I first visited Japan in March last year, 2015. I had always been fascinated with the culture, the food and the anime. When I asked my kids where in the world they would most like to go, Japan came up in everyone’s top three. So, having always wanted to visit, we began planning our trip.
I had a few Japanese friends, and one colleague, and a veracious appetite for information, and Japanese food. I began researching. I read A LOT of books. My son, Finn, was 14 at the time, and really into manga, anime and all things J Pop-culture….. My daughter, Mya, was 9, and obsessed with anything kawaii, paper cranes and Miyazaki-San. So, I began reading guide books. Not your usual Lonely Planet type, but “otaku” guides and “geek” guides and guides written in comic style. The more I read, the more excited I became. I read about samurai and shoguns, and dissertations written by geisha. Anything remotely related to The Land of the Rising Sun. I watched Lost In Translation, The Ramen Girl, You-Tube, and vlogs and purchased a “teach your-self” Japanese CD. (Which, incidentally, was not overly successful). I was armed with knowledge, not a scrap of language, I knew not one single soul in Japan, and I was a single mum, traveling alone with two kids. What could possibly go wrong?
Nothing. Nothing went wrong, and the month I spent in Japan in March and April of 2015 was one of the very best months of my life. I never once felt unsafe, or out of my depth. I spent my time agape at the amazingness of the most enchanting place I had ever been. Few people spoke English, but there are many ways to communicate.
Japan is a very easy place to travel. There is virtually no crime, it is super safe, the people are kind and courteous and friendly and helpful. The public transport is completely awesome. The Yamanote line train in Tokyo, which is a loop line with 29 stations, carries more people everyday than the whole New York Subway system. Shinjuku station is the busiest station in the world, with around 3.5 million people passing through it every day. It is an amazing and slightly confusing place to be, with 36 platforms and over 200 exits. Finding yourself at the wrong exit could mean a 2 or 3 km walk back to where you need to be. There are several iPhone Apps that can help you navigate the trains. The Navitime one I found really helpful. You put in your departure station, your destination station and the App tells you which train, what time, how long and if you need to change. And it is in English. If you stand around looking confused for long enough, someone will ask you if you need help. Alternatively, the JR station employees have excellent knowledge and most speak English.