When you’re running low on New Things for the month, just head to a foreign country you’ve never visited before! I found myself trying all kinds of new things in the month of April as Cooper and I made way all over Japan. Our two week journey was filled with new cities, new food, new public transportation and new challenges. Aside from all of the new things we tried while we were there, this was our first big international trip together, and my first time to Asia. The trip in and of itself was one big push outside of my comfort zone but I am incredibly grateful for all that we experienced during our time in the Land of the Rising Sun.
I’ll be sharing tons of details about our trip over the next few months, so for now I’ll focus on the new and unique experiences we took on. The two biggest questions or concerns we got from family and friends were the language barrier and the food.
I was more nervous going to Japan than to the European countries I’ve visited in the past, because they have a completely different alphabet or character set. If something was not written in English it was essentially impossible for us to decipher. However, Japan is very in touch with Western culture and like most countries, children learn English in school so there were many English speakers around, especially in larger cities. Everyone was used to catering to tourists in Tokyo and Kyoto, but we did face a number of language struggles in Atami, a small beach side town outside of Tokyo. We realized soon after departing the train station that there would be no English written or spoken on this leg of the trip. While a bit scary and certainly frustrating, we took it in stride and had no major mishaps! That is not to say we never got on the wrong bus… but we quickly recognized our mistakes and turned them around. Pictures, hand gestures and a lot of pre-trip research go a long way.
Before our trip I was hands down most excited for the food. While I’m not incredibly adventurous when it comes to Japanese food, I do love sushi, ramen, udon, and tempura as much as the next person. As with any cuisine though, we’re accustomed to the American interpretation of such foods, and to my surprise, all those fancy sushi rolls we’re used to are not a real thing in Japan. Their sushi was all sashimi, all the time and lucky for me, I loved it! To be honest, there were moments when we weren’t entirely sure what we were eating, but we played it pretty safe and each meal we had was amazing. Aside from consuming more raw fish than I ever had imagined, we also tried a few new meals such as shabu shabu (Japanese hot pot), donburi (rice bowl dish) and okonomiyaki (savory pancake). Dining out was definitely more expensive than we anticipated but exploring each city’s cuisine is an integral part of any foreign travel and it’s all worth it in the end!
Japan is already so incredibly quirky, it would be impossible not to see and do new things while visiting. We had several “only in Japan” moments – the largest of which was our night at the infamous Robot Restaurant. We sat front row with our mouths open in awe as dancers, drummers and robots twirled around and fought each other among the bright lights and loud music. I am still pretty baffled that this exists but on our first night it was an awesome introduction to what was ahead! (Side note: would never recommend doing this immediately after a flight across the Pacific and a 16 hour time difference). The other strange, notable new experiences that were to come included feeding monkeys at a park atop Kyoto, grocery shopping in Japanese with two large suitcases and backpacks in a small beach side town, and friendly deer attempting to eat our grilled oysters in Miyajima. Whether you’re intentionally reaching outside your comfort zone, or it’s sprung on you unexpectedly, these are the things that make travel, and life, so much more exciting!
Stay tuned for more stories and photos from Japan – I can’t wait to share more of our trip with you!