12 Things You Might Not Know About Japan – By Erica Louise

I’ll be honest, I felt a little nervous about going to Japan as a family. Our kids are quite young; 3 years and the other turned 9 years whilst we were away.  We’ve travelled overseas with them before, but Japan is just so different from anywhere else in the world. How would we all cope?

I worried about what they’d eat, both being incredibly fussy eaters; they don’t eat sushi and aren’t particularly fond of plain rice or noodles. I worried about the 10-hour day time flight and what I would do to entertain them for that long. How would the kids deal with culture shock?  Particularly Mr.3, who on our last trip to Bali, asked to go home constantly for three days straight!! I questioned how we’d get by with literally no Japanese. What would happen if the kids needed the toilet and we didn’t know how to ask for the nearest loo?

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I needn’t have worried at all. We did just fine. The kids ate and were far more experimental with their choices. Thanks to the in-flight entertainment the 10-hour flight didn’t seem quite so bad. Thankfully our 3yo only asked to go home twice; and then said he didn’t want to go home when it was time to. Oh, and public toilets are all over the place and easy to get to; we had no near-accidents whatsoever.

I must say, organising a walking day tour of Tokyo on the first day turned out to be a huge saving. This helped us get our bearings of the vastness of Tokyo and showed us how to conquer the (incredibly efficient) public transport service.

In the following couple of weeks of our adventure, I took note of the surprises our trip to Japan unveiled. Almost every day I took note of something new. I imagine staying longer would unveil even more.

Here’s my list of unexpected discoveries during our family trip to Japan:

 

  • You’ll be hard pushed to find a rubbish bin. In Melbourne, we’re so used to throwing our litter away in public bins. In Japan, there are no bins. Well that’s not entirely true, you might be lucky enough to find one in a convenience store (7 Eleven or equivalent) and occasionally on the platform of a main railway station, but not often. There are no bins on the subway, no bins in parks, no bins in public spaces. None. You take your rubbish home with you. This proved to be fun when Mr.3 didn’t want to finish his banana. Smelly times after walking the streets of Tokyo for hours on end. Despite this, you won’t find any stray litter in the streets. Japans streets are clean beyond belief.  

 

  • Mount Fuji is not always capped with snow.  Call me naive but I thought Mt. Fuji would be snow-capped year-round. Wrong. We got to see Mt. Fuji from the bullet train window when travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto. (Top tip: get a window seat on the right side of the train when travelling to Tokyo. You’ll spot Mt. Fuji after about an hour out of Tokyo, but only for 10 minutes before it’s out of sight again). When travelling in September (Autumn), Mt. Fuji was not snow-capped, but still an incredible sight to see regardless.

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  • There are queues for everything. Japanese are incredibly polite, they also love a queue. Dare I say more than us Brits and that’s saying something. It is not uncommon to see queues out of the door of a cafe, restaurant, vending machine, ticket booth or public toilet. We once queued for 45 minutes just to get a frappe from Starbucks. I kid you not. On the subway, passengers wait patiently in file. There are wait lists at popular venues, you must put your name down on the list, if you don’t, you miss out. We learnt the hard way when the kids missed out on the fabulous play area in the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo because we didn’t put our names down when we first arrived.

 

  • Despite being so busy, Tokyo is quiet. I don’t usually consider my kids to be super loud, but in Japan they seemed like the loudest children in the universe. Japan, Tokyo especially, is densely populated. You’d expect it to be horrendously busy and loud. Busy it is, but loud? Not really. Japanese people are quiet. You’ll notice when walking around the city that many locals are heads down, faces buried in their mobile phones. Families, friends and couples talk quietly to each other. I don’t recall hearing anyone shout during our two week stay. I felt quite embarrassed by the volume of my kid’s voices at times.

 

  • Yes, it is expensive in Japan but the food is reasonable. Unlike many other Asian countries, Japan is not a cheap destination by any means. That said, it’s the accommodation, travel and main tourist attractions that eat up most of your money. Food is reasonable. If you choose to eat in one of the many eateries off the main streets, you can eat a good meal for a fraction of what you’d otherwise pay. Convenience stores are also excellent for snacks, sandwiches, hot food, sushi and pre-packaged foods. We often bought lunch from a convenience store (they are everywhere) back at our hotel and would eat well for around $20.

 

 

  • Occasional English word. I found it funny to hear random English words thrown into conversations or to see an English word in text somewhere. Not a major thing, but funny nonetheless. It also surprised me how many people spoke broken English, even a homeless man (a rare sight) who once asked us for food by saying “hungry’. It’s easy to get by with zero Japanese knowledge, although it’s always worth a try if you do know the odd word or two.

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  • There aren’t many birds around in the city. I’m so used to seeing little birds around Melbourne. Pigeons at the train stations, sparrows, Indian Minor birds and seagulls. So much so, I barely notice them. That said, in Japan I couldn’t help but notice the lack of feathered friends. No little sparrows and rarely any pigeons. Pigeons seem so rare in fact, that my eldest son even took photo evidence when he did see one. A Japanese parent pointed to a sole pigeon at the train station, gaining the attention of her smiling son. I can only assume the lack of birds is due to the lack of litter around, as per point no.1.

 

 

  • Japanese convenience food is packaged to the max. Japanese convenience food and products are seriously over packaged. Bananas individually wrapped in plastic, little face washers in restaurants given out with chopsticks or cutlery, all individually wrapped in plastic. Biscuits in convenience stores, individually wrapped, sometimes inside another wrapper, and then boxed. Considering litter is at an absolute minimum on the streets and there are hardly any rubbish bins anywhere (as per point no.1) I found this quite contradictory!

 

 

  • Japanese TV is absolutely nuts. This isn’t really a huge surprise I know, but when your hotel’s TV is filled with Japanese shows you get to see how cray-cray it really is. My 9yo couldn’t stop laughing at a kid’s morning programme with a TV presenter dressed in a pink cow costume, sitting in a bath with no water. His co-presenter? A talking blue chair. This is just the start, TV shows for adults are just as hilarious. Hours of entertainment right there.  

 

  • There’s a button on the Japanese toilets to give you privacy when you poo.  Japanese toilets are so far advanced that I’m surprised the rest of the world hasn’t caught on. With buttons to wash your bum and bits, heat your seat and warm the water, these loos are super tech. The one function that made me giggle the most?  The music note button. I thought this might play a tune while you pee. Not so, it’s a button to mimic the flushing of the toilet, without the flush happening. I therefore assume this drowns out the noise if one needs to do a number two without fellow toilet goers noticing.  Funny eh?

 

  • There’s a huge American influence in Japan’s main cities. In Tokyo and Kyoto there are Starbucks and McDonalds all over the place. They are super busy too. What is the most popular spectator sport in Japan?  Sumo wrestling you might think.  Nope, it’s baseball; a sport most commonly thought of as an American pastime. When strolling around the cities I couldn’t help but notice American clothing shops and stores dedicated to Hawaiian themed goods, too. In travel agent shop windows, I noticed holidays to Hawaii heavily advertised. American influences are alive and well in Japan.

 

 

  • Smoking is permitted in restaurants. With the ban of smoking in public spaces in the UK and Australia, I found it quite confronting dealing with smoking in restaurants in Japan. It can be quite uncomfortable eating food with my family whilst a neighbouring table would spark up a ciggie or two. Not a big deal to a local, but to a non-smoker, this can be challenging. What I would say though, is this didn’t happen all the time, only once or twice during our stay.

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Despite the secondary smoke with our dinner, we absolutely loved our time in Japan. It’s a new favourite destination and I hope you consider the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ for your next family holiday.

Have you travelled to Japan before?  If so, what surprised you the most? 

Erica x


 

Erica is a British Expat living in Melbourne, Australia with her two sons, husband and little black rescue cat. She left Hertfordshire for brighter skies and Bayside living, and spends most of her time writing and exploring all the cool things to do with kids in Melbourne and beyond.  Follow her Melbourne adventures on her website KidTown Melbourne and catch all the latest Melbourne fun on Facebook and Instagram too!!!

The “Bloomin Great” Ocean Road!!!!

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We finally made a trip along the Great Ocean Road a few weekends ago. We packed everyone into the car, and as per usual we prayed to every possible god that the kids would be good!

From Melbourne to Torquay, where we were basing ourselves, is about 145km so not too far on a cold Friday night. We were staying in a property in the centre of Torquay, close to shops and restaurants, which was great. It meant we had everything on hand, should we need it. The house had all sorts of wonderful things to keep us all occupied; from ping pong, to basketball, board games, skateboards and a playstation! I was especially happy as there were plenty of lovely magazines, a beautiful deep bath, and a Nespresso machine.. Me time!! Bliss! Our first night was super comfy, warm and cosy!

We woke on Saturday to glorious sunshine, we headed out, grabbed coffee and milkshakes and hit the road! Driving out of Torquay and toward the Twelve Apostles, we passed all the iconic surf beaches that surround Torquay, and promised ourselves that we weren’t going home without dipping our toes in the water at Bells Beach!

The drive was spectacular. Travelling along the Great Ocean Road is such a magical experience. That iconic Aussie road trip; the ocean almost lapping at the road side as you twist and turn your way toward to the Twelve Apostles. Even with the bickering in the back it was bliss. We broke the 150km drive with a few stops in lovely little beachside towns. We saw Koalas in the wild, peeking at us through the tourist information window (Lorne), the children played on the beaches, and we had the best pork sandwich you could EVER IMAGINE (Apollo Bay)!!!! Pretty much could have stopped right there, the trip was already a cracker!

We made it to the Twelve Apostles at about 2pm, it was incredibly busy! Obviously! You can’t come to Victoria and miss this!

We joined the other gazillion visitors and walked the path (well, Monty hopped and Poppy tripped most of the way) across the road and down toward the ocean. The wind was howling, but thankfully it wasn’t cold. When we turned the corner and caught sight of the enormous sea stack sculptures, rising majestically out of the Southern Ocean, it truly took our breath away. The pictures do not do it justice! It is jaw droppingly beautiful. The hours of endless eye spy, and arguing, was definitely worth it.

Australia has some incredible landscapes, and it’s coastline is second to none. I now completely understand why this road is called the Great Ocean Road. It just has to be on the list for one of the greatest coastal drives of all time.


Highlights of the trip

 The Australian National Surfing Museum– Torquay

You can read about our trip to the museum here

Cost: Adult $12  Student/Pensioner Concession $8  Child (aged 16 and under) $8  Family $25

Location: 77 Beach Road Torquay Victoria 3228
Tel: 03 5261 4606 |
Email: ansm@surfcoast.vic.gov.au
Opening hours: 9am – 5pm 7 days a week 364 days a year

Bells Beach

Bells Beach is the beach you think of when someone mentions the movie Point Break… Although, it turns out, the movie wasn’t actually filmed there. Why? I have no idea, as this is possibly the greatest surf beach we have visited on our travels so far. I am not a surfer by any stretch of the imagination but this beach was amazing, and judging by the number of people slipping in and out of wetsuits in the car park, this is the place to surf! We could see the ocean was flecked with surfers waiting for a wave, the waves catching them, dropping them off,  and then hurtling up onto the beach. We made our way down the wooden staircase on to the sand. The waves were crashing up right in front of us, almost wiping us out a few times. To think we were treading the sand that so many world famous surfers have walked on, is pretty special, and I just kept telling myself that Patrick Swayze probably stood here with Keanu Reeves at some point too… Well, I can dream, can’t I? Bells beach has a wonderful feel to it, and we’re definitely going to get back there some time. Probably not for a surfing lesson, I think I need somewhere a little more placid!


Top Eats:

As we were self catering and the house was so beautiful, we didn’t eat out too much; however when we did, it was ace, so here are the details…. Our top eats were:

Apollo Bay Bakery

 Apollo Bay Bakery was where we had a delicious, quick lunch, whilst being serenaded by a travelling ukulele band! How awesome does that sound? Well wait until you’ve tried the roast pork roll with crispy crackling, gravy, stuffing… Oh god I have to stop typing… I mean… The love we have for that pork roll….. Get in the car and go now!

Location: 125 Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay VIC 3233, Australia Phone: 5237 6440

Open 7 days a week

Bomboras

Before hitting the road back to Melbourne we had a feast at Bomboras  in Torquay. Local beer and plates of yumminess! Can’t go wrong with that! I had Brisket on Rye Bruschetta with Coleslaw, Mustard & Pickles.. Need I say more.. Tim had the mussels and said they were great! Check the menu and see for yourself..

Address: 37 The Esplanade, Torquay VIC 3228 Phone: (03) 5264 7881

Opening Hours

M: 5pm-Late T: Closed W:11am-Late T:11am-Late F:11am-Late S&S: 8am-Late

 

‘Embrace the detours, enjoy the journey, explore the open road’- unknown

Olivia xx