely Tokyo. I stood still in various places while thinking: “Wow, I’m just standing here!”. In some places, it’s so busy with people that you wouldn’t think it’s possible to not move along there, but I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe there. And the Takeshita Street, with all the kawaii/harajuku girls. So happy and colourful.
AVO: Was there something which (greatly) disappointed you in Japan?
Helena: It might sound crazy, but I really can’t think of anything.
AVO: Did you feel like you experienced some kind of a culture shock during your first visit to Japan, despite all the knowledge about Japan and all the preparations you took for your trip? (Do you think you prepared well enough?)
Helena: It was a real feast for my eyes, but a culture shock no. A lot more is needed to achieve that. I think that it also has to do with the big cities having a lot of Western influence. Aside from that it’s a very clean country with all the comforts from back home. For example, I had to get used to the fact that I didn’t have a heated toilet seat at home.
AVO: Which place is THE place everyone should visit according to you, and why?
Helena: Takeshita Street, with all the kawaii/harajuku girls. It’s so happy and colourful.
AVO: What tip(s) do you want to share with everyone who still wants to take a vacation to Japan and have never been to Japan before?
Helena: In terms of food you don’t have to worry about your safety. Not even when it’s about street food. Be adventurous and taste as many dishes as you can.
AVO: What was it like to come home after your first trip to Japan?
Helena: I actually didn’t want to leave. And even though my travel mood often disappears quickly due to the stress at work, Japan lingered for a long time. I knew one thing is certain: I really want to go back again.
AVO: What do you miss the most now you’ve returned from Japan?
Helena: The diversity of the food. The Japanese kitchen is still very popular, and not just the sushi. On the destination of the holiday, it’s often tastier. ;-)
AVO: Do you plan on going back to Japan?
Helena: Certainly, if possible within the next 5 years. And by then I want to go on my own accord, since I noticed that’s perfectly doable in Japan.
I want to thank Helenafor her time to answer all these questions extensively, while her trip has been a while ago. If you have any questions, you can follow the adventures of Helena through her website IndoRotterdammert.
Keep an eye on AVO Magazine, there will be more ‘First time in Japan’ interviews coming up!