Many people dream of going to Japan because it is said to be so different. The country was closed off from Western influences for centuries and has developed its own unique culture. Now a new book, Seaweed on my Cereal!: Survival Handbook for the Streets of Tokyo, by Russ Veillard points out some of the differences that tourists can expect to find as soon as they arrive in this megacity.
Russ is from Seattle but has called Tokyo his home for over a decade. “If you are tall like me, you’ll notice one difference straight away,” says Russ. But there is one stark difference in the way people behave and interact. “It’s the order that the Japanese live by, the way that people know how to stand, how to wait and how not to ask. They think like a bee within a beehive,” says Russ. “They just know what to do and at first that was shocking for me.”
Russ says that people are happy queuing in silence and unlike America, there won’t be background music playing anywhere. “Smart phones were a great thing for the Japanese. They give people something to read so they don’t have to interact with other people,” he says.
The way in which people behave on trains is governed by strict social rules. You shouldn’t eat, drink or apply make-up, says Russ. And if you really want to experience the Japanese sense of order, Russ suggests heading to one of Tokyo’s tourism hotspots and crossing the road. “People often want to go to the scrambled sidewalk in Shibuya,” he says. “That’s where pedestrians can cross the street in five or six different directions and not crash into each other.” He also suggests a trip to the city’s fish market and the training grounds for sumo wrestlers – called Sumo Stables.
Mount Fuji is often visible across Tokyo on a clear day and is an important symbol in Japanese life. Russ says it’s actually around a hundred kilometres from the city and is best viewed from a distance. “If you go to Mount Fuji, you might be disappointed. When you’re on it you don’t actually see it. Instead, you’ll be in a sea of people trying to do the same thing.”
If you want to see traditional Japanese sites and heritage buildings Russ recommends travelling away from Tokyo on the world-famous bullet train. He suggests the two-and-a-half hour ride, at speeds at over 200km an hour, to Kyoto. “You have to go to the old Imperial capital. That’s where things have been kept the way they have always been,” he says. Many Westerners visit in spring for the cherry blossom but Russ says the autumn colour is worth experiencing too. “The momiji is a type of maple. The red leaves are gorgeous.”
Summer is hot and humid and he warns it might be a little uncomfortable for British visitors. And although Christmas is not celebrated as a religious festival in Japan, Russ says the light and decoration displays on offer rival any major American City.
But Russ warns that you’ll need to budget for a trip to Japan. It is more expensive than some destinations like the USA, but says you should, “just be prepared to have a good time whatever it takes.”
Seaweed on my Cereal!: Survival Handbook for the Streets of Tokyo is available on Amazon.