And so it’s official. I’m going to Japan! The land of the rising sun, of the samurai, sumo and sushi. The land of the cherry blossoms, anime, Mount Fuji, shinto shrines and the world famous shinkansen (the bullet train to us English folk). Oh, and winners of probably the greatest rugby union match of all time.
Seven short months from now, in October 2023, myself and six friends from university will embark on the two-week trip of a lifetime, a trip of over 5,000 miles to the other side of the world, to an island nation pre-eminent at the top of many a bucket list.
We fly out on 21 October, a marathon 13 hours to Seoul Incheon (Korea) and then a three hour layover before heading to Tokyo Haneda.
So why Japan? Because – to paraphrase George Mallory when asked why he wanted to climb Everest – ‘because it’s there’. Much like Britain, Japan is small geographically but mighty in stature when it comes to global trade with Japanese cars and technology synonymous in the everyday lives of millions. Karaoke, the backdrop of many a classic night out, originated in Japan. The chances are, if you’re reading this, you will own something manufactured and exported in, or by, Japan.
A country awash with history and heritage – much of it deep rooted in western culture – there are many multi faceted assets of Japanese customs and exports which are part and parcel of our daily lives. Yet for all Japan’s technological influences on the world, ancient gods and traditional eastern cultures are as much a part of the country’s identikit as it’s numerous technological advances.
For me, the ‘quirkiness’ of the country is the main appeal – for example, there’s one vending machine for every 24 people, they have sleeping capsules in the middle of Tokyo and nearly half of the world’s zips are made there. I also like the fact you can get your money back if your train is five seconds late. Imagine if they had that system here…
The culture captivated us – to see life among the world’s eleventh largest population – how different is it to ours? It will be unique and will come as a shock, that’s for sure, but certainly a once in a lifetime experience. Taking our shoes off in a supermarket and slurping (considered a compliment) to name but two. Manchester United are also massive out there (of course we are) so I might even get to mingle with some fellow Reds.
The street markets, the museums (including one entirely devoted to beer), the parks, the temples and the restaurants – including a prison-themed one and one in which your order is taken and served by robots – all catch the eye when it comes to spending twelve days in Tokyo.
For a mountaineer like me, it would be akin to a criminal offence to go to Japan and not at least visit Mount Fuji – even if we don’t actually climb it. One of the world’s most photographed peaks, Fuji (12,389ft) is a Japanese icon and an active volcano to boot – although it has been dormant since 1707 and it’s last signs of volcanic activity came in 1964 so we should be safe! Due to the catastrophic nature of a potential eruption, Fuji is monitored 24 hours a day. The hiking routes on it may well be closed when we are there but you can go up on a cable car and there scenic walks up to it’s slopes. You can get there on the bullet train, killing two birds with one stone. Both the former and the latter are the top two hits on my list during our stay!
When we first started discussing a trip, the cynic in me would have got long odds on our plans actually come to fruition. But yet here we are – the flights are booked, I’ve got my brand new passport, the airBnb is sorted and our itinerary is cooking.
We’ve had weekends away together in London, and in Brighton, but for the seven intrepid adventurers heading to the (very) far east, this will be a holiday we will talk about forever, reminisce for a long time to come and never forget.
Nihon, kimashita (here we come Japan…). Mate ne..