They say first time visitors to Asia should take into account that day #1 will be Cultural Shock Day. Well, it was obvious something was up even before we landed. The scenery from above looked like a movie set – there were beautifully shaped gardens, unbelievably green lawns, ponds and streams everywhere. Above all, everything was so clean! Contrast that with the disorganized mess that is Tel Aviv… I had an urge to put on star wars music as I was in a galaxy far, far away.
After sorting through some logistics (local data sim card, Japan Rail Pass) Gleb and I got on an express train to Asakusa, Tokyo. It was our first time dealing with the Japanese transportation system and the complicated trade-offs between speed, price and number of train switches were just too much for us at that point. We asked for help, then asked for help again. The smallest things would shock us along the way and I’m pretty sure I was staring at everything.
Soon, still a bit dazed and hauling our suitcases, we got out of the train station and straight into the action. This is where I let my pictures do the talking.
In order, these were from the Nakamise shopping street, Kaminari gate and Sensoji temple.
Just outside the temple, we witnessed a purification ritual.
The “temizuya” water pavilion consisting of a water basin and ladles is not a place to drink water. It is there to perform “misogi”, a ritual to purify the body and mind with water before proceeding to stand in front of the deity. Originally this ritual was performed in the nude at special misogi locations like the ocean or a river, but today the ritual has been simplified to rinsing your hands and mouth at the temizuya. Wash yourself with the idea of washing away impurities in your heart as well as from your physical self.
To the streets
After checking into our hostels and disposing of the luggage, we decided to have our first culinary Japanese experience, in the form of a bento box:
Bento (弁当 bentō) is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento holds rice, fish or meat, with pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container. Containers range from disposable mass produced to hand crafted lacquerware. Bentos are readily available in many places throughout Japan, including convenience stores, bento shops, railway stations, and department stores. However, Japanese homemakers often spend time and energy on a carefully prepared lunch box for their spouse, child, or themselves.
Bento boxes are extremely cheap; for the money, they provide good nutritional value and taste okay (eat the pink stuff at your own peril, though; It’s usually very sour). I ate plenty of them during the trip, especially on long train rides.
Soon, Gleb announced he was tired from the flight and quit early, so I kept walking around by myself. As my phone battery died I realized that I was completely alone in Japan… The trip was on and I couldn’t stop smiling.
A pack of teens prowling the streets – my little sister is about their age and took great pleasure in analyzing their styles (“They look so similar!” – “you racist…”).
Diners are a thing and oh… the slurping sounds…
Gas stations are clean, efficient and upside down.
Vending machines are everywhere and will soon take over Japan.