For many years, I dreamed of traveling to Japan. I was actually supposed to go in 2011, but the trip was cancelled after the earthquake. I finally got another opportunity this year which I looked forward to with great excitement. Now, having completed the trip, I can finally say I’ve fulfilled one of my top life goals.
There are so many things I experienced and observed about Japan that I could probably write on forever about, but for the sake of the post, I’m going to keep this brief and focus on the things that I feel are worth mentioning or had the greatest impact on me. I highly encourage you to visit Japan if at all possible. There is an unbelievable amount of things to see and do, the food is beyond excellent, the people are very nice, and getting around on public transit is a breeze (once you figure it out which isn’t very hard at all). However, I suggest you either take a tour or thoroughly plan everything out before going because I guarantee you that if you go there with a vague idea, or no idea at all, of what to do, you’ll lose a lot of time trying to figure everything out or just freeze up completely and end up accomplishing next to nothing.
My trip consisted of 4 cities: Tokyo, Hakone, Kanazawa, and Kyoto.
Let’s face it. You want to go to Japan to ogle over all the cool cars that we don’t get in the states. I know I did. However, people always told me, “It’s not like Tokyo Drift. You’re not going to see a lot.” Yeah, every other car isn’t going to be some circuit spec R34, slammed 180SX driftmobile, or a crazy bosozoku Lamborghini, but you will see a decent amount of neat cars no matter where you go. You may have to poke around a little bit more in certain areas, but by and large, you will get to see some cool cars driving around.
In the big cities (Tokyo especially), you’re most likely going to find newer cars (<5 y/o), quite a few American cars, and a pretty good number of exotic and super/hyper cars. Aside from the tons and tons of kei cars and trucks, one thing I thought was interesting was the amount of Peugeots. I’d say 1 in 5 cars was a Peugeot, which I didn’t expect, certainly in Japan. I also saw lots of Maseratis and quite a few Porsches. I even spotted a gold & silver Bugatti Veyron (near the Imperial Palace) and a SLR McLaren (in the Ginza district). I did see a few “tuner” cars (NAs and NBs, a DC5, an R33, an S15, an NSX or two, and a few 86 and BRZ), but they were certainly few and far between. I did see quite a few nice looking cars from the train though as we passed through Yokohama. I imagine that would be a good place to go back to for some “speedhunting.”
However, once out of the big cities, I knew my luck would turn around, and sure enough, as we drove further into the rural areas around Mt. Fuji, it became a JDM enthusiast’s dreamland. Plenty of R32, R33, and R34 GT-Rs, 86s (old and new), Miatas, all generations of Silvias, a few Supras and FDs, some VIP cars, LOTS of Evos (III-VI were most common, although I did see a few Xs), and more. Since our hotel was located among a lot of touge roads, I even witnessed an Initial D replica AE86. How fitting, haha.
Back in the more metropolitan city of Kanazawa, car spotting hit the lowest point of the trip. Aside from a single R32 and a less than a handful of mostly stock cars, I didn’t really see anything cool.
In the last city, Kyoto, things picked up quite a bit. One thing that surprised me where the number of GT-Rs (32, 33, 34). There were a lot. Like, I saw more Skylines than Civics (probably a bad example since Civics aren’t exactly as common over there as they are in the states, but you get my point lol…). For example, in one block, I spotted two Bayside Blue V-Spec II R34s. Other cool cars included a rally inspired GT-Four in complete Castrol livery, a few crazy looking NSXs, Civic Type Rs, 180SX and S13s, a 22B, and more…
I also realized how much of a big thing vanning is in Japan. Lots of vans tricked out with wheels, suspension, and of course, big brake kits (to keep the family safe on the track!). It doesn’t hurt that their minivans look a million times better than ones sold in the states though…
Japan is unbelievably CLEAN. Very rarely will you see loose trash on the ground or graffiti on walls. To give you an idea of how much pride the Japanese have in keeping their country in tip-top shape, I witnessed a man mopping and vacuuming the subway stairs. I guarantee you will be hard-pressed to find that anywhere else in the world.
Bathrooms are spotless even in the busiest tourist areas. Speaking of which, one of the few things I found rather odd was the lack of soap in restrooms. Not exactly like the Japanese to be so unhygienic especially where it counts, but I suppose they carry some kinda hand sanitizer in addition to a handkerchief (to dry their hands since almost all restrooms don’t have paper towels and some don’t even have those air dry machines).
Another interesting thing I came across was that the subway ticket machines “eat” your ticket once you get to your stop. I suspect the machines keep the tickets for two reasons. First, so the ticket can’t be reused, and secondly, which I think is the main reason, so that the spent tickets don’t end finding their way onto the ground as trash.
Now that I think about it, another thing I found odd considering the cleanliness is the lack of trash cans. If you buy any drinks or food from vending machines, you’re stuck carrying the trash around with you until you get home which can be sorta inconvenient at times…
These things are EVERYWHERE. And even crazier, they contain almost anything. I saw machines selling the expected things like food and drinks, but also ones selling stuff from clothing to electronics. Drink machines are most common and sell both hot and cold drinks, sometimes in the same machines. Prices range from ¥120 for a small drink to ¥150 for a larger size. In less touristy areas, drinks are as low as ¥100. And yes, there are vending machines for beer everywhere too. Prices start around ¥150 or so and end up in the ¥300 range.
Tipping & Prices
In Japan, you don’t tip because it’s expected what you will receive good service and the price is set to be inclusive of that. It can actually be considered to be rude if you tip. So, what you see is what you pay. That’s it. Very simple. Now only if the US would adopt the same thinking…
For the most part, things are actually pretty pricey in Japan. When it comes to food, it’s very easy to find inexpensive places to eat, but any money saved there is likely going to towards other stuff. Clothing is typically expensive and if you wear anything bigger than a large, you’d be out of luck at most places. If you’re interested in shopping a lot, I’d bring quite a bit of money as things can add up pretty quickly. The nice thing though is that if you spend over like ¥10,500 at certain places (mostly large department stores) and show your passport, they’ll knock off the 5% tax.
Subway and local train tickets usually range between ¥150-300 ($1.50-3) depending on your destination (you may need to transfer trains too which means buying another ticket) and are only good for one way which means you need another ticket to return home. Taking the train across Japan is obviously going to be more expensive (I didn’t notice prices since it was all pre-arranged for my trip). I didn’t need one, but buying a JR Rail Pass is recommended if you plan to travel by subway and train a lot.
The number one thing you’re going to notice is how incredibly polite the Japanese people are. At first I thought it might just be special treatment since we were foreigners, but as I did some people watching, I observed the interactions between people and noticed they were treating each other with quite a high level of respect. It was amazing to see this especially since it is a total opposite of how people treat each other in the US.
In Japan, politeness goes much further than “excuse me” or “thank you.” It includes pouring the drinks of others instead of just yourself, queuing up quietly in orderly lines at the train or subway stations, giving a bow of respect to everyone when leaving or parting ways, respecting private and public property, the almost origami-like wrapping when purchasing something, and much much more. Politeness is “the realization that it’s not all about you. Instead, it’s about us.”
While I observed a lot of politeness, the things that really stood out to me were:
A) When we would leave the hotel, we would usually have a chartered tour bus take us to the various destinations scheduled for the day. The driver would always be standing outside, greeting us as we boarded. When we would arrive at a location, he would resume his position outside the door, helping people step down off the bus. At the end of the day, he would stand outside, bowing to each of us as we disembarked.
B) People would never hesitate to assist you. For example, during our stay in Kanazawa, the elevator operator would see people approaching, run over and call the elevator for them, hold the doors open for people, and then give 2 or 3 full 90˚ bows as the doors closed.
C) When we would check out of a hotel, the front desk staff would usually line up outside to bow and wave as we departed. Another instance is when we went to help some farmers, as we were leaving we got the usual bowing and waving, but as we got back onto the main road, I could still see them waving to us over 1/2 mile away.
D) Buy anything and watch them intricately wrap whatever you bought with a ridiculous amount of precision and care.
E) Everything is handed to you with both hands and usually accompanied with a small bow and “Arigatou gozaimasu.”
Anyways, that’s a little glimpse into my experience in Japan. As I said above, I strongly recommend traveling to Japan at least once. It’s certainly a unique experience and you will (hopefully) develop a greater understanding and appreciation for the country and people (and maybe even pick up a few values you can incorporate into your daily life!).