To celebrate their 12th birthday, the award-winning, Bristol-based travel specialists, InsideJapan Tours, are offering bloggers a chance to enjoy two and a half weeks of travel and cultural experiences in Japan. Wow!
This awesome opportunity can be snapped up by competing bloggers who share 12 reasons why we should travel to Japan. Of course, I can’t resist this wonderful cultural temptation, especially as Japan is very high on my ‘must experience’ list, so I’m entering with 12 reasons why I’ve always wanted to travel to Japan (and why I would be a super-keen blogger experiencing Japan for the first time).
My reasons all centre around Japanese cultural delights – the music, the arts, the customs and traditions – as these reflect my favourite travel experiences and are things in Japan that have long captured my imagination. Of course, I am also excited by the physical wonders of Japan – the snow-capped peaks and romantic fishing villages, the vibrant flowers, fortified palaces, and the innovative modern structures… but for me the culture is king.
1. The Power of Taiko
I still recall my excitement when I first watched video of Taiko drumming in an episode of Michael Palin’s Full Circle travel series. The consuming passion with which the ensemble beat traditional drums of all shapes and sizes was an instant addition to my collection of interests in Japanese culture. For me, Taiko seemed to contain the essence of Japanese culture, combining ceremony, tradition, discipline and creativity in a powerful performance of military precision.
When I finally get to Japan, watching a Taiko performance will be top on my list of ‘must do’ experiences. To feel the energy in the room as those drums beat in unison, and hear the rhythms that tell stories of a proud nation, would be a real travel dream.
To watch the Full Circle episode that has stayed with me for years, click here.
2. The Delight of Ceremony
I have often marvelled at the joyous Japanese ceremony involved in even the most common tasks. Whether it be rolling a dice, pouring a cup of tea, or folding clothes, there seems to be countless ways for the Japanese to add a little showmanship and competition to everyday activities.
This cultural quirk delights my imagination and often pops into mind as I do little chores about the house. I would love to appreciate such a ceremony first-hand, and perhaps a learn a little about how to incorporate such artistic ritual into my life.
3. The Magic of Studio Ghibli
I was introduced to the magical world of Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio, by my partner, Dave, who has travelled to Japan a couple of times and who routinely adds fuel to my burning desire to travel there.
Studio Ghibli has created charming films such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, which have escaped the cultural confines of their small home nation to win the affections of animation lovers worldwide. The Studio Ghibili museum in Mitaka would be fascinating to visit, but more than seeing the images used in the films, I would love to understand more about the culture behind the films – the folk tales, the animation style, the hyper-real imagination that manifests in unique storylines.
4. The Legend of Heikegani Crab
Such is the power of legend in Japanese tradition that a type of crab has evolved through legend-fuelled artificial selection. Japanese legend tells how the souls of defeated Samurai were believed to inhabit the form of crabs marked with a particular pattern. The legend prompted local fisherman to discard any so marked crabs, unwittingly breeding only Samurai crabs over hundreds of years.
This blows my mind. I remember watching Carl Sagan’s clip about the legend of the Heikegani Crab and being intrigued to hear more Japanese legends that reflect the experiences, logic and mysticism of Japanese culture. I love that legend and story-telling is so significant in Japanese tradition, passing down morals, lessons and beliefs that shape each new generation.
5. The Many Tastes of Japanese Cuisine
I am nuts about sushi. There is no denying that Japanese sushi would be my first pick over every other world cuisine, regardless of having it day after day. But, despite my passion for perfectly arranged rice and fish parcels, there are so many other Japanese dishes that I know so little about; so many tastes of Japan that I’m yet to experience.
If you have seen previous posts in my ‘Travel. Food. Photo.’ blog series, you may understand my passion for learning about a culture and country through my mouth. With that in mind, I would make it my mission to explore the many tastes of Japanese food on any travels there. Give me the crunch of edamame, the slippery sensation of vermicelli in broth, and quality seafood served simply, unadorned and with pride.
6. The Modern Quirks of Japan
I admittedly know little about the offbeat, quirky elements of Japanese culture that characterise so much of the little nation’s international image. That said, how I would love to explore it!
I am excited by the playful trends of Harajuku kids in their long socks, frilly rockabilly skirts and punkish flair. I appreciate the need to have an entire vending machine dedicated to batteries. I love that uniforms are used in almost every profession and worn with care.
7. The Antique Art of Zen Gardening
Silent, still and impossibly perfect, Japanese gardens are often the focus of my meditation sessions.
I love that spirituality, art and nature are blended in the art of zen gardening. I marvel at how smooth white pebbles can be combed with such creativity, how single boulders can portray so much peace, and how carefully-tended bonsai can satisfy evey need for balance and order in a landscape.
8. The Fish of Tsukiji Market
I love a good market when I’m travelling and believe that markets are one of the best ways to see the inside workings of a culture.
I’ve eaten from produce markets in Vietnam, bought silk from street markets in Laos, bartered in the chaotic souqs of Morocco, Syria and Jordan and collected vintage trinkets in the flea markets of Portugal and England. But if I were to choose one market in the world to visit for fish, it would be Tsukiji Market in central Tokyo.
Where else in the world could I experience such respect for fish as in the metropolitan heart of Japan, where fish is traded like fine art and served as the epitome of natural perfection – simple, untainted, pure?
9. The Pleasure of Politeness
Japanese culture is riddled with customs of politeness, such as bowing, removing footwear indoors and sitting to eat. This is a part of the culture I would love to explore, especially coming from the western world where the niceties of politeness seem to be lost in so many everyday interactions.
Perhaps the masters of politeness, social custom and cultural beauty are the famous Geisha of Japan. The tingling delight I feel at the thought of meeting such a creative is dizzying.
10. The Novelty of Bunraku
Made from hand-sculpted wooden heads and fabric costumes representing traditional Japanese dress, Bunraku puppets can play fishermen, imperial princes, dragons and demons as they dance around the stage, telling exotic tales of love and war and Japanese culture. I dream of being transported into the world of Banraku as I sit mesmerised in the National Bunraku Theater in Osaka, watching an art form that is so foreign and so embedded in Japanese history.
11. The Challenge of Japanese Language
It is strange to think that I once stood before a panel of Japanese judges, speaking in Japanese about Japanese culture. Now all I can remember is how to count to ten, say ‘yes’ and ‘thank you’ in Japanese, but oh how I would love the challenge of recalling and communicating more while in Japan.
I love the short, sharp sounds of the Japanese language, and the intense formality inherit the language’s levels of greeting, address and customary response. I also love that the language has adapted to multiple forms, represented in both traditional characters and Latin characters on street signs across Japan.
12. The Diversity of Japanese Music
When I think of Japanese music, I think of the Campari-drenched karaoke sessions, lyrical flute melodies, three-string sounds from the traditional shamisen and the bizarre, hyperactive brand of pop music that Japan does so well.
Last year I relished the sounds of Japanese Blues cowboy, George Kamikawa, and Tsugara shamisen player, Noriko Tadano as they worked the crowd into tent-shaking splendour at the Bellingen Global Carnival for world music. As they toasted Kampai with the enthralled audience, I vowed to see a gig or two when I finally make it to Japan.
What are your Japan experiences, preconceptions and dreams?