Japan, You Stole Our Hearts and Our Wallet

When we arrived in Japan on a balmy summer day, we were prepared to step into a quirky futuristic wonderland, where cartoon characters roam the street, social order is near perfection, space age trains run faster than a speeding bullet, and temples are made from sushi.  Fortunately for us, the country we uncovered was exactly nearly what we had been dreaming of.  The following seven reasons capture why travel in this fantasy world is so special.

We have a super huge crush on Japan, and not just the high school giggly kind.  During our 25 day trip, we actually looked for ways to stay for good.  Unfortunately for us but fortunately for you, the country is very restrictive on letting foreigners immigrate, which has kept it culturally pure.

This is a phenomenal place to visit.  The people are startlingly polite, transportation is super easy and reliable, and the culture is rich.  Unlike so many travel destinations nowadays, outside influence is minimal which has kept Japan, well, Japan.  To put it a different way, this is one of those countries which truly feels like another world.

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But you may be asking “what about the second half of the title?”  Yea, this is certainly not the cheapest place in the world.  Especially if, like us, you spent the previous 6 months in Southeast Asia.  At $1,470, our transport cost in Japan alone eclipsed what we spent for the equivalent time in several other countries.  And this came mostly from our $540/person three week JR Rail Passes.  Dang, that’s like a mortgage payment to ride some trains!?  Yep, that was one hella painful purchase.  BUT, (and that’s a big but) we definitely milked those train passes for way more than they were worth, which got us to fantastically remote wilderness locations.  We will say that at just over $160 daily average as a couple, this was not as expensive as we expected or as it could have been (we’re looking at you, Australia).

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1.)  One of a Kind Food

Japan is a dream come true for seafood lovers.  The country prizes just about anything they can drag out of the ocean, and we do mean anything.  If you’ve been wanting to conquer your fear of the sea by eating everything in it, you’ve come to the right place.  We laugh because many things we spent our lives trying not to step on at the beach had now found their way onto our plates.  But that’s half the fun, despite the potential for some squirmy encounters.

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But don’t think that there are only fishy things and related products on offer.  Noodles, tempura, soups, oh and green tea flavored everything (yes, that includes ice cream). Anyone wanting to relive their college ramen noodle days is in luck, only with a gourmet twist and ordered from a vending machine at the restaurant.

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2.)  The Quirky Culture

Japan is the poster child of quirkiness and it certainly lives up to its reputation.  This is the home of anime and multi story video game arcades, where cartoon women remind you when to get off the metro.  This is possibly the only place where population is declining because people are choosing digital relationships over real humans.

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In most places, people choose to picket, fight or yell for their cause, but only in Japan can you get a lecture from a light saber wielding dinosaur wearing dress shoes.  Plus this is the home of ninjas, although you won’t see any because…they’re ninjas.

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3.)  Immaculate Wilderness

When listing the top things that come to mind when thinking about Japan, most people would not include wilderness, which is exactly what makes it so great.  Seriously, how could a country this small have any forest?  Isn’t the whole island basically part of Tokyo?  This place is littered (no pun) with pristine national parks, all of which are unique and perfect for outdoor lovers.

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Squeezing every drop out of our rail passes, we scoured high and low to find 4.5 Epic Japanese Wilderness Hikes.  These are places which rival hiking in the US National Parks and Tasmania, but with fewer people.  If you would rather trek with all the other backpackers in Asia, head to Nepal.  But if you like being alone in the wilderness, this is the country to visit.

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4.)  Temples and Architecture

The temples and palaces in Japan are completely stunning, and most of them have history going back hundreds or even thousands of years.  They have seen dynasties rise and fall and samurai warriors battle.  But they have certainly not seen ninjas.

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Vivid colors and expansive gardens define some of the most picturesque and iconic structures.  These are those perfectly Instagrammable places which you have been looking for, and isn’t that the only reason why people travel?

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5.)  Life Changing Innovation

If there is nothing else that Japan has accomplished, it is their futuristic advancement and innovation.  There wasn’t a day that went by where we didn’t see a jaw dropping invention casually inserted into everyday life, one which made us wonder why they weren’t found everywhere.  This is the country with hyper speed bullet trains, heated toilet seats in every bathroom and this badass dog fountain.

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Japan prides itself on being a standout amongst Asia, with a highly advanced civilization and technical expertise.  This pride can be seen everywhere, with otherwise normal products being tweaked and improved to astounding perfection.  I mean look at this single use pour over coffee filter.  Need I say more?

6.)  The Social Order

Japan may be best defined by its highly orderly society.  Politeness is among the most essential social characteristics, which is always put ahead of personal convenience.  A day wouldn’t be complete without a cartoon animal reminding you to not talk on the phone in public or a stranger offering to help if you look lost.  There may be nowhere else in the world where people stand in a single file queue before boarding a train, with no one jumping in line, ever.

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This the home of omotenashi, or selfless hospitality.  The one place which actually has a Good Manners Project, and the only country which doesn’t need it.  We had numerous strangers offer their seats as a welcoming gesture to their country.  If you prefer to get trampled in line for a hot rusty bus, go to India, because you won’t find that here.

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7.)  Invigorating Hot Spring Onsens

Japan might as well be one big volcano.  Seemingly every square centimeter of the country is bubbling up steaming hot water.  It is so widespread that a whole onsen culture has sprung up (pun intended) from these hot springs.  Free steaming foot baths are dotted around many cities.  Hot springs can be found lakeside and people even bury themselves in steaming sand pits to soak up the heat.

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No matter where you go, natural hot spring spas abound where everyone goes to soak and relax away their high strung lives.  It must take a lot of hot water to cool down after getting a lecture from a street corner dinosaur.  Oh and it is a social requirement that onsen visitors go nude.  If you want to share a bathtub with naked old men (or women), you’re gonna have to go to Japan!

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Looking for some more amazing countries to add to your list?  Here are some of our favorites you should check out:

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Are you ready to quit your jobs and go travel?  Here is how to get started.  And make sure to ditch those stupid roller bags and get on board with minimalist packing (pun intended).

17 thoughts on “Japan, You Stole Our Hearts and Our Wallet

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