Breakfast Hotdog anyone?
Every day offers a new discovery in such a unique culture as Japan’s, and I love the amazing opportunity to get to know more about what the locals do and what their regular day looks like.
The first surprise was the breakfast menu at the Hotel Henn-na, “The Hotdog Morning Plate”, with toppings that included Sauerkraut and relish. It was either this or a bowl of noodles, which I later found out to be regularly offered everywhere for breakfast (and lunch and dinner). I got to enjoy hot coffee, for the last time in a while. I also later found out, it would be quite difficult to find a place which sold hot coffee in the mornings. I’ll show you what I ended up drinking straight out of one of the millions of vending machines you find EVERYWHERE, selling EVERYTHING imaginable.
Anyhow, I am not a picky eater and always welcome a new experience, especially in the culinary world. I opted for the hotdog platter, and it was indeed delicious. I have lived in Germany now for 3+ years so I know my Wieners and Franks 😉
My body still didn’t know what meal of the day I was having, so no problems whatsoever having a hotdog for breakfast…
A quick sightseeing walk around – 歩き回る
Today’s schedule included a quick walk around through this area of Tokyo before I took the bullet train. I picked this area near Hamamatsuchō Station because it was fairly central and easy to travel from to the Tokyo train station. This was later today, my departure point to Kiso-Fukushima, in Nagano Prefecture, my next stop.
1- Japanese people seem to smoke a lot, at least this was my impression so far in Tokyo. After I quit smoking almost two decades ago, I became extremely allergic and somehow a crusader against smoking. Having lived in Calgary and working downtown where these days you’re not able to walk down the street without navigating through heavy puffs of cigarette smoke and vaping, I was elated to see this, a especially assigned outdoor smoking area!!
People can’t seem to just smoke anywhere in the city just because they’re outside. Huh!?! what is this crazy concept!! Yes, they do it in these designated areas on the side walks and some other, well marked, large open spaces, and get this, actually far away from buildings’ entrance doors, so the smoke doesn’t get blown inside by the wind. Revolutionary concept! who would have thought 😮 (Sarcasm)
Anyway, brilliant idea, I am not sure if it is mandatory or voluntary though, as the second would go very much in line with the empathic Japanese ways.
2- Another thing that got my attention was the extreme care about pedestrian safety on the streets, for example there was a construction zone right next to the Hotel which I only realized it was there after I saw it from above, from the hotel room’s window. I had walked right by it the day before and because of the very high, solid white wall around it, which looked like a permanent fixture on the side of the building, you couldn’t even guess there was a hole in the ground and heavy excavation equipment behind it. Not only there was no chance of any debris flying onto the street, but it did not look at all like a construction zone from outside, and no traces of mud or dirt outside it on the street or sidewalk either.
A few streets over, there was a crane-truck parked temporarily by another construction site. I noticed the yellow cones around the truck clearly marking the area where people should take precautions, but also real people, dressed in uniforms, which I believed were some kind of city safety workers, or maybe even regular police. They were standing between the truck and the people passing by, with their arms open signaling which direction pedestrians had to proceed. Once again… “Whaat?”
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3- Japan’s Shinto religion was brand new to me, I later found out much more about it and discovered that its foundation beliefs and history are quite fascinating, especially because of its deep link with nature. I will be sharing a lot about my impressions and findings on Japan’s indigenous religion in later posts. Together with Buddhism, these are the two predominant religions in the country, and not mutually exclusive. Much more on this later.
For now, I will share a little bit about the iconic “Torii” 鳥居 (pronounced toree) as seen in the header photo of this post, and in the image below. These are the traditional Japanese gates, most commonly found at the entrance of a Shinto shrine, the place of worship of this religion. They symbolically mark the transition from the mundane to the sacred, and it is usually the way to identify Shinto shrines, or sacred nature spots, such as bodies of water, very old trees, waterfalls, etc. that are considered sacred. We will see and visit many of them during our virtual stay in Japan.
In the city of Tokyo there are many Shinto shrines. In the hundreds actually, if you count the grater Tokyo area. The one I visited near the Hotel, called Shiba Daijingū was founded in the year 1005, it has been restored since of course. The history in Japan is not only amazingly rich but it is indeed ancient. We will particularly see this fact in our visit to Nara, which was the capital of Japan one thousand years ago and for that a very special historical place.
What I found interesting at this shrine, was the behavior of people, young and old, walking by the shrine. For example, seeing office workers rushing to catch a bus most likely, slowing right down, stopping and bowing with their hands together in front of their chest and instantly continuing on with their mad rush to get to where they were going. No matter how in a hurry they appeared to be, or even if anyone was watching or not, they all took the time to show with their body language and actions, how important for them it was this transition between the mundane and the sacred.
Time to leave the city for now and start our adventure in the interior of Japan and Shinrin-yoku country. First stop, the forests of Kiso area and the Akasawa forest, the birth place of Forest bathing as an official wellbeing and stress reduction practice.
I got to the Tokyo train station, near Chiyoda, where the Imperial Palace is located. I started to get the hang of how to navigate the Japanese trains in a very short time, with a very special helper.
Travel TIP: The best aid I had to, not only know what trains to take and from where, but also to get the best connection times while on the go, was this must have Japan Official Travel App You get every useful detail of your route, with many options to chose from. The invaluable info included which platform to take the train from, which allowed to transfer from one train to the next very quickly and hence making some tight connections. All this was presented on the app extremely fast and accurately, updated almost instantly. Very impressive and really all you need to help you move around in Japan by public transit. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to get a SIM card with unlimited data during your stay.
I allowed extra time to make it to where I was taking the Shinkansen (Bullet train) from. Using this app, I managed to arrive at my departing platform very early. I had reserved a seat on my train, which thanks to the prepaid JR Pass, was included at no extra cost. You can reserve seats at the window where you show your Japan Rail Pass to get into the station, or online ahead of time. The efficiency I saw in the train system so far was outstanding, no wonder millions of people are moved around this city every single day without many issues.
You may have a sense of me and my observation skills by now, I had time this morning (or was it afternoon?) to watch and spot a few remarkably interesting things while waiting for my train.
These key behaviors I observed, which it appears that most all Japanese travelers seem to follow and do naturally, result in the benefit of everybody. I point this out, because in many places I’ve visited or lived in South and North America and Europe, and you ofcourse know this too, there is always the “smart” ones that skip lines, cut other people off, stand right in front of the bus/train doors as people are trying to get off, and always put themselves first. In Japan, it is very apparent the respect of people for everybody else and they know that following the well-designed rules only helps everybody in the end, not just a few.
This “outrageous” behavior (in the best sense of the word, as in being positively shocked) was something I got use used to right away, and it only makes sense that you follow suit. You see so much awareness, care, and respect from others that you jump on board right away. I sincerely loved it. It makes coexistence with millions of other folks going about their lives so much easier and less stressful.
Ok, enough blabbing, these are the most noticeable points:
1- Preparation for boarding: You see a few markings on the platform floor. The most obvious are the car numbers which are located exactly where the car’s boarding door they indicate will stop when your train arrives. Then, you see these lines of different colors, just a couple of feet away from where the door will end up when the train arrives. This is how it works. There is a line for first departure and one for second departure, meaning that for the next train scheduled to stop at this platform, people line up where it says “First Departure”, for the following train, you can start lining up ahead of time using the “Second Departure” marking on the floor. Since I was so early, I was first in line for the second departure.
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2- Offloading, cleaning & boarding: Just before the train arrives, you see people lining up behind the “First departure” sign, then at least two cleaning staff members for each car waiting just in front of the first passenger in line. When the train arrives, passengers can get off the train quickly, without being blocked by passengers trying to get on because these are orderly lined up and waiting away from the door. Once the last passenger gets off and walks away from the door, the cleaning staff get on to do their work, while passengers still wait patiently in line on the platform. The cleaning was for long distance trains at the end of their line ofcourse. When the cleaning staff gets off the train, then and only then, passengers can start boarding the train. No physical barriers, gates or staff directing the pedestrian traffic, just painted lines on the floor! Blown away by how everyone complies with these rules, it’s just part of their routine and obviously they would never understand how or why we do what we do in many cities in the west!!!
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I am now ready to go, my Shinkansen train has arrived, and knowing what to do I follow the rules, low stress and efficiency.
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Next, we stay in a wood cabin campground in the beautiful forests of Kiso area in Nagano, and the first Shirin yoku session in Akasawa forest, where it all started…