Konichiwa dear playchums. I have returned from my Japanese adventure and I can safely say, everything you think about Japan is probably true. This was a holiday that more than matched up to expectation and one I don't think will ever be topped.
Flying into Tokyo's Narita airport, we counted ourselves lucky that we were being met by a friend. Without our handy guide, stepping out of the airport and into the train station would have been a baffling experience to say the least. We'd probably have had to find shelter in the evil that is Starbucks just to get a dose of the familiar before engaging in buying train tickets. After all, coffee is coffee in any language right!?
Our first week was primarily spent in Tokyo, which is one big, sprawling mess of a city and yes it does employ crazy amounts of neon. We were actually staying in a quiet part of town, which provided old streets with wooden houses hunched up against each other. This meant we could gaze up at a serene bronze Buddha, right outside our hotel – classic Japanese juxtaposition of old and new.
By the end of our first day we'd seen our first Japanese wedding, taking place at the Meiji Shrine in central Tokyo. I also saw my first real Gothic Lolita, complete in black frilly dress and umbrella, plus a pink, frilly Lolly goth to complete the set.
On visiting the Sony building I had my first lesson in Japanese umbrella etiquette. In the doorway of larger stores there are special umbrella-bagging machines to prevent in-shop dripping, which is utter genius. Only the Japanese would think of that, but once thought of it makes complete sense in a country that rains so much – Britain take note.
The Sony building was a little disappointing after a rather positive write up from my guide book. All in all, it was a glorified showroom for some sexy televisions and games were a mere afterthought, with only two on display. So we left the Sony building and headed to Akihabara, otherwise known as Electric City. It was here that I got my rainy, neon-lit Tokyo street and my Bladerunner experience was complete.
Mothra didn't attack Tokyo while I was there, so I had no need to go into battle to save innocent citizens in the face of certain doom. A shame, but what can you do?
Although Tokyo has its thing going on, I'd say the real Japan only begins when you leave and start exploring. We headed north for a weekend organised by two Japanese friends of a friend. We had an action-packed itinerary, which entailed noodles at a historic and exclusive noodle restaurant, nestled in misty mountains with views on traditional garden, complete with koi carp. Now that is what I call killing many Japanese experiences with one stone!
We also learnt to get naked with the locals – all in the name of having a bath, you understand. Japan is littered with natural hot springs and our local guides took us to one of the most magnificent. Literally a public bath built on a hot mountain river! All you have to do is get your kit off, wade into the deliciously hot water and perch yourself on a rock for a good wallow, while watching the steam drift up the mountainside.
On our three week trip I have to say we saw every style of shrine and temple you can imagine – all so much better than anything DOA can throw our way. There were ones with lots of gold, red ones, giant ones, black and white ones, tall ones, wide ones, and even secret ones. Every single last one of them was beautiful but some of them were even awe-inspiring.
Wandering through a clutch of Shinto shrines in Nikko I had a sense of familiarity. No it wasn't dÃ©jÃ