Saturday, January 16, 2016

Going to Japan: The Decision to Go

And now to something I promised a month ago; I really never thought too hard about overseas travel. Since I began work after high school and due to fact I was mostly in temporary work (though almost always employed), I felt that I didn’t really have the opportunity to go. I also felt I didn’t have the money to go, though in reality I probably did. To me it just felt like it was very expensive. I did have a couple of opportunities to travel once I got a permanent job, but passed them up. Travel to the USA, Europe and Japan did cross my mind very occasionally, but I never gave it any serious thought.

In September 2011, I went to the now sadly defunct Arc Cinema at National Film and Sound Archive to see a film screening from the Japanese embassy. On a table outside the theatre, the embassy has placed numerous flyers and pamphlets regarding travel to Japan. The one that caught my eye was a booklet to do with anime tourism. Inside the booklet was various spots and tourist attractions related to various anime and manga properties across the country. Many dealt with franchises that few westerners had ever heard about. While the booklet was rather interesting, I dismissed out of hand thought of going to Japan just to go anime related theme parks or museums.

Sometime after, possibly only a few months, I was searching online about Otome Road, the otaku area for women in Ikebukuro in Tokyo. I came across a website simply called “Shopping in Tokyo” by a Canadian woman named Xandria. What’s interesting about this site and how is differs from others is how it lays out everything to do with travelling to Japan; getting there, money, getting around, food, what to expect in terms of language difficulties etc. Though some of the information is most certainly aimed at Canadian anime fans, it has a lot of general information and tips that anyone can use. Although it hasn’t been updated for over five years, it pretty much covers everything you need to know or be aware of.

Looking though the website, I suddenly wondered if it was indeed feasible to travel overseas. Checking the flights on the Qantas website and a few hotel websites, my calculations seemed to indicate that I could do it all on a relatively small budget. Though I originally thought it would be silly to go only to anime related things over there, that’s what I pretty much did on my first trip. I was a bit conservative in terms of how much time I was going to spend over there; only a week and half in Tokyo (plus a day trip to Ustunomiya). Due to the fact I thought I wouldn't visit the country ever again, I crammed in as much stuff I wanted to see. As a result, nearly all of the first trip was anime related in one way or another.

But probably because I planned the trip well and despite my fears over being lost in a country where English is not spoken widely, I really enjoyed my time there. I enjoyed it so much I went back again five months later for a further two week trip. And again about a year and half later for even longer (though I wish I had extended it out to four weeks). It’s a country unlike any other really, with lots of natural beauty and the people are generally respectful of each other, it’s a consumer’s paradise, the food is wonderful (and plenty of options for those who don’t like Japanese food or get tired of it), getting around is relatively easy and holidays there can be quite cheap despite what you might think.

I think the problem with Japan is the preconceived notions people have about the place. People have asked me if Japan is a third world country (uh, no…), whether you need to know the language (no, but if you know a couple of phrases it helps) and other slightly weird questions. Certainly the country isn’t some bizarro world that I think the media sometimes portrays it to be. Not everything is cherry blossoms, shinkansen (bullet trains), geisha or whatever clich├ęs you may come up with. Over the next couple of posts, I’ll be going over some of the things I learnt in my trips there and highlighting some of the things they don’t mention on travel websites. I also want to talk about shops as well as some of the places I’ve visited. Certainly I’m no expert in travel or Japan, but I thought it might be nice to have this info out there and just as a reference for myself for future trips.

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