Time goes by fast, it has been a long while ago that I asked the readers of AVO Magazine to talk about their first trip to Japan. For some of them it’s been a while, for others it’s very recent. What were the exact reasons for going on a trip to Japan, and what was the most striking? In the end, I received a number of responses, including those from Nachtraaf, which was the DJ during AVO J-Music Festival. Read how he ended up in Japan and what he did exactly during his first trip in 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?
Nachtraaf: On the 4th of December 2018, I left for Japan till the 25th of December, by myself. I was pretty nervous and excited. For the first time outside of Europe. And especially in a country where there is also a language barrier. I didn’t know more than some basic sentences.
AVO: How did you prepare for your trip to Japan?
Nachtraaf: I primarily looked up things on Google. I read the Lonely Planet: Japan and Tokyo guides. Met up with friends who had some experience travelling to Japan to ask them some questions about traveling in Japan. YouTube channels like Aboard in Japan, ONLY in JAPAN, Tokyo Cheapo, and Attaché also helped out a bunch.
Apart from that I also bookmarked all the places I wanted to go to (Favourites for where I’d be staying overnight, Want To Go for restaurants/bars, and Starred Places for musea and other sights). I like to keep a tidy overview, because the more you are prepared for your trip, it will be less likely you have to stress when you get there. Because there are enough things you’d need to adjust to if you haven’t been somewhere before.
Nachtraaf: What made you decide to go to Japan? What attracted you?
Japan has a fascinating culture, with lots of contrast. And a very interesting history: especially the Sengoku Jidai, and the Tokugawa Shogunate I find very interesting. Also, the people are known to be very nice and polite, and public transport is incredibly punctual. That really makes a vacation a very pleasant experience. Especially with the JR rail pass you can cover lots of distance and see huge amounts of the country.
I wanted to go for a long time, but it never got to the point of actually making arrangements to do so. I always had some excuse not to do it. Until I during the AVO J-Music Festival, I talked to my friends of the band REMNANT again about doing an event in Tokyo. With that gig sorted, there was no more excuse, there was no way back. I would get to go to Japan!
AVO: After you arrived in Japan: what was your first impression?
Nachtraaf: “Wow, I’m really here…” That thought took a few days to get used to.
I also noticed how urbanised Japan really is. With the N’ex train to Shinjuku you already notice that from Narita Airport to Tokyo there were already lots of built-up spaces. But from Chiba (city) there was only cityscape left.
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?
Nachtraaf: I primarily used Airbnb, in 3 different cities. A small hotel for the last 3 days, because the hotel was right across the street of the station where the Keisei Skyliner train goes to Narita Airport, since I would have to fly back in the morning.
It’s a lifesaver not to have to travel in the morning rush hour with all your big luggage before you can catch the train to the airport. You really don’t want to travel during the Tokyo morning rush, trust me.
AVO: What did you do to get rid of your jet lag? Or to prevent this entirely?
Nachtraaf: Oof, that’s a good one. I had a nasty jetlag for a week. It didn’t help that the first 6 days I spent in a hostel with a terrible mattress. Which I could only really sleep on for 3 to 4 hours max. Only until I got to Fukuoka at day 7 and had a good bed that I fell asleep at 21:30 and woke up the next morning at 09:00. Just in time to catch my prerecorded radio show at Radio Tonka which I normally broadcast live during the late night.
AVO: Did you pick a route to take during your first trip in Japan, or did you stay in one place? And why?
Nachtraaf: I travelled a whole bunch cities from Tokyo to Nagasaki.
Week 1: I stayed in Shinjuku, Tokyo where I had my first gig.
Week 2: During the week I travelled to Fukuoka to make a couple of day trips to Nagasaki to visit Dejima and the Atomic Bomb Museum. Huis ten Bosch (Sasebo). Okunoshima (rabbit island). And Hiroshima to visit the Peace Memorial Museum and eat some Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki. To return to Tokyo to spend the weekend there.
Week 3: During the week I travelled to Kyoto to go to the Iwatayama Monkey Park, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and the Fushimi Inari-Taisha. With day trips to Himeji, for Himeji Castle. To Kobe because Kobe beef has been on my bucket list for a very long time. And to Nara because of the Naar (deer) Park. With a day trip to Osaka too, because a British friend of mine lives there, and I wanted to visit Dotonbori, Amerikamura, Nipponbashi (Den Den Town), and Shinsekei. And to judge the winner of the legendary Hiroshima vs Osaka-style Okonomiyaki. Sorry Osaka, but Hiroshima won. To return for my last weekend, and 2nd gig to Tokyo (Ueno).
AVO: How did you handle your budget? Did you set a budget beforehand and did you manage to keep it?
Nachtraaf: I didn’t really make a budget before I left. I was on vacation and didn’t want to worry about the cost. It was the first time I went on a real vacation on my own. My only cost in Japan were food/drinks, museum tickets, Suica Card (Japanese public transport debit card) charging, and souvenirs. In the end, I spent less than I expected even though I didn’t really actively try to save on spending. It may have been a bit more expensive if I didn’t shortly before my trip I quit drinking alcohol. Which in hindsight really helped out with all the travelling: since going to see all the sights, and especially all the walking costs quit a bit of energy. Because to spent a day and energy nursing a hangover would not have helped matters much.
AVO: What stood out to you the most during your trip?
Nachtraaf: Where to start? The politeness and helpfulness of the people. How clean everything was. How incredibly large most of the train and metro stations are. The quality of the food. The punctuality of public transport. The ease, and amount of having so many convenience stores and restaurants that are open 24 hours a day (especially great if you have a jetlag first few days).
AVO: What is your best memory from your first trip to Japan?
Nachtraaf: I’m going to cheat and give you a couple of answers, because in 3 weeks of crazy travelling I have done a lot of awesome stuff. I simply cannot reduce it to just 1 thing (sorry!). But next to my 2 gigs it has to be Himeji Castle, Kobe beef in Kobe, Huis ten Bosch, and especially Fushimi Inari-Taisha.
I also found a nice little vintage kimono shop (Vintage An) where I bought a kimono, yukata, and a haori for a really reasonable price.
AVO: AVO: Was there something that (really) disappointed you about Japan?
Nachtraaf: Since I never been to the US and I found out there was a Hooters in Tokyo it seemed like fun to have a look what that place is all about. I went there with very little expectation, and it still managed to disappoint. What a bunch of sadness. So the only bad time I had in Japan wasn’t even something that was Japanese!
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?)
Nachtraaf: Not really. There were some things I knew about, but they still sort of surprise you the first time you encounter it in real life. Like the super fancy toilets. And especially the ones that lift up the seat when you push the button, that kept making me chuckle.
AVO: Which place is THE place everyone should visit according to you, and why?
Nachtraaf: Himeji Castle because it’s a huge awesome castle.
And especially Fushimi Inari-Taisha was very cool with the thousands of torii (would go again!)
AVO: What tip(s) do you want to share with everyone who still wants to take a vacation to Japan and has never been to Japan before?
Nachtraaf: Study! Customs are pretty different from what we are used to in the Netherlands. Learn a few words and basic sentences. Because English is still pretty difficult for a lot of Japanese people. And if you use English, use some keywords, and keep your sentences short. Think of Borat!
Get a Suica Card, and get a WiFi SIM card. You can go without, but everything is so much easier with them, it’s more than 100% worth the extra price! Don’t go to exotic animal cafes like owl cafes. If you can’t domesticate certain animals (keep them as pets) than those animals are probably not waiting for dozens of strangers that visit every day. You have to consider if going “awww” and a picture are worth more than the freedom and health of an animal. Vote with your wallet!
AVO: What was it like to come home after your first trip to Japan?
Nachtraaf: Difficult. After spending 3 weeks going on my dream vacation it’s hard to return home. A feeling I have never had before with other vacations (back then with parents). I was pretty sad for a couple of days when I got back.
AVO: What do you miss the most now you’ve returned from Japan?
Nachtraaf: Walking on the street at night and watch all the neon and crowds of people. Encountering special things like a random shrine in the middle of a really busy shopping street. But also a lot of food/drink things like egg salad sandwiches, royal milk tea, eating out for comparatively cheap, the convenience stores on nearly every corner.
Also the harmony of society. Even though the Netherlands has a lot of things going for it due to individualism, there is not a lot of keeping harmony with your fellow person. In the train from Schiphol back home there was already somebody loudly using Skype in the silent car of the train. That would be unimaginable in Japan.
AVO: Do you plan on going back to Japan?
Nachtraaf: Absolutely. Before I got back even. The first couple of days I got back I was contemplating to return during Sakura season. But I think that December was very nice. Especially since I have no family obligations during the holiday season and I might as well spent a month in another country. It’s also a bit cheaper, quieter, and all the Christmas illuminations are especially pretty.
The weather was also really good. I arrived on the 5th of December and it was 19 degrees Celcius in Tokyo! The rest of my trip it slowly got a little bit cooler. It only rained twice, and the temperature was mostly around 10 degrees Celcius.
We have been informed about the future trip from Nachtraaf to Japan next December, so keep an eye on his official Facebook page for more information, but also the photos of his first trip to Japan. Many thanks to Nachtraaf for answering the many questions. Keep an eye on AVO Magazine, because there will be more interviews like this! If you are interested to do the same interview, you can contact us!