I think, everyone who knows me must have heard of my Japanese friend, Yoko. We met through a Penfriend site and have been in touch for more than 14 years. During all these years we only met once in 2006, when she visited me in Hungary for 5 days and spent New Year’s Eve with me and my best friends. The time we spent together was unforgettable and I have always planned to visit her in Tokyo ever since we went back, but you know, it is just so freaking far away. As she got a baby boy last year, the urge to visit her became even stronger!
Now that we have been travelling in Asia, skipping Tokyo was not even an option.
Between the day of our arrival at Narita Airport and the day we left for Indonesia miracles happened and love stories were born.
I start from the beginning:
A complete immersion into Japanese culture – living with a Japanese family
After our intense and partly rather tough trip in the Philippines (with a scooter accident and the last night spent at Manila airport), Japan was the perfect place to be; a country where everything just works. There is always hot water, the bus arrives on time, there are plenty of ATM-s and you can catch Wi-Fi pretty much everywhere. Life is very smooth in Japan – it is a country of perfectionists.
Of course, Yoko and her family made our life even easier. We were provided with everything: airport pick-up, comfy accommodation, heavenly food, guidebook in English, and a personal tour guide (Yoko). She took some days off in order to be able to spend more time with us.
We were so grateful that she picked us up at the airport; without her help who knows how long it would have taken us to get into the city?!? Not to mention to find their apartment. Tokyo is an enormous city (13 million inhabitants plus suburbs with an additional 35! million people), you know, where English signs are not as common as e.g. in Hong Kong.
We spent 1 week in Japan and we felt to be much more than guests at Yoko’s place. It was like being part of a Japanese family. They taught us a lot about Japanese culture: customs (eg. how to wear a kimono) , language, religion and – the best part – food! 🙂
Our introduction into Japanese cuisine started on the very first evening when we had a super delicious sushi dinner with so many different types of fish and seafood, that sometimes we lost track of what exactly we were eating. Not to mention the additional veggies and sauces. It was overwhelming; we couldn’t stop taking pictures of our dinner. (we started to turn into Japanese tourists on the first day already) 🙂
The plan was to stay in Tokyo for 3 days then visit the beautiful traditional city of Kyoto all together (Yoko, Issie -her husband -, their little son and us) at the weekend where we meet up with Yoko’s parents for lunch. But life happened: Kotaro, Yoko’s 1-year-old son got sick. Everything happens for a reason: through his sickness the whole family got together slowly in Tokyo. First came Yoko’s mom to take care of the little one while his parents are at work, and then a day later Yoko’s dad arrived as well. So we had the chance to have dinner with the whole family before we left for Kyoto the following day – unfortunately without Yoko & co. And what a dinner! Again traditional Japanese fried veggies, fish and seafood. Yummy!
But if you think that we only ate Japanese food for a whole week, you are mistaken, my friend. Martin and me decided to introduce our Japanese family a little bit into the Hungarian cuisine; so one day we cooked paprika chicken with nokedli for dinner and later we prepared two types of sweets as well: rétes (strudel) and Gundel palacsinta (crepes with special walnut filling). All three dishes were great success. 🙂
Back into Japan’s past – a weekend trip to Kyoto
Although there are several gorgeous temples and shrines at certain parts of Tokyo, too (eg. Asakusa), the traditional city of Kyoto – the old capital of Japan – is famous for its high density of religious spots.
Luckily, our personal travel guide (Yoko) 🙂 gave us her recommendations on the most beautiful ones, so all we had to do was following the list. And we did.
The pictures below say more about their beauty then any words.
Apart from the temples and shrines every tourist visits Gion, Kyoto’s old geisha district. Although today you are not likely to bump into a geisha at every corner, if you are rich and can afford to have dinner in exclusive restaurants, you can still meet one or two. Not being wealthy enough we had to make do with some young Japanese girls strolling around Gion wearing kimonos and traditional footwear. Actually some of them were quite pretty. If you watch the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” (we watched it in Kyoto), you can see what Gion was supposed to look like a century or so ago. Of course, it is not the same today; it has become rather commercialized but wandering around in little side streets still has a special atmosphere, the area managed to retain something of its old charm.
Tokyo and the stunning Japanese present
We arrived in Tokyo practically with no plans concerning what we wanted to see in the city. No check-lists, no expectations, and the vibe of the city blew us away. It was like having fun on a colossal playground for adults, where you can touch, try and taste everything. There were so many stylish and modern areas (eg. Shibuya or Takeshita street), where even window shopping was a mind-blowing experience. The people and the “scenery” here is the exact opposite of what you would call traditional: teenage girls wearing super high-heels, colorful and costume-like clothes, long lashes and wigs, stalls selling decadent crepes, neon pink candy shops and a boutique specialized in clothes and accessories for Barbie look. And that is exactly what I love about Tokyo: modern and traditional can live here side by side.
Since we started traveling I haven’t encountered any culture that had evoked so much incomprehension and adoration in me at the same time.
It’s incredible that in the age of globalization, a nation can live so differently from the rest of the world. I just didn’t know the rules of the society; feeling rude and impolite was a totally new thing for me as I generally consider myself polite and good-mannered, who instinctively knows what a certain situation requires. But among Japanese people I felt like an elephant in a china store (expression translated from Hungarian, but you get what I mean, right? 🙂
What I learned about Japanese people is that they are usually very friendly, curious and open to everything new and modern, they love travelling and see the rest of the world, but afterwards they just want to go back to their cozy little world which is safe, clean and modern. And you know what? I understand them completely!!
We both deeply fell in love with the Japanese culture and saying good-bye to it was not easy at all. First and foremost, because leaving a friend behind who lives on the exact opposite side of the globe is heart-breaking, especially if this friend has such a lovely family that you wish they belonged to your family, too. The amount of love and care in all different forms (food, presents, words, etc.) we received from these gorgeous people wouldn’t be a fair expectation even from your own family.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR EVERYTHING!! ♥
Traveling is not about collecting stamps in your passport or checking off bucket lists. Traveling is all about the people you meet on the road, about giving and receiving, learning and teaching. It’s human interactions that makes the whole experience worth.
More pics here!
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