I won’t tell you about which cities worth a visit on your next trip to Japan, which ramen sits at the highest rank in my mental list of the best noodles in Tokyo and where you should definitely go for the best sightseeing spots. I’m sure there are plenty of blogs, websites, influencers and youtubers who already covered everything from the dead cold winters in Hokkaido to the remotest and tropical islands of Okinawa. After all, Japan might not have been doing so well economically speaking in the recent years, but it is still a country absolutely thriving when it comes to tourism and publicity, thanks to a harmonious marriage of trends and social media, which has been constantly promoting the intriguing popular culture that Japan has to offer to the rest of the world.
Perhaps the last prime minister Abe Shinzo was successful in at least one of his campaigns, which was to promote the country internationally through what can be considered “cool” to the rest of the world, hence the well-known term of “Cool Japan” that used to be plastered on posters across train stations here in Tokyo, way before the pandemic completely shattered the international and profitable Olympic dream of the city and turned it into an unsolvable nightmare of budget deficits and dilemmas for the rest of the country. My heart still aches a little at the demise of the prime minister, who had to resign for health reasons, before the Olympic games could even happen. At the closing ceremony of the previous summer Olympic games in Brazil, he was so convincing dressed up as Super Mario, coming up on the stage from that signature green pipe, promoting yet again Japan as this cool, modern, playful country for the next games. Even though he’s not the most loved leader that Japan has seen, I still feel like it’s a shame that he won’t get to be the prime minister for the coming Olympic games that he put so much work in.
Anyway, I digress as always, back to what I was talking about. As much as I respect the idea behind Cool Japan, this is not what I want to talk about, nor do I want to become this kind of promoter, touristic advocate by creating this blog. Like I said, there are plenty of those people online already, and I kind of cringe at the idea of becoming just another one of those persons who just regurgitate the same articles over and over again. “Top 10 sightseeing spots that you MUST visit in Kyoto”. “Best restaurants in Tokyo”. Yeah, not my cup of tea.
I want to share with you why I love Japan.
Go past the anime, the kawaii phenomena, the unusual customs and the insanely delicious food. (Well, I might touch on the Japanese food a little bit (a lot), because it’s just too good to be true sometimes and you really need to know). Yes, it is partly true that Japan is all robots, modern skyscrapers and unique fashion wise in some hip areas, but it’s also so much more than that. Go past that facade of clashing and garish styles that might live in your mind as ludicrous stereotypes and look down at the roots, at the foundations of it all. Once you’ve crossed the last street of jarring neon lights of karaoke and hostess clubs in Kabukicho and after you’ve stumbled upon the peaceful shrines and the slow-paced life of the older, lesser known parts of Tokyo, you’ll understand what I mean. I want you to feel the soul of Japan that you might never have the time to come across in normal situations or in those articles you’ve read and those youtube videos you’ve watched with titles in capital letters promoting already known gaijin-friendly touristic spots. ( Gaijin = Foreigner)
I won’t give you any of those tips and recommendations, but I’m confident that my articles might help you enjoy your next trip to Japan even more, or at least just make you fall in love with the country like I did, if you have no plans to visit anytime soon. I just want to share with you my stories and make you feel the magic of Japan. I guess it’s a little bit like Disney or better yet, like Ghibli ( The disney of Japan). When you visit the parks, you’d probably feel the magic of Disneyland and enjoy it a lot as is it, but your experience would be entirely different if you watched the movies beforehand and already knew about Walt Disney (Or in Ghibli case, about Miyazaki Hayao). In a way, the magic Japan is a little bit like the magic of Disney and Ghibli, or maybe I’m too imaginative and pushing this comparison too far. (I do spend an unhealthy amount of time analyzing my life through comparisons and metaphors…)
I have always adored wandering around temples and old towns here in Japan, but I love it even more when I actually know what I’m visiting. Isn’t it what traveling is all about? About Life. I want to know the details of the people that lived before me, the history, the important events that took place exactly where I’m stepping foot. I want to know the legends, the stories, the rich culture and the wonderful traditions that are still rocking and shaping the daily lives of Japanese people. Sure, when you’ll visit X temple in Kamakura you’ll probably get a sign in front telling you a brief history of the place or you might even have a guide telling you all this, but isn’t more fun to know all of this beforehand, to wander around with your eyes and your mind completely open? And sure, you might just be that type of person who actually relishes at the sight of the ultra modern skyscrapers near Tokyo station, but I bet you’d stop and stare even longer at that small shrine squeezed between two humongous office buildings in the middle of all this hustle and bustle and wonder for a while “why“.
I remember when my mom visited Japan for the first time, she sure had a blast, but how absolutely insane it would have been if she actually had a clue about anything she visited, went past the breathtaking beauty of some places and took the time to know the rich history and let herself be even more amazed. I might be exaggerating here, except I’m probably not. I guess I am after all that Japan Otaku, minus the anime interest.
(Otaku = person obsessed, fanatic of something in particular, usually about manga or anime.)
Well, this blog is for people like my mom. People that know how beautiful and magical Japan is but should definitely learn more to enjoy their (next) trip to the fullest, or just to enjoy the country from afar. I want you to experience how I felt when I visited historical monuments for the first time, with the knowledge I had as a Japanese culture and history student back in University. I want to be the one to have that key and to open that door of knowledge and magic for you and let you have a glimpse of the beauty of Japan. However, I also want you with those bits and pieces of knowledge and my personal anecdotes that I will give you here and there to have that awareness and that respect for other cultures that is so crucial when visiting somewhere for the first time. I want to feed your curiosity and open your mind at the same time, if that makes any sense. I want to share the raw magic of this country.
Therefore, if you’ll let me please share with you my insights, my random facts and my stories, both real and fictitious about Japan,
✥ Maple & Sakura ✥
Disclaimer: All pictures are mine