Japan – renewing my long-standing relationship

I’ve just spent three weeks in Japan, travelling around by train, staying in Airbnb accommodation, and soaking up the art, architecture, design, food, beer and general culture. It was the longest time I have spent in Japan, and several years since my last trip in 2010. But given I have been to Japan more than 25 times in the past 20 years, it was like renewing an old friendship.

Image © Rory Manchee - all rights reserved

Akashi Castle – Photo © Rory Manchee – all rights reserved

My earliest visit to Tokyo, back in 1995, was to spend a few days with a friend from London who was managing a now-forgotten Britpop band on their debut tour of Japan. After attending a couple of their concerts, being entertained by their Japanese record company, visiting a few tourist spots and hanging out in a number of Tokyo nightclubs, it was a very limited/skewed introduction to the country.

My next visit the following year was even shorter, and even more skewed. Another friend from London (now a well-known writer and broadcaster) was supposed to be covering yet another Britpop band on their Japanese tour, on behalf of a British magazine. Instead, we scored some free tickets to see the Sex Pistols at Budokan (it was their infamous Filthy Lucre tour), and my one night in Tokyo was spent drinking with the band after the gig, in a bizarre subterranean bar. But that’s another story.

Most of my trips to Japan have been for business, and only to Tokyo. So this latest visit was an ideal opportunity to stretch out and explore in more depth. Over the next few posts, I’ll be commenting on my experiences, across such topics as coffee, AirBnB, art & architecture, crate digging and some navigational issues.

First, here are just a few of the reasons why I appreciate Japan:

  • The love of good design
  • Hardly any graffiti, virtually no petty vandalism, and scarcely any litter
  • The food
  • People rarely talk on their mobile phones on the train or in public places
  • The service culture and overall politeness
  • Trains run on time
  • The convenience stores
  • IC cards (take note, Myki…)

Of course, nothing’s perfect: Japanese TV is mostly awful; good espresso coffee is in short supply; everything comes over-packaged; and in many situations, it’s still a cash-only economy. I also appreciate that it’s a complicated society, often seen as repressed, and difficult for outsiders to understand.

But for all its challenges, Japan must be doing something right, as in-bound tourism numbers (especially from Greater China) are at record-breaking levels.

Next week: Seeing Japan with #Airbnb


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