Here is a list of my favorite things about Japan (because I feel nostalgic):
The toilets are awesome. It’s like pooping on R2D2 – creepy, maybe, but true in the best of ways. There are blinking lights, bleepy-bloopy noises, and random jets of warm water that provide the occasional enjoyable surprise. I never knew what I was going to find when I pushed open the stall door – a hole in the ground that I’d have to awkwardly squat on like a chicken, a normal Western toilet, or one of those tricked-out beauties that belonged in Xzibit’s house instead of my university. When I heard the computerized hum of a Toto Washlet Neorest I knew that I’d have a great day.
Nothing is ever late. This is great for a few reasons: first, I always knew when my train would arrive at my destination and could tell my friends when I’d be getting in. Last weekend I took a “3 hour” bus ride from Amherst to Concord, NH that was actually six hours due to poor planning by the bus company, vacation traffic, and non-communication between bus companies. If the train is minutes late in Japan, the conductor will come into each car and personally apologize to the passengers. Second, it made me more punctual. Because I know that Valentine opens between 4:28 and 4:33 every dinner depending on the strength of the Iron Curtain-lifter, the presence of an actual employee, or the efficiency of the card-swipers, I usually don’t show up until 4:35 or 4:40. If I knew that that gate would rise precisely at 4:30 I’d hustle into the atrium at 4:29:53 so I’d have a good head of steam by the time I actually reached the card-swiper and could maneuver Val with more efficiency than a CFL bulb.
This could be construed as offensive but it makes me giggle.
Public baths should exist in America. It’s like a pool with a hot tub (or three) where everyone is the same sex and everyone is naked. Doesn’t that sound fun? Oh, but it is, you see, because the ofuro has the ability to completely cure an individual of shyness while simultaneously making him cleaner than Jake Gyllenhaal in Bubble Boy. Men and women of all ages and body types flock to sento, ofuro, and onsen to relax, socialize, and get squeaky clean. I have a little tiny towel that I carry around now as a remnant of my onsen days – that towel served as my washcloth, drying cloth, and crotch-cover and is like a dear friend. There is also no comparable feeling to soaking in a natural hot spring after a long day and then rushing through the chilly hallways to leap, radiating warmth like a space heater, between the covers of a futon. It makes sleeping into pure bliss. Also, how many of you have bathed in milk? Or honey? Or fruit extracts? And some of them have water slides. And they ALL have beer.
Beer...and a view.
The food is as good as everyone says. The Japanese are very good at mimicry. They love to take ideas and styles from other cultures and incorporate them into Japanese society like they are building a crazy Lego contraption. For this reason, the food in Japan, both Japanese-style and foreign, is absolutely delicious. Ramen takes on a whole new meaning when it is served to you, piping hot, by a smiling obaasan who urges you to stir in the fresh wasabi she has given you and chuckles as your sinuses rival Eyjafjallajökull in explosive power. Now I’d use Maruchan Ramen as toilet paper (wince) before I’d eat it. And I went to an Italian restaurant, too, where I was served angel hair pasta, cooked perfectly, topped with jet black squid ink sauce. Ridiculous – but it tasted godly. Where but Japan could I have gotten Pizza-La’s famous SAUSAGE & A THICK SLICE OF BACON MEAT SAUCE pizza with a crust of pigs-in-a-blanket? NOWHERE. Suck it, Domino’s.
This is Pizza Hut's poor imitation of Pizza-La. Nice try. But THERE ISN'T ENOUGH SAUSAGE.
Natural scenery is breathtaking and always surprising. Japan is full of sharply-edged mountains, thick pine forests, gnarly coastline, and serene rivers. But they also enjoy paving over their hiking trails and hillsides as an erosion prevention, exporting so much timber that they have to replant areas where trees will take years to return to form, and pouring concrete on the bottoms of their rivers. Not to mention the countless monkey and deer parks, where sweet little animals approach you and then ATTACK YOU until you feed them. I had to fend off a miniature buck with miniature horns that I did not want to be miniaturely impaled upon – not with my bare hands, but by throwing my newly acquired Meiji chocolate-chocolate covered almonds at him. Do deer even like chocolate? He didn’t care and simply wanted to deprive me of my mountaintop snack. Oh yes, I bought the almonds at a store on top of a mountain that I had climbed via the longest and most painful staircase of my life. But I did it Japanese style – in my day clothes – and quickly regretted it after sweating through them in a matter of minutes. Seriously, though, the natural scenery is lovely – they go to painstaking lengths to ensure that the cherry blossoms will flower perfectly, the fall leaves will be highlighted in their ephemerality, and the pines are always pruned to spiky immaculateness.
This is real and I went here and I saw this and it was beautiful and I will shamelessly boast about it.
I am working on a fellowship application right now and I would really enjoy going back to Japan. But I not only miss being abroad, I miss returning with stories to share with my friends and adventures to hear about from them. I know other students are figuring out destinations for undergraduate and postgraduate travel – where do you want to go? And does anyone else have some favorite memories to share? I know it would be nice for me to hear about other experiences and maybe add a few locations to my list of places to go before I perish.