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 that of Herman from Malden near Nijmegen. He has a few good tips for those who want to go to Japan.
AVO: Let’s start with the most important one: when, how long and with who did you go to Japan for the first time?
Herman: In October 2014 I travelled through Japan on my own for 14 days.
AVO: How did you prepare for your trip to Japan?
Herman: I had already started preparing in 2010. Read a lot, not only travel guides but also books about the history, culture, customs and habits. And I talked to all kinds of people who went to Japan for all kinds of reasons (business, family visit, vacation). I also attended a language course and attended many exhibitions and events (such as conventions and Japan Day Düsseldorf). I already had some Japanese Facebook friends and they also gave me valuable tips.
AVO: What made you decide to go to Japan? What attracted you?
Herman: Initially it was the music. As a collector of LPs and CDs, I found Japan very interesting because of the huge music market and the special releases. Later the fascination for the combination of technology and rituals was added. And also my family history was added as a reason. I am of Indonesian descent and my family suffered a lot from the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies. I wanted to get to know the people who did this to my family. How do people commit such atrocities?
AVO: After you arrived in Japan: what was your first impression?
Herman: My first impression was that it was exactly as I had imagined. For example, I had brought flower bulbs as a souvenir and I knew the formalities involved. At the quarantine desk, the civil servant actually counted whether I had violated the limit and visibly proudly noticed that it was right and a label with the stamp was attached to my plastic bag with flower bulbs. With a short bow and a jovial “arigato” I left for customs and passport control. This also went as I expected. Go with the flow and just follow the instructions and you will have a great time. I had made a little mistake about the size of Tokyo station, so it took an hour before I found my locker. A good lesson: always note the number of the entrance/exit and 1BF does not mean 1st floor but ground floor!
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?
Herman: I have taken a combination of Airbnb, hotel, guesthouse and capsule hotel. Airbnb was great because I chose accommodations where the owner stayed in the same house. That way I easily got in touch with the locals and they gave me very useful tips. When I left Tokyo for the Japanese Alps, there was a typhoon. My host had completely adjusted my travel schedule so that I was hardly bothered by the typhoon. The mother of an Airbnb host also invited me to a sushi party for students. With one of them I ate pancakes in Amsterdam a few years ago. That capsule hotel was quite an experience. Sleeping in a capsule went fine, but I didn’t feel so safe. There were few Japanese and many tourists. I felt safer amongst the Japanese than amongst fellow tourists.
AVO: What did you do to get rid of your jetlag? Or to prevent this entirely?
Herman: I arrived at 6 a.m. and I took it easy the first day. I did not immediately go hunting for CDs and LPs or visited busy museums. I took a nice shower at Narita airport, did not rush, ate well and went to a quiet museum. When I got home my wife had to laugh: “Have you really been to a ceramic museum? Nothing for you!”
AVO: Did you pick a route to take during your first trip in Japan, or did you stay in one place? And why?
Herman: During the trip, I didn’t want to have to worry about booking accommodations and I booked everything in advance so my route was fixed: Tokyo – Tateyama Alpine route – Toyama – Takayama – Nagoya – Kyoto – Hiroshima – Osaka. With the JR railpass, it was all easy to do and affordable and especially that seat reservation is great. I did carry too much luggage with me and that was a drag. I should have used the Luggage service (by the way, I did that in 2018). Every day I decided whether it was an activity day or a pyjama day. Especially on your own you might do too much and overstretch yourself. I also had my running shoes with me so I did enjoy jogging.
AVO: What is your best memory from your first trip to Japan?
The couple who run a guesthouse in the Japanese Alps. I was their first non-Asian guest and they were very hospitable and friendly. They did cook great for me and secretly peeked around the corner to see if I liked it. In the evening we showed each other family photos. Despite my Japanese language lessons, I only spoke a few words of Japanese, but in the Airbnb review, they wrote that I spoke Japanese fluently.
AVO: Which place is THE place everyone should visit according to you, and why?
In general, I would say: do also go out of town and avoid the hot spots. For example, I have been 30 kilometres north of Kyoto in an Airbnb home in a small village where almost no one speaks English. Then you will get the feeling that you are in the “real” Japan. If you go in the period from about April to December, then you should actually do the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route or a part of it. The route leads from East to West or vice versa and you can also return halfway if you prefer. Your luggage is transported separately for a few euros. This part of the Japanese Alps is breathtakingly beautiful and varied and because of the many transport options, the route is suitable for everyone: from very old senior to super sporty. The boat trip on the highest lake in Japan where you can sail was great.
AVO: What do you miss the most now you’ve returned from Japan?
The politeness of the people. For instance when boarding the train. No phone calls in public transport, no noise, nice and quiet. And almost nowhere junk or waste. I went to a J-POP concert with 2,500 fans. Everyone is relaxed and afterwards, I believe there was 1 piece of paper on the floor. Oh and then those big stores with endless CDs, DVDs and LPs. With the BookOff chain store, it is also nicely priced. Every now and then I go to BookOff in Paris to get that feeling back a bit.
AVO: Do you plan on going back to Japan?
I went to Japan again for 3 weeks in May 2018 and visited the “outlying areas”. Okinawa, Kyushi and Shikoku. Awesome!!!! I would go to the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020 but I won’t go because of my eco footprint.
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?
Prepare well for the essential habits in Japan and respect the Japanese people. For their manners, but also for the fact that they are sometimes not used to foreigners and in some places they speak little or no English. Japan has only been open to foreign countries since 1850, so it takes some getting used to. And learn a few words of Japanese: this opens so many doors for you. Japanese are delighted if you show that you have done your best to learn their language.
I would like to thank Herman for his time to answer the questions about his first trip to Japan.
Keep an eye on AVO Magazine, because there will be more interviews like this!