20 crazy and stranges things about Japan

When you travel through Japan some of the following things might seem a little bit crazy in the beginning to you. They are completely different from our habits in the Western world - For the Japanese they are quite normal, and they even think sometimes it is funny that we think that they are strange! Here are my personal favourites of strangeness!

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Teafarming in Japan

If you told me last year I would work on a tea farm and learn all about Japanese tea, I would have thought you are crazy. Japan and tea production always seemed very far away for me, and being next to tea plants seemed surreal for me. However, this surreal dream came true for me now on a small, organic family tea farm in Shizuoka prefecture. This prefecture is quite in the middle of Japan on the main island of Honshu. It is the home to famous Mount Fuji and also about 50% of Japanese tea is produced here. The landscape is quite hilly and except at the coast very rural. The tea farmers I stayed in Shizuoka have quite a interesting story: Their parents were dentist and high school teacher, but their dream was always to become farmers, because they believe in organic farming and want to change the future to the better.

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Kyoto is a number one tourist destination. There is no Japan travel itinerary without Kyoto on the planet! Over 50 million people visit the city every year, many of them during golden week - a nation wide holiday week within Japan. Golden week is one of the times you should not go to Kyoto, because everybody goes. It's hard to get a hotel, restaurants are full and you have to wait forever on public transport.Yes, you guessed right, I was in Kyoto during Golden week. ;-) Wohl jeder Japanreisender faehrt nach Kyoto. Ich kann mir kaum vorstellen, dass jemand Kyoto auslaesst! Das spiegelt sich auch in den Besucherzahlen wieder: Mehr als 50 Millionen Touristen pro Jahr! Viele der Besucher kommen waehrend der Goldenen Woche - Eine Japanweite Feiertagswoche. Waehrend der Goldenen Woche reisen besonders viele Japaner nach Kyoto, und es ist schwer ein Hotelzimmer, einen Platz im Restaurant oder Bus zu bekommen. Natuerlich war ich so schlau auch waehrend der Goldenen Woche nach Kyoto zu kommen. ;-)

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Faces of Japan #15: Matsumoto

The most important thing in travelling for me is not to see all the must-see sights, it is way more the ability to talk to people. Talk to strangers, hear their stories, get inspired by them and inspire them. One of these people was Matsumoto. I met him in a temple in Kyoto by sheer coincidence. Matsumoto is a Buddhist monk, but decided to take a break from his life as a monk at Komyoji temple in Tokyo to attend a one-year MBA programme in India. With his newly acquired management skills he came back to Japan and realized that temples are not what they used to be in the past. Previously temples were not only religious places but also community and commercial centres of villages and towns. Matsumoto wants to changes this again, and wants to help temples to transform into a more relevant place within Japanese society, a place where people can achieve their spiritual awakening. 

The main problem nowadays is that temples are very closed to the outside and not influencing the society. In Japan there are 70.000 to 80.000 temples - this is more than convenience stores - but in contrast these stores make a huge impact in the everyday life of people. Matsumoto's main goal is that temples give value to people, and he tries to reach that by offering business education to temples and monks all over Japan.

At his own temple for example he started a "temple cafe", where people can gather and learn about Buddhism. Matsumoto believes that templese are a real social media, in the sense that they are a really good place to communicate new values and develop self-awareness, He believes that temples can be a starting point for re-energising Japan. 

Living in a Buddhist Temple

(Deutsch/Englisch beide innerhalb des Artikels. English/German both within the article)

What do an American medicine Student, a Slovenian Diplomat, a Japanese industrial designer and me have in common? Yes, as you might already know from the title we stayed together in a Zen Buddhist Temple. Was haben ein amerikanischer Medizinstudent, eine slowenische Diplomatin, ein japanischer Industriedesigner und ich gemeinsam? Richtig, wir verbringen gemeinsam einige Tage in einem buddhistischen Zentempel.

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Noodles of Japan

(Deutsche Version unten)

People believe that Asians/Japanese might "only" it rice, but they actually also have a big culture for noodles. Japanese mainly have three types of noodles: Udon (thick, glibbery, made out of wheat), Soba (thin, coarse, made out of buckwheat) and Somen (thin Chinese type of noodles). Especially for Udon und Soba there are many Udon/Soba restaurants only. They make the noodles in the restaurants and serve it in different variations. The most common ones are in a hot soup with a topping of your choiche (for example tenpura, piece of pork, an egg,...) or cold and plain served with a cold bowl of sauce. You then dip in the noodles into the bowl (Seen on the picture below). The sauce mainly consists of soy and dashi. Dashi is actually a quite interesting and widely used ingredient. It is... 

 +~+~+ Deutsche Version +~+~+ 

Viele glauben, sass Japaner bzw. Asiaten eh "nur" Reis essen. Klar, stimmt Japaner essen viel Reis, aber auch Nudeln stehen häufig auf dem Speiseplan. Grundsätzlich kennen die Japaner 3 Arten von Nudeln: Udon (dick, glitschig, aus Weizen), Soba (dünn, etwas gröber, aus Buchweizen) und Somen (dünne, chinesische Nudeln). Insbesondere für Udon und Soba gibt es viele Lokale, die ausschließlich diese eine Art von Nudeln servieren. Meistens werden sie entweder in einer Schale heisser Suppe mit einem Topping freier Wahl (z.B. gekochtes Stück Schweinefleisch, ein Ei, Tenpura, ...) oder kalt mit einer Schale ebenfalls kalter Sauce. Diese Sauce ist aber noch wie Pastasauce sondern sehr flüssig und besteht meistens aus Sojasauce und Dashi. Dashi selbst ist ein..


(English version below)

Kurze Meldung aus Osaka! Osaka ist zwar die zweitgrösste Stadt Japans mit Ca. 8 Millionen Einwohnern (also soviel wie Österreich), steht aber weniger auf klassischen Japan-Reiseplänen wie b beispielsweise Kyoto oder Hiroshima. Osaka hat auch keine grossartigen Attraktionen, trotzdem zieht sie viele Besucher an. Die Stadt hat einen ganz eigenen Vibe, und die Bewohner sind stolz hier ein wenig anders als der Rest Japans zu sein. Die traditionelle Korrektheit ist in Osaka nicht ganz so wichtig, was dazu führt, dass die Menschen hier geselliger und offener sind. Osaka bietet mehrere hippe Ausgeh- und Shoppingviertel - und genau das machen auch die meisten Besuchern. Beliebt bei den Einheimischen (auch im Rest von Japan) sind die so genannten Isakayas, eine Art Mischung zwischen Minibar und Minirestaurant. Klassisch wird Sashimi oder andere Snacks serviert. Geöffnet haben viele dieser Bars bis in die frühen Morgenstunden. Isakayas bieten meist nur weniger als 10 Gästen rund um eine zentrale Bar Platz.

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Faces of Japan #14: Kenji

(English Version below)

Kenji wuchs im ruralen Gebiet der Hiroshima Provinz auf. Nach seinem Schulabschluss begann er eine Lehre als Tischler und blieb für knapp 10 Jahre in seinem Ausbildungsbetrieb. Dann jedoch wollte er mehr. Gemeinsam mit seinen beiden Brüdern wollte er einen eigenen Tischlerbetrib gründen - mit Fokus auf hochwertige Sessel und Tische.

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Real / Echte Sushi

Sushi wird mit den Fingern gegessen und nicht mit Stäbchen! Das war einmal die erste überraschende Lektion des Abends im Lokal von Oto-San. Aber damit noch lange nicht genug!

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Netter Bonus von einem Haus voller Kinder - Es gibt jede Menge Baby/Kinderbücher, die sich perfekt zum Japanisch Lernen eignen. ;-)

Nice Bonus of Living in a house full of kids - There are many child/baby books, which are perfect for learning Japanese. ;-)

Michelin Star Farming

Did you ever wonder where all this nice little garnishes, greens and herbs in restaurants come from? Especially high prized restaurants have a high demand for fancy and new in taste greens and herbs.

Well, here is the answer - at least for Japan: A family run organic greens & herbs farm in Hiroshima prefecture (and I am lucky enough to work there for three weeks and been shown everything). Japan is the country with not only the most restaurants per head, but also the country with the most Michelin Stars in the world. So no wonder there are also amazing farms in Japan.

Farmer Yuzuru is educated in Canada in an horticulture school and for visitors like me his English skills are a blessing. Not many Japanese speak as perfect English as he does and he is very willing to explain everything. He mainly grows French and European herbs, as many Japanese Chefs were trained in France and are looking for the same ingredients they were used to during their education.

Everything is grown in greenhouses, because many of the greens are prone to weather influences. However, in contrast to many farmers in Europe, he grows everything directly in the soil, which he is very proud of. In total he owns about 35 greenhouses, and for Japanese circumstances this means his farm is rather big.

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Shimanami Kaido

(No english version available, just pictures)

Shimanami Kaido ist eigentlich ein Expressway (eine Art Autobahn), die sich von der Hauptinsel Japans Honshu mit Bruecken ueber sechs Inseln mit der viertgroessten Insel Shikoku verbindet. Zusammen bildet der Shimanami Kaido die laengste Strecke an verbundenen Haengebruecken der Welt. Das tolle an der Strecke ist, dass sie auch perfekt auf Radfahrer ausgerichtet ist. Der Verkehr ist ueber weite Teile getrennt, die Bruecken haben eigene Auffahrtswege fuer Radfahrer und die Bewohner der Inseln sind die vielen Radfahrer gewoehnt. Neben einer sehr guten Radfahrkarte und weiteren Attraktionen nebst der Strecke, stehen auch zwei Verleihsysteme mit insgesamt 14 Stationen zur Verfuegung. 

Die Strecke gibt es seit 1999 und weite Teile der Strecke faehrt man direkt am Meer (Seto Inland Sea) entlang. Fuer einen schonene Tag ein perfekter Ausflug, oder?

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Fis(c)h in Japan

(Deutsche Version unten)

You don't like fish or any other seafood? Well I would say it is better then to not come to Japan! Literally EVERTHING here contains some kind of fish or seafood. Soup based dishes and even batter for pancakes (sometimes) contains the so called Dashi, a fish stock made out of Kombu (seaweed) and tuna. Fish and seafood is the main ingredient (ok next to rice) of the Japanese diet. The world wide average consumption of fish is 16kg per head, Japanese eat about 70kg per year and person.

Are you put off by seafood such as squid, octopus or shrimp? Well, if you want to go to Japan I advice you to just fight your fears. ;-) The picture above shows a simple local fish and a squid - everything fresh and can just be bought at the next supermarket.

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In the western world Hiroshima is only known for the Atomic Bombing of August 6th 1945. Many are even often not sure, if the city is still radioactive and if people actually live nowadays in Hiroshima! But Hiroshima is so much more. Yes, the Atomic Bombing is part of the city, but besides that it is a vibrant but still of a size easy to grasp.

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Faces of Japan #13: Toshiya

Toshiya dropped out of University, worked a year on a conveyer belt at the Nissan factory and finally decided to backpack through the USA. Running out of money, desperate for the next steps to do in a shabby San Francisco Hostel, he found an add in a Japanese Newspaper looking for someone who was willing to work in a Sushi restaurant. Toshiya had no experience, but nevertheless he got th job and started his education as a Sushi Chef. After 8 years in the USA he decided it was time again to move. After touring through Europe for a while he felt home again in Malta and became a Sushi Chef again. He now lives in Fukuoka as a Chef and travels with his company around the world.

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Goodbye Sakura

It was a short, but intense love affair. Sakura (Cherry Blossom) and me. Unfortunately it rained a lot in the last days, so Most of the pedals are gone already. Still it was great to See the world famous Sakura in Japan!

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Faces of Japan #12: Udon Woman

This woman has together with her husband a small Udon and Soba restaurant, fitting maybe 8 people, near Karatsu castle. Their food is delicious, cheap (about 400 Yen per dish) and people come to their place to talk and exchange the latest gossip. Their son is married to a girl from Colombia, and in 2 years when they retire they want to move to their son in the Tokyo area.

Faces of Japan #11: Matsuko

(Deutsche Version bei "Read more")

Matsuko was delighted to host a foreigner at her house. She is a now 78 year old former hospital canteen cook. Matsuko married her husband Yamato when she was 23 in 1960. The picture on the Photo above shows her on her wedding day. She is also educated in Uresenke Japanese Tea Ceremony and was not only delighted to make Matcha in her most precious bowl for me, but also to Show me several pictures and her utilities for tea ceremony. 

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Faces of Japan #10: Ikeda

Ikeda ist die Besitzerin eines Restaurants. In einem Land wie Japan mit einer sehr hohen restaurantdichte und der meisten Sterne-Lokale der Welt nichts weiter herausragendes. Besonders an ihrem Lokal ist jedoch, dass es nur auf Anruf öffnet und fast alles, dass serviert wird von Ikeda selbst (biologisch) angebaut oder gesammelt (Wildpflanzen, Pilze) wird. Auch sind fast alle Gerichte vegan (Ein Stück Red Snapper war Teil eines Gerichts) und sie verwendet generell nur natürliche Zutaten. Besonders überrascht war ich von der Einrichtung ihres Restaurants: Viel Holz, ein Schwedenofen, untypisch japanisch. Ikeda meinte auf die Frage warum, dass sie wohl in ihrem vorherigen Leben Europäer in war. Sie hat ihr Haus und Lokal europäisch/nordisch gestaltet und sie bevorzugt auch an einem Tisch mit Sesseln zu sitzen und in einem Bett mit Matratze zu schlafen.

Faces of Japan #9: Chinatsu

Chinatsu ist 22 und wie viele junge Japaner mit Träumen für die Zukunft. Ihr größter Wunsch wäre es in New York zu leben und in der Unterhaltungsindustrie zu arbeiten. Chinatsu wollte eigentlich Englisch studieren, nur war für sie leider kein Platz mehr frei. Daher war ihre zweite Wahl Deutsch, welches sie nun nach einem einjährigen Aufenthalt (inklusive Österreich-Slang "Gemma!", "Geh bitte!" Etc.) hervorragend beherrscht. Im nachhinein ist sie auch sehr froh Deutsch gelernt zu haben, sie fühlt sich jetzt als eine der wenigen Sprecher in Japan als besonders.

+~+~+ English Version +~+~+

Chinatsu is 22, and as most young Japanese she has a lot of dreams for her future. Her biggest wish would be to work in the Entertainment sector and live in New York. Nice detail: She studied German and speaks it perfectly. Also she is quite good in Austrian spalt after an exchange year in Salzburg. :)