All good things…

I have always measured travel not in distance but in time. How long it will take to get there, how long we will stay in a place – these are more meaningful measures to me than kilometres or miles. While I was in Japan for less than a month it has taken me three times that long to sift through my memories and wrap up this series of posts.

I’ve been keeping a list of things I wanted to write about that stood out in my experience of Japan for one reason or another. Quirky, silly things that I loved or found odd enough to be worthy of mention.

One was my massive crush on Japanese cars. I’ve always had a penchant for small cars, driving a Nissan Micra for years, but I’ve never seen anything like these models before. Little breadboxes on wheels, apparently these ‘kei’ cars have their fans.

This make was my favourite:

The technology that the Japanese truly master is the toilet. Reluctant at first to even try to navigate all of the instructions, curiosity got the better of me. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say I have tested the waters and am a convert. I want a Toto!

The Japanese love their brands, from convenience stores to coffee. There is a Lawson Station or 7-Eleven on every corner, usually opposite a Starbucks, Mister Donut, Wendy’s or KFC. Suntory has the corner on the lucrative vending machine market. Plus, clothes shops like Patagonia and the ever-present Disney. It’s a small world after all.

This childlike obsession seems to be a strong influence for women. I was shocked by the fact that feminism in Japan seem to be decades behind the west. The nasal, baby-like voices you constantly hear from women on commercials and recorded announcements. Their often self-effacing behaviour in public. The fact that men still make up the majority of executives in the business world.

I loved how Japan was so full of surprises while simultaneously remaining so true to stereotypes. We saw the famous groups of men in suits getting drunk on a Friday night. The extreme fashion on the streets.

Things I liked less: the overpackaging of everything. Sometimes even a single piece of fruit would be shrink-wrapped for sale. No garbage cans on the street – you just had to carry your rubbish with you. The fact that there was no way to dry your hands in public toilets (although some women seemed to carry a small towel for this purpose).

On our last night in Tokyo, we followed a friend’s directions to their favourite sushi place. It was complicated — the first location had closed, then reopened nearby. It wasn’t on Google maps and the address was nearly impossible to locate. We almost gave up a couple of times until we finally found it, tucked into a corner. Like most restaurants in Japan, it had a plastic model of the food just outside, hardly a sign of high quality for a European. What a surprise! We sat at the counter and watched the two sushi chefs slicing the fish, chopping and rolling their creations. It was all freshly made and truly amazing. We ordered a selection, ate it, then ordered again and again. Then rolled ourselves back to the hotel.

All good things must come to an end, and so it was for this trip.

Perhaps the other time-based measure of travel is how long your memories linger afterwards (I’m tempted to add: along with the extra weight but this is untrue; it was only after I got home and went through the holiday season that I saw the effects on the scale). I have the feeling that Japan will stay with me for a long time. For now, my only destination is Switzerland. We will be moving at the end of May. Not where we initially thought. But not too far either. Fingers crossed it will all fall into place by the end of the week.

Where will you go next?