Last week, my husband and I went on a semi-impromptu trip to Kyoto in Japan. It was the first time for both of us and definitely a memorable experience. To the ignorant Westerner, Japan and Korea may sound almost synonymous but the reality is very very different.
Japan is really NOTHING like Korea. It’s so different in so many ways. Here are just a few:
- Japan is quiet and spacious, while Seoul is incredibly loud and crowded
- Japan can be more difficult for foreigners, since most signs are only in Japanese
- Japanese people seem much more diverse than people in Korea
- Japanese people are even more polite than Korean people, man, they can bow
- Japanese books are backwards and they drive in the
leftwrong side of the road
- Japanese drivers are way less aggressive than Korean drivers
- It’s much easier to find vegetarian food in Japan, almost impossible in Korea
- There are literally no churches in Japan, and at least one on every street in Seoul
- Brown seems to be a preferred house color, as opposed to the Korean ‘greige’
So, since you all know that I really love Korea, how did I find Japan given all these differences? If you ask my husband I was probably a bit bipolar about everything while we were there. I absolutely loved the food, the friendliness, the minimalistic decor, the peace and quiet, the cleanliness! On the other hand, I felt put off by the lack of availability of signs in other languages. Even though I can read kana, I’m on thin ice when it comes to reading kanji. I know several hundreds of kanji (called hanja in Korean) through my knowledge in Korean, but I have no idea how to pronounce them in Japanese. And reading a Chinese character out loud in Korean while being in Japan seems, well…. weird. My pre-travel intense Japanese cramming paid off, though. I was able to order food, take cabs, ask for the restroom, and tell them not to put seaweed in my husband’s food (he can be as picky as a five-year-old when it comes to anything that has been under water).
Even though we only had four days we managed to see quite a lot during our time in Kyoto. We saw countless temples, which seemed bigger and much different from the temples we have in Seoul. We visited the Inari Shrine and hiked up the mountain with all the red gates and strolled through the gardens of the emperial palace. One of the most memorable experiences was probably the bamboo grove in Arashiyama 15 minutes outside of central Kyoto. This was where we had vegan temple food at a nearby Buddhist temple. Absolutely delicious and without comparison the best meal in Japan.
We also took a stroll along the old Gion street in downtown Kyoto, and I managed to get a shot of a real geisha. Wow. Even though we technically have geishas in Korea (only here we call them gisaeng) I had never seen one in real life before. Truly amazing.
Please check out my instagram for pictures.
Finally we did some shopping. Here’s what I bought:
- Japanese skincare from the Hada Labo line (big fan of their shirojyun line, which I can fortunately also buy in Korea)
- From Muji: Pens, notebooks, travel accessories, a couple of t-shirts, chocolate covered strawberries (seriously, yum!), a couple of lipsticks which have SPF in them (score!)
- From Uniqlo: two knee-long skirts
- Miscellanous: I also bought a parasol, since the sun was merciless, and all the Japanese women seemed to have one
It may seem like a lot, but there were summer sales everywhere, and it seriously felt like they were giving stuff away for free. Yay!
I’d definitely like to visit Japan again sometime. Maybe Hokkaido or Okinawa. We’ll see what happens.