It has been a while ago that I asked the readers of AVO Magazine to talk about their first trip to Japan. For some it has been a while ago, for others, it has been very recent. What were the exact reasons for them to travel to Japan and what was the most striking? Eventually, I received a number of applications, including Rob Arrowsmith from the United Kingdom. His journey is already many years back, in 2005, but his experiences are still interesting to read!
AVO: Let’s start with the most important one: when, how long and with who did you go to Japan for the first time?
Rob: I went to Japan for the first time in March 2005, I stayed in Tokyo for 10 days with 2 friends from London (and 3 of their friends).
AVO: How did you prepare for your trip to Japan?
Rob: This was before having access to Google Maps on phones, at that time I was working at a printer company, so I printed out maps of places I wanted to go to and I made them into booklets plus researched which trains I would need to use.
AVO: What made you decide to go to Japan? What attracted you?
Rob: I have been interested in Japan since maybe the age of 9 or 10, so when my friends in London asked if I wanted to join them in their trip to Tokyo I jumped at the chance.
AVO: After you arrived in Japan: what was your first impression?
Rob: I was taken aback at first at how busy it was and I had to get used to using the trains (As I rarely use them in my own city). But also how clean the streets are and how polite the people are. Also, one thing that hit me was the heat (I had to keep visiting convenience stores to get a drink).
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?
Rob: My friend had booked a backpackers hotel for us (But he didn’t bring enough money to pay his share of the bill so I had to pay 10,000 yen on top for his). It was about 2500 yen a night so it was pretty reasonable, the room was very small, with a futon on the floor a space to put my suitcase & a TV but that was enough.
AVO: What did you do to get rid of your jetlag? Or to prevent this entirely?
Rob: I can’t remember having much jetlag at that time but I didn’t stay out very late so maybe sleeping early helped.
AVO: Did you pick a route to take during your first trip in Japan, or did you stay in one place? And why?
Rob: For the first 2 days my friends’ friends had taken us around Shibuya, Akihabara & then we went to the Studio Ghibli Museum. But for the remaining days, me and my 2 friends were separate from them. However my 2 friends kept relying on me to show them which places to go but they ended up wanting to go to Akihabara every day, so I was going to places on my own for some of the days and even meeting up a Japanese friend to go to Odawara castle.
AVO: How did you handle your budget? Did you set a budget beforehand and did you manage to keep it?
Rob: I worked out how much I would need for the hotel, an average budget for trains. Me and my 2 friends had also planned to buy the then-new PSP™ (PlayStation®Portable) so any other money I could muster together would be a bonus. (But after I had to pay 10,000 yen for my friends’ hotel bill, that made me hold back a bit on the spending (He was supposed to pay me back when his wife transferred money into his account, but he didn’t lol)).
AVO: What stood out to you the most during your trip?
Rob: Going to places I had dreamed about visiting that I had only seen in photos, also going to shops and easily buying CDs/DVDs of my favourite bands/singers. (Which up to that point wasn’t very easy)
AVO: What is your best memory from your first trip to Japan?
Rob: Walking towards Tokyo Tower, turning the final corner and coming face to face with it, to see how massive it actually is.
AVO: Was there something that (really) disappointed you about Japan?
Rob: There was one incident when I was in Odawara with my Japanese friend, after we finished going to Odawara Castle, we were hungry so we went to a restaurant (I won’t name it) me and my friend ordered our food and we were told to sit down & wait. After waiting some time we saw other people getting their orders way before us, so my friend went back to the counter to ask where our food was. After a while, she came back and said that staff told her the one who took our order doesn’t like foreigners and was sorry and gave just her a free drink (None for me, lol) but our food eventually came.
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?)
Rob: Not really culture shock but I guess I needed to know more Japanese. (I know much more now than I did then)
AVO: Which place is THE place everyone should visit according to you, and why?
Rob: If you like anime/games, then Akihabara is a place you can’t miss.
(Also the Studio Ghibli Museum is a place you have to go to if you love their movies)
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?
Rob: Work out which places you want to visit before-hand and try to find a hotel in a convenient travelling distance to them. Also if you can’t always get a wifi signal while you’re out and about, try making screenshots of maps on your phone before you leave your hotel room of the areas you want to travel in just as a backup.
AVO: What was it like to come home after your first trip to Japan?
Rob: It was nice to be back home but it felt colder. Also didn’t look forward to going back to work.
AVO: What do you miss the most now you’ve returned from Japan?
Rob: I miss the food, the politeness of people and the ease of visiting places/buying things I have interests in.
AVO: Do you plan on going back to Japan?
Rob: Since that trip, I have been back to Japan 4 more times (2013, 2014, 2015 & 2018). I’m hoping to go back again sometime this year in the summer for the new B’z album tour!
I want to thank Rob for his time to answer all these questions extensively, while his trip has been many years ago. Keep an eye on AVO Magazine, there will be more ‘First time in Japan’ interviews coming up!