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Japan is truly a remarkable place to visit for both the wide-eyed first-timer and seasoned traveller alike. For those eager to set foot in a new country for the first time, Japan is friendly, efficient and generally straight-forward enough to welcome newcomers to the tiny island with a rich history and cultural legacy. Getting from A to B is a smooth procedure and the country offers a glimpse into technological advances that many other countries may not see for decades. Every city offers a uniquely different perspective, from the fashion-forward trends of Tokyo to the stunning historical relevance of Hiroshima.
And for those with more than a few stamps on their passport, Japan’s futuristic approach is always evident. The culture is constantly evolving and each trip to Japan will open your eyes in different ways to the last, often in ways you never thought possible. As you step out of the airport in Japan for the first time it’s hard to not feel like you’re the star of a futuristic film that not even Robert Zemeckis could’ve dreamt up.
An array of bright lights entice you at every turn, trains whiz by you at around three times the average speed of a car on a highway and full meals can be ordered out of vending machines. If you’re still hungry for a thrill you can stop in at Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant – it’s a tantalising feast for the senses unlike any other. Complete with the stunning staff battling each other in giant neon robots, lasers lighting up throngs of pounding drummers and outrageously colourful caricatures whirling around the stage, the Robot Restaurant is a microcosm of exactly what you’d want in Japan: big time futuristic fun.
Here’s a few other ways that visiting Japan is like stepping forward through time.
The luxury and speed of Japan’s ground transportation options put many other travel options to shame. The Shinkansen, or “Bullet Train” is the way to go. There is over 2,300 kilometres of tracks with trains that travel at 320km/hour. You read that right. You can zip through the 360 kilometre journey from Hiroshima to Kyoto in just two hours and 45 minutes, compared to an almost five hour journey by car.
Japanese train stations are nothing like the dodgy hangouts we see in many Australian cities – they’re full-service commercial havens, with a variety of shopping, dining and drinking options. Show up early and spend a bit of time people-watching for fashion-forward clothing that will inevitably be cool in Australia in a few years. It’s certainly not a bad way to kill a few hours.
Additionally, there’s no waiting in downtrodden stations for delayed trains. The average delay of one of Japan Rail’s most popular lines is only 0.6 minutes. Trains routinely pull into the station with the utmost punctuality, ensuring you can glide from one hot spot to the next with tremendous ease. There’s incredible beauty in the paradox of whizzing through the stunning Japanese countryside at great speeds while you comfortably stretch your legs out and dig into a bento box and Japanese sake, all served on the super-fast train.
While we’re talking Japan’s fashion-forward approach, no trip to Japan is complete without engulfing yourself in the fashion scene of some of the country’s larger cities. Sure, at first you may furrow your brow at some of the extravagant and outlandish outfits. But Japan is no place for the meek when it comes to clothing. Fashion trends turn on a dime and often, the rest of the world struggles to keep up with the country’s youth as they strut the streets.
Trips to Japan a few years back revealed more sports jerseys than you’d find on Grand Final day. From vintage basketball to modern baseball jerseys being worn either as tight-fitting summer tops or oversized jerseys as dresses, Japanese teens were proving that jerseys weren’t just for the jocks. Full of colour and with limitless possibilities, jerseys soon caught on with Miley Cyrus and Rihanna.
Want to be the envy of your fashion-forward friends? Hit the streets of Tokyo neighbourhoods such as Shinjuku and Harajuku and come back with crystal-ball of knowledge about the future of fashion.
All that speedy travel and clothes shopping will inevitably leave you feeling peckish, but duck into a Macca’s at your peril. Japanese cuisine is regularly recognised as some of the most innovative and delicious in the world. What’s more, you’ll never have to struggle with any language barrier to have some of the most exotic food in the world served to you. Japan, being the futuristic joint that it is, makes eating easy for everyone.
The country has the highest amount of vending machines per capita, but don’t go settling for chocolate bars or chips. Many restaurants incorporate vending machines in to their ordering systems with Shokkenkia – machines with photos of meals for you to browse. It’s as easy as selecting the image of the meal that you want, paying the machine and taking your ticket to the counter.
And if you feel like you’re in need of a night in at your hotel, fear not: Japanese vending machines are at the ready with hot meals in addition to packaged snacks. In less time than it would take you to have a boring sandwich made on the corner, many Japanese hotels are stocked with vending machines that serve up piping hot boxes of French fries, chicken and rice and traditional dishes such as okonomoyaki.
If you are heading out, don’t feel confronted by the many (and we mean many) plastic imitations in restaurant window fronts of the of meals serve within. As you’ve probably heard, it’s all about efficiency in Japan so if you can figure out which of the imitation meals you’d like to be turned into your own IRL meal before you enter the shop, then you’re happy, the restaurant is happy, and things run smoothly and on time – a hugely important aspect of Japanese culture.
While a plastic rendition of soba noodles glazed in teriyaki sauce (or a dish you couldn’t have imagined in your wildest foodie dreams) may seem a little off-putting, rest assured there is a nary a Japanese chef who doesn’t take great pride in their cooking. Walk in confident and you’ll be amazed at how quickly deliciousness is delivered to your table.
Admit it – even amidst scary renditions of a robot-laden future like I, Robot, you’re a little curious how humans and robots will coexist in years to come. When starting your Japanese journey in Tokyo, make sure you carve out some time for the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation where a permanent exhibition called “Android: What is Human?” showcases a variety of android robots and allows us humans to communicate with them while “shedding light on the attributes of humans in contrast with those of robots.”
Japan’s fascination with robots doesn’t end there – the Henn-na Hotel in Huis Ten Bosch Theme Park in Nagasaki is set to open in July and will feature “Actroids,” robot employees who will be able to carry out a number of tasks, like carting luggage to rooms and making cups of coffee, all while smiling courteously. They probably wouldn’t even blink if you don’t give them a tip, either.
(Lead image: Fenryl/Flickr)
Contiki is headed to Japan and to celebrate they’re bringing the Robots Unrivalled pop-up to Sydney! Inspired by Tokyo’s infamous Robot Restaurant, this experience will deliver a unique and unforgettable slice of weird and wonderful Japanese culture. You can visit the official Robot Restaurant on the 13-day Japan Unrivalled trip, taking you on a mind-blowing journey through Tokyo, Hakone, Takayama, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Wakayama and Osaka!
Joshua Kloke is a freelance travel, music and sports writer. His work has appeared in Vice and the Vancouver Sun and his debut book Escape is at Hand for the Travellin' Man was released on Eternal Cavalier Press. He likes hanging out in the world's best record shops and pizzerias and is just waiting for someone to combine the two.