The Japanese are, to put it mildly, madly obsessed with aesthetics. Personally, I love it. They have an exquisite sense of fashion that I have been trying to imitate for years, their streets are spotlessly clean, their gardens are world-class, and every piece of their food is a work of art in appearance and in taste. It is this compulsion that has helped fuel the infamous “Kawaii” culture.
Kawaii nowadays is a word used to describe anything cute or adorable. Walking down the crowded streets of Japan, you would probably hear the phrase 4-5 times in any given minute. However, the word and concept is entirely different from the Western sense of cuteness. Kawaii is actually rooted in the Japanese values of humility and innocence. It is the humbleness and helplessness of things or persons that the Japanese are intrinsically attracted too. The Japanese word for pitiful, for example, is “kawai-so.” If you take a hard look at Japanese animated characters that are considered adorable, or at the way young Japanese ladies dress, you will see those elements of vulnerability, submissiveness, and meekness.
Let’s play a little game of: Kawaii or Not. I show you pictures and you decide if they are Kawaii:
I thought about what would be the best topic to kick off the blog with, and I decided that I would start with the first barrier that stands in the way of tourists during their Japan travel:
The Japanese language.
Despite numerous accusations regarding unfriendly locals, the Japanese are eager to welcome tourists and foreigners who are willing to learn and get involved in the Japanese culture and way of life. One of the steps taken by the Japanese federal/local governments and businesses is translating many of the signs to English. These include signs at train stations, parks, street signs, restaurants, various tourist attractions, and more.
Albeit their sincere efforts, important messages (everything is important; the Japanese take pride in creating a harmonious living environment through etiquette laws) get lost in translation, or at least end up being hysterically funny. Sometimes it seems (unjustifiably) they are too cheap to invest in someone who does it right, though in most cases even Google Translate would do a better job. Although this doesn’t have to do much with smart or budget travel, it’s certainly amusing. I think I will let the photos do the talking:
The first one is self-explanatory:
This one is at the exit of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. It’s simply to make sure the lines don’t get overcrowded by people who forget to move along, but in English it comes across somewhat rude:
You will probably come across numerous nature paths and rope-ways during your travels in Japan, unless you’re sticking to the karaoke parlors in Tokyo. This following sign is to encourage exhausted hikers by stating that they have very little walking left (“one last breath”) until they reach the rope-way and see beautiful scenery:
Last but not least, a Japanese restaurant trying to be hip…in vain:
Thinking of traveling to Japan, or just interested in learning more? You’ve come to the right place.
I will be sharing here all of my insight on Japanese culture, food, language, and travel gained from 13 years of living, working, and traveling in Tokyo and around Japan. Having been born and raised in this magnificent country that still remains enigmatic to most, you will get a glimpse of Japan through the eyes of a true local – I even get accused of being more Japanese than the Japanese.
Japan, and especially Tokyo, has been long categorized as an expensive travel destination and place to live in. Count on me to tell you where, when and how to go for a genuinely Japanese adventure. No need for shoestrings or volunteering on farms as part of silly budget travel schemes out there! The point is to get what you should get out of Japan, but get it cheaply. Your vacation is not another season of Survivor.
Apart from the information available on this blog, I have also written a booklet that guides you through the smart way to experience Japan, while saving hundreds of dollars. My goal is for you to find the right things to do in Japan, and make them affordable for those of you who are on a budget or just want a wallet-friendly vacation. It will be published soon, so stay tuned.