Random thoughts on travel and other things

I want to go back to Japan next year but have realised I have to fly to Tassie for Christmas and suddenly remembered yesterday that I got an email from a friend in NZ telling me she’s getting married in Jan.  She wanted my addy for the invite.  Can I afford all this?  Well no.  I have no job, no source of income and the economy is going belly up atm.

Actually I’m not sure as an IT contractor how the whole economic crisis is going to effect me – because most of my work is on small scale stuff, it might be a good thing if businesses decide to cut back on big projects and use what they have instead. 

Tomorrow I start getting back to the real world – job hunting and the like.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before I find something.


I really wanted to post something on my thoughts and impressions of Japan but all I can think to say is that it’s big!  And hard to find stuff.  We thought we were being all dopey, getting lost all the time but then you notice even Japanese people seem to be lost.  We got a cab from the train station to one of the hostels and even with a map (in kanji) and the GPS in his cab, the driver still had trouble finding the place!

The other thing is the homogenousness (is that a word even?) of the place.  It’s so surprising when you come from a place like Melbourne where practically everyone is from somewhere else.  When we first got to Osaka, we couldn’t work out why people stared at us but then realised after a few days that we even started staring at other Westerns!

It’s not just a race thing though, even the way people dress – sure you get groups of teenagers here all decked out in their Supre or Valley Girl, but when you walk through the city in Melbs everyone has their own look.  In Japan it was all the same – short shorts or skirts with either high heeled boots or ugg boots!  Worn with big, thick jumpers and scarves.  Anita’s friend who lives in Japan told us that it’s not the done thing to show your arms after the 1 Nov so all the girls wear shorts but cover up completely on top.  Wacky.

The girls are so tiny, it just blew my mind.  Not just skinny but tiny.  We were queuing in one shop and I was seriously at least a foot taller than everyone else.  The next tallest person was my sister and she’s pretty short.  Even though I felt like such a heffalump, we certainly didn’t lack male attention!  Some of it welcome – lots of cute boys keen to talk to us 😀  Some not – there seemed to be a certain type of stern looking, middle aged business men who’d get on the train and give you a look like ‘get off my train, you filthy Westerner’ then spend the rest of the trip checking out your tits.  Gross. 

I think one of the best things about our holiday was that even though we seemed to forget most of the Japanese we learnt as soon as we got to Japan and sentence structure just didn’t exist for us, we actually could make ourselves understood.  A few times I had to approach people on the street for directions and they’d have this look of ‘omg.. this person is going to talk to me in their wacky foreign language and I won’t understand…’ then I’d say something (very basic) in Japanese and they’d break into a big smile.  Then they’d answer and we’d understand and break into big smiles.  Awww… we’d have a moment.

We thought we’d spent enough time studying directions before we left.  I now realise you can’t possibly spend enough time studying directions.  Then again, if someone gives me directions that involve more than 2-3 steps in English, I can’t follow them!  But just knowing stuff like ‘turn left at the next corner’ was a lifesaver.

We also found people seemed unapproachable but if we made the slightest effort to talk to them, they would be so friendly (must remember this now I’m home cos I’m hopelessly stuck up my own arse most of the time).

Anyway these are my tips for travelling to Japan, in case you are ever considering it:

  • Pack light.  Well this is a good tip for travelling anywhere but esp Japan.  There are lots of stairs everywhere – like just to get out of the train station.  My advice is to pack your suitcase, find a nearby flight of stairs, carry your bags up and down those stairs like 18 times then repack.  Suddenly that second pair of jeans doesn’t seem to necessary!
  • Don’t go to Roppongi.  It’s evil.  I saw some folk at the cafe yesterday with a Japanese guide book and I wanted to go over and shout at them “don’t go to Roppongi” because they need warning, but I didn’t.  They can learn the hard way.
  • Learn Japanese.  We had the best times, best food etc at places that were full of Japanese people not Westerns.  Even being able to ask what someone else was eating helped a lot.  Learning to read a bit also helps – we didn’t learn kanji or hiragana, just a bit of katakana (we actually managed to read some katakana on menus — like ‘vodka shots’ and ‘cola’ – yah for reading squiggly).  Luckily at one place we were going to go to, they had an English menu cos if we’d used the point method, we’d have never found out the menu was all cow intenstines and rectum!
  • You are going to feel fat and daggy when you first get to Japan.  Deal with it.  Because we went to Osaka first and were staying on Dotonburi – which is were all the young people go crusing each other, we landed slap-bang in the middle of the Japan pretty.  If we’d gone to Kyoto first, it wouldn’t have been so bad!  Just as an aside, I saw a few bigger Japanese girls (prolly around Australian size 14-16) who were really well dressed.  I wanted to go over and ask where they got their clothes because all the clothes in Japanese stores are tiny, but how do you ask that question?  I wasn’t so concerned with looking like an idiot myself but with upsetting them cos it would have been obvious that I was asking them because they were bigger than most Japanese girls. 
  • Don’t get hung up on going to specific places.  We had a list of places we wanted to go – tourist attractions etc but when it come to eating etc I just couldn’t understand people who rigidly follow the guidebooks.  It is so hard to find anyway in Tokyo and so much more fun just to walk around and discover things for yourself so why spend hours looking for the ramen shop recommended by Lonely Planet?
  • It will take you far long than you expect to get anyway and you will get lost.  And when you get there, it will be closed. 
  • Have fun.  I couldn’t believe some of the people at the backpackers we stayed at — we’d go out for the day and they’d be surfing the internet, we’d get back and they’d still be surfing the internet.  Maybe they went out during the day and we just didn’t see it but they seemed to spend ALL  their time just hanging around the hostel, talking to other travellers.  We had a couple of quiet nights in (I am so addicted to Japanese TV) but even going out for a walk or calling into a tiny neighbourhood bar for a few drinks has got to be better than hanging out at a backpackers.

One of the things that amazed me was the behavour of Westerns in Japan.  At times it was so embarassing, I felt like telling people ‘I don’t come from the same country as them…’ The worst was in Kyoto.  We went to see the geishas and every time one appeared, people would rush right up into their faces, taking photos.  I know every country has different cultural standards and ways of behaving but you’d think DON’T BE A DICKHEAD is pretty much universal.

Anyway, I might call my son.  I saw him briefly when I got home cos I left my car at his place – and he must have missed cos he didn’t punch me when I hugged him – but I think I need some Andrew time.


3 responses to “Random thoughts on travel and other things

  1. Great advice Kathryn. I am so going to do that suitcase thing.

  2. I’ve enjoyed your Japan posts and FB photos. Looks like you had a ball – welcome back.

  3. Great travel tips – LOL at “prepare to feel fat and daggy”! I’ve loved hearing about your adventures.

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