A Land of Contrasts
The more time I spent there, the more I realized
why this phrase is most often associated with
Contrasts are evident everywhere you look.
Accommodation, transportation, food and fashion –
what is old and traditional exists side-by-side
with what is new and contemporary.
Take the kimono for example – a symbol of Japanese
tradition – it is worn at formal events and ceremonies
and even used as a woman’s Sunday best. It’s not at
all unusual to see a woman wearing a kimono when
you visit a garden or shrine.
What I hadn’t realized is that there is a fashion
counter-culture among young people in the cities –
primarily Tokyo – that has become synonymous with
Japan as well…if you follow fashion. Young women are
taking elements of different fashion styles, cartoon
characters and musical genres, combining them and
coming up with new styles.
One contemporary style has been dubbed
Lolita Punk and has young women dressed in very
colourful makeup and spiked hair, tight striped leggings,
petticoats and super-high-heeled platform shoes or
…Speaking of footwear, everyone will agree the
simplest way in the world to get around is on
foot. One of the simplest foot coverings is the
sandal. The Japanese have a sandal that is mostly
made of wood and it’s really stood the test of
time – you see people wearing them all over the
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One of the most efficient ways to get around is
the high-speed train, something they have mastered
in Japan. “Bullet Trains” race along at well over
200 km/hr and transport millions of people all
over Japan every day.
Two ways of getting around, two devices, separated
by centuries – if not millennia – yet they exist
Now imagine that you’re on that Bullet Train and
you’ve just disembarked at Tokyo Station. Where
would you like to stay tonight? In a Ryokan or a
Pod Hotel? The two couldn’t be more different yet
you find both all over Japan.
A Ryokan is a traditional inn or hotel with tatami
– thick, woven straw mats, on the floor – and
futons for sleeping on. A Pod Hotel on the other
hand, is an ultra-modern hotel, usually located in
cities, where space is at a premium. Guests crawl
into a tube-like bed on rails, kind of like a long
narrow dresser drawer, with just enough room for
one person to lie lengthwise. Not for the
claustrophobic among you. Don’t worry… we don’t
stay at a Pod Hotel on our trip.
I’ll leave you with one last observation about
contrasts in Japan. A very traditional meal in
Japan would consist of numerous small courses of a
wide variety of foods and cooking styles, selected
not by you but by the chef, served at a low table
around which you are seated – on the ground.
Compare this to something we affectionately
nicknamed the Sushi-Go-Round. Picture yourself at
a diner – but the counter is an island with booths
all around it. On the counter is a conveyor and in
the center of the island are chefs preparing small
plates of sushi. They place the freshly prepared
sushi on the conveyor and when something comes
around that you like you take it off the conveyor
and put it onto the table in your booth. Simple
Simple and efficient – the Sushi-Go-Round, the Pod
Hotel and the Bullet Train.
But so too are the wooden sandals, the traditional
restaurant and the Ryokan, when you think about
Japan is like that though. You have to peel away
the layers like an onion.
All this talk of food reminds me of the Tokyo Fish
Market – wait until you read about the meal we had
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Cherry Blossom Trip from March 31 to April 16, 2012
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