Tokyo is surely the most capitalist, consumerist city in the world, and is not a good introduction to beautiful Japan. Billboards and lights scream at people to buy stuff. Trains are crammed with adverts whilst people are transfixed with smartphones. Everywhere I turn, there are women who look like film stars. Looking perfect is seemingly important in Tokyo.
The gaudy lights of central Tokyo make no sense to me. They seem out of place in a culture with such beautiful ornate art, shrines and intricate wooden buildings.
There is an obsession with cleanliness, neatness and etiquette in Japan. Or at least that’s how it seems to me as a temporary visitor who can speak just six words of Japanese. One woman even buys me a comb as a gift. I haven’t combed my hair in years, and she can obviously see that. When going to a swimming pool, Chris is forced by an employee to wear a hairnet for his swim! This seems contradictory to me, as his whole body is covered in hairs.
“If you need written instructions to work a toilet, the toilet’s too complicated,” I say to myself. Toilets in Japan have a couple of buttons for spraying yourself with water, heated seats, sound effects to protect your modesty, a deodoriser, and sometimes a drier.
In a country which places such importance on etiquette, the objectification of very young women in lads’ magazines, manga porn, maid cafes and red light districts also seems contradictory.
Hitchhiking the whole of Honshu – the biggest island of Japan – proves to be amazing. We learn firsthand of the generosity and kindness of people, who detour – sometimes hours out of their way – to take us where we want to go. There is a real beauty in the culture here: most people are humble, barely ever raise their voices, and have an ability to keep relationships between each other harmonious and friendly.
As we hitchhike around, it becomes clear that people love bathing in hotsprings, or onsen. You can find onsen everywhere. Women communally bathe naked with women, and men with men, testing my prudishness. Most onsen are in beautiful wooden buildings that would be deemed luxury spas in Europe, but cost barely anything here. Many of our drivers take us to onsen…maybe they think we need a wash!
Japan is stunning. In comparison to Southeast Asia and China, it’s still very wild. Everywhere we look, there’s lush forest wherever we turn. I suppose that Japan’s massive economy (electronic goods and cars) means that the natural world in other countries is ruined to provide for Japan’s industry instead.
Exploring Honshu, we travel through mountains and forests. We really get a sense of just how volatile nature is here. Volcanic landscapes smoke, and sulphuric hotsprings appear every few kilometres. Over a month, we visit cities, ornate villages, and we meet monkeys, deer and raccoon dogs.