My first stop on the way to Spain was a quick detour to Japan to visit my cousin Sandra (who is an author and writes hilarious short stories). We spent my first night in Tokyo eating sushi, singing karaoke, and watching robots fight with women dressed in bikinis and panda costumes. It was an apt introduction to the weird and wonderful world of Japan.
And the weirdness didn’t stop there. My whole stay felt like a cartoon. I think it was partly due to the chimes that played over loud speakers everywhere to signal things like a change of traffic lights or the arrival of a train. Every time I crossed the road or boarded a train, I felt like I was levelling up in a game of Super Mario.
The best apart about Japan though is the politeness of the Japanese people. Whenever I would attempt to say something basic like ‘My name is Mark,’ I would be met with an ecstatic expression and an, ‘Ahhhh wow your Japanese is very good!’ I knew this was an obvious lie, but I loved it. The correct Japanese-polite response is, ‘Oh no, it’s nothing. You’re too kind!’ And when a Japanese person says they only speak a little English, it actually means they’re fluent and don’t want to be boastful.
There’s one place in Japan where you don’t have to be polite though, and that’s inside a train. When I saw a train pull up at the station that was so full that there were bodies pushed against the glass, I thought, ‘We’ll catch the next one, surely.’ Then my cousin ushered me on and we barged our way through. ‘You thought it was full, didn’t you?’ Asked Sandra. ‘It’s Tokyo, you can always fit more people in.’
Another place where personal space doesn’t exist is the onsen – a hot spring where the Japanese go to relax… naked. As I scanned the pool of nude men for a spot I initially thought it was too crowded for me, but then I remembered my cousin’s advice, ‘you can always fit more people in.’ Here’s to new experiences!