Do you have any of those dream destinations that have been in your mind for years? Maybe you haven´t managed to go there yet because you haven´t had the time, money or opportunity or maybe you have already fulfilled your goal of getting there. Whatever the case may be, you at least probably know that a dream destination can be an obsession that takes hold of you and won´t let go, until you do something about it.
For me that destination was and still is Tokyo, Japan. I don´t know how my Japanomania got started in the beginning, but it was somewhere around the 7th grade, if I remember correctly. Yes, I had watched anime and liked ninjas and martial arts before that, but around the 7th grade I remember something changing.
A Finnish missionary, who had lived in Japan for years, visited our school to tell about his work. Even though studying religion was never the most important subject for me, this man told about Japan in such an interesting way that I was mesmerized. This has got to be the moment when Japan became more for me than just a country among others.
I had dreamt about going to Japan for years and years, but never had the money to do so until in 2013, when I quit school (university of applied sciences) and started focusing on my business full time. That year I started working my ass off to be able to pay a trip to Japan, because it’s not cheap. Just the tickets were normally around 1 000€ at that time, if there were no offers. At times it seemed hopeless, but in the end things have a way of working out.
It was the summer of 2013, when I bought the tickets. I remember literally trembling with excitement when I got the flights for me and my fiancée Tiia. It was an extatic moment and I was jumping around our apartment, because I felt so damn happy. At the same time it felt unreal. Even when we boarded the plane in October on my 24th birthday I still couldn´t fully believe it. This was also my first long-haul flight, which will hopefully be my last in economy, because I hated it. From the return trip onward I have always flown business and will continue to do so… until I start flying first class at some point (a man has got to have goals, right?).
For some reason I actually thought that one trip to Tokyo would be enough to “get it out of my system” so to speak. Booooy was I wrong about that one. I just fanned the flames, because once we got back, I knew I had to return there as soon as possible. It was a terrible feeling not knowing when that would be, but I set it as a goal once again and started working towards it. This has continued ever since, because I´ve visited Tokyo in the Fall of 2013, 2014, 2015 and will be going there again this year.
But why? The world is filled with wonderful cities, destinations and countries, so why “waste time” on just one city? Because that city is like no other. The only city you could somehow compare it with would be New York, but I´ve heard that even the Big Apple hasn´t got anything on Tokyo – even Anthony Bourdain said this in his own way.
So here are some of the countless reasons why I love Tokyo so much in a more broad perspective (with some Japanese words as a bonus):
1. Dekai – It´s huge!
As you may well know, Tokyo is the biggest city in the world by far! The biggest train station in the world in Shinjuku handles one country´s worth of people in one day. But the crowds aren´t suffocating and rude like in many other countries. Hell, in a small country like Finland even a group of 3 people can skillfully block an entire sidewalk like idiots, but in Tokyo you never have that problem even with thousands of people in front of you. Tokyoites know how to “work the crowd”.
Okay, you might run into crowds that are just a bit too much for most – like on the extremely popular tourist attraction called Takeshita-dōri in Harajuku (you know, Gwen Stefani – Harajuku girls).
2. Anzenna – It´s safe
Tokyo frequently lists as one of the safest cities in the world even though it´s such a big metropolis. I´ve only felt a little uneasy twice during my 6 weeks (3 trips) there and those situations weren´t actually threatening in any way. I never felt unsafe while walking through dark, secluded alleys in the evening, so Tokyo must be doing something right. Of course you have to remember to be wise about it, but still I haven’t experienced the same anywhere else. There people even reserve seats in cafés etc. by leaving their wallet or phone on the table while going to the bathroom. Where else would you feel comfortable doing that?
3. Seiketsu – It´s so clean
I´m very careful when it comes to hygiene. I wash my hands well, use hand sanitizer and will make sure not to touch the doorhandle of a public bathroom when leaving (you should see my knee opening technique). Even though I´m a guy, I still hate to go to a bathroom that is disgusting. In Japan that is rarely the case, because most of the bathrooms are very clean and well maintained. Also it´s very rare to see any trash on the streets, even though there are almost no trash cans to speak of (pro tip: keep a little trashbag of your own with you at all times).
4. Kawaii – Polite, yet childish
The Japanese are the most polite people on Earth. Seriously, every company employee all around the world should visit Japan and see how things are done. When a bus leaves a platform at the airport? The employees standing there will bow deeply. When a department store employee leaves the store through a staff door almost nobody sees? They bow to the store. Seriously, you can´t find more helpful and polite people anywhere. Here customer is the king!
If you ask for directions, someone might actually show you all the way to the place you are looking for just to make sure you get there safely. But even though this politeness is someway strict and extremely respectful, they still know how to have fun and show their childish sides. Businessmen in impeccable suits and all kinds of furry little mascots hanging from their phones? Check! Grown women who jump up and down just because you say you are from Finland and actually bought something from their store? Double check! If you are polite to them and happen to speak even one word of Japanese (as you should), they will be even more nice to you and you’ll actually make them happy.
5. Itadakimasu – The FOOD!
Seriously don´t even get me started on the food. You haven´t had food until you have eaten it in Japan! There is so much more to it than ramen noodles and sushi, but even those are sooo good. Pancake-like okonomiyaki, fried tempura on a bed of rice and melt-in-your-mouth waguy-beef are all very Japanese and extremely delicious.
But the Japanese also have their own way of doing foods that we know in the Western world. Does mayonese pizza sound good? Perhaps not, but it is – and for some reason you get a fork and a spoon to eat it (why?). Also French and British pastries are a big thing in Japan. Heck, they even make Starbucks cheesecakes a lot better than anywhere else… I just don´t know how they do it, but they do.
But this one is the best possible advice I can give you. If you only happen to have a short time in Japan like a layover, go and eat at an izakaya-restaurant, because they will normally have good food, cheap prices and a very wide selection of Japanese foods from sushi to pizza and edamame-beans. These are the restaurants/pubs I miss the most when not in Japan.
There are countless other reasons why I keep going back to Tokyo, but maybe you will get the general idea from these few points. I will write a lot more about Tokyo and Japan in general, but I had to start the Japanese journey somewhere in this blog, so the most important thing for me was to explain to you why it’s such an important destination for me.
Have you perhaps visited Tokyo or some other city in Japan? How did you like it and what where your favourite things? I’d love to hear about it, so please leave a comment. Or if you haven’t gone to Japan, you can tell me why you would like to go there or maybe even tell me about your other dream destination. Thanks for reading!
If you liked what you read and want to be the first to know about new blog post and my life, go ahead and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, if you feel like it :).
Yes, yes, YES!! (plus two more “yes’s” just to finish out the list)
Tokyo is the best city in the world. Hands-down. Like you that was my first big “get it out of my system” trip after having been long obsessed with Japanese culture and technology — but unfortunately it did exactly the opposite. Ended up living in Tokyo for a bit and she is the reason I quit my job and start traveling.
Anyway, great article and excellent points. Never met another traveler who had a bad experience in Japan. That just does not happen. It is literally the most polite country in the world. People may sometimes be shy at first, but join them for a cold beer or a warm pot of tea and they’ll start to open up real fast. Oh and those toilets! Spectacular. The hands-free sink built into the wash basin seals it as both efficient and effective. Well done, Japan, well done. Will be back for you again soon 😉
Sorry, I didn’t get a notification for the comment for some reason, so it took a few days to answer :). Tokyo really is the greatest there is! Yeah, somehow Tokyo has a way to make people fall in love with it helplessly :D. I think that relationship really did some good for you then!
Thank you, Derek! True, I’ve never heard that anyone really had a bad experience, but I have heard about some who thought Tokyo to be a bit boring. But they have said at the same time that their budget and weather conditions weren’t the best, which probably contributed to the whole experience. I love Japanese people in general, because they really are so polite. You are of course right about the shyness, but also about the fact that they will open up to you quickly in certain degree :). The toilets should be mandatory everywhere in the world! I can just imagine what a shock it is for Japanese to travel and see all the nasty public toilets all around the world… and we don’t even have heated seats! (we are barbarians)
Thank you for the comment, Derek :)!