Thursday, July 1, 2010

Turning Japanese


This week I want to take you with me to Japan. A fascinating country. So foreign but still close to my heart. I have visited it just once, but it is at the very top on my travel list. I love its food, its culture (or at least the bit I understand), its people, its script, its shopping craze, its bathing traditions, its fabrics,... So come with me to the “Land of the Rising Sun”.

I have always been fascinated by Japan – ever since my parents brought back wonderful stories and beautiful dolls from their first trip. And therefore I want to dedicate not only today’s post but the whole week to this amazing culture.

A few years ago I have been lucky enough to go there on a business trip. And to make this experience even better and more authentic I was accompanied by a colleague of mine who could speak Japanese. What an amazing trip this was! But even if you cannot take you private translator, Japan is definitely worth a visit. Even if you cannot read all signs, even if not everybody will understand you,... you will get by, no worries.
Another myth that got ‘busted’ during my stay in Tokyo was that Japan is incredible expensive. Of course, you can spent a lot of money (if you want and can), but it is really possible to have a great time and don’t spend a fortune.

A great way to save money and peek behind the Western-style side of Japan is to stay at a Ryokan. These traditional Japanese guest houses used to refuse to accept reservations from foreign visitors (too noisy, don’t know how to behave, ...) but fortunately that has changed now.

We stayed in a wonderful small ryokan near the Asakusa Temple. You can choose between traditional Japanese rooms and Western-style rooms. I strongly recommend that you go for the Japanese-style rooms. They have paper-covered doors, tatami mats on the floor, low wooden tables, facilities to make your own green tea, and a futon which only gets laid out for you before bedtime.

Some of them don’t have their own bath, only a little toilet and wash basin, but there is a public bath on the top floor. And that is how Japanese bath and relax traditionally.

Just make sure that you follow a few simple rules and show them your respect their traditions. Otherwise they might not accept reservations from gaijins in the future ;-)

1. Take off your shoes before entering the Japanese-style rooms! (don’t step on the raised floor with the tatami mats, there will be slippers waiting for you)

2. Check whether it is gents or girls only at the public bath! (you don’t just embarrass yourself but the other guests and the hotel owner as well if you get it wrong)

3. Clean yourself thoroughly before you go into the public bath! (that’s what the wooden chairs and buckets are for and make sure you get rid of all the soapy residues as well)

Here are a few more tips with very cute drawings

Where: Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu, 1-31-11 Asakusa, Taito-ku Tokyo, JAPAN 111-0032
phone: +81-3-3843-2345, fax: 81(Japan)-3-3843-2348, email:

Highlight: the Japanese-style rooms with low tables, tatami mats and futons, the communal Japanese bath on the top floor with wonderful hot water and amazing views of the temple

More photos, information and ideas: Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu, Asakusa Temple, Nakamise-dori

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