Friday, 31 August 2012

Blog to Japan

Japan is such a mysterious country, somewhere I have never had the opportunity to visit, but I'm intrigued by the mystique and would absolutely love to go.

So it's no surprise that I'm attracted to this fantastic competition from InsideJapan Tours & Virgin Atlantic where the prize is the chance to blog around Japan. The concept of the competition is "to capture a first-time traveller’s reactions in real-time, via digital media, and use the material to inspire others to go to Japan."

Wow! what an amazing opportunity, so here goes with my reasons for wanted to visit!

Reason 1: The People
This summer I've been lucky enough to meet lots of Japanese visitors who arrived in my home city to support their country's football team at the Olympic Games. I was one of the ambassadors on duty when Japan played in Coventry and I must have posed with hundreds of tourists - so my photo is now stored in so many Japanese camera's and mobile phones!

I took a few picture myself. Including these shots of fans, dressed up to support their team and more than willing to stop for a chat on their way to the games.

 One brilliant encounter I had with a Japanese fan left me smiling for the rest of the day. A Japanese guy was wheeling a huge suitcase past the stadium and I approached and told him that unfortunately the case wouldn't be admitted as it was too large. After much gesticulating (from both me and him) I understood that he had just arrived in the city and was actually looking for his hotel.
I was able to direct him to the hotel and before he left he indicated that he wanted to buy a gift for someone at home and showed me a photo on his phone of the item he wanted to buy. I thought it was brilliant that he had come all the way to the UK and wanted to take home some Happy Hippo biscuits! He was thrilled when I assured him that he could buy some from the supermarket next to the stadium!

So my number 1 reason for wanting to visit Japan is the people! I absolutely loved the opportunity to chat to them and found they were so friendly and excited to be part of such an amazing sporting event.
If I was blogging my way around Japan I'd be chatting to anyone and everyone!

Reason number 2: Technology

Although it’s a stereotype, Grumps always teases me that I’m like a Japanese tourist whenever we visit anywhere new, because my camera is always in hand and I’m usually snapping photos of anything and everything.  As a former Technology Change Manager I love gadgets and new inventions. So one of the things I adore about the Japanese is their love affair with cameras. I can remember the old style camera that needed to be loaded with 'film' and Fuji was always a favourite brand in our house.

Now, I've obviously moved on to digital and although my little Olympus digital is at the inexpensive end of the camera scale, I still believe that the best camera equipment in the world comes from Japan.

When I've saved enough money I intend to buy the best Canon camera that money can buy. After all, if I'm going to be taking so many photos, it's only right to take them with my prefered technology brand. 

So reason number 2 for loving Japan (and wanting to visit) is because they have provided me with the technology to partake in my two favourite pastimes - taking photo's and sharing them with everyone via my laptop!

Reason number 3: The Environment
I have a confused mental image of Japan.  Part of me dreams of glorious Pagoda's set in acres of greenery, while another part of me imagines high rise buildings in bustling cities. I still shudder at the images of last year's earthquake in Fukushima and of people sheltering in doorways as windows smashed around them.

A friend (and former work colleague) was working in Fukushima at the time of the quake and I was so relieved to hear from him that he had escaped unharmed.
So reason number 3 for wanting to visit Japan is to see which of my mental images is correct. Would I see gorgeous temples and shrines such as the one above (picture borrowed from Google Images from a website called or would I be stunned by cityscapes?

Reason number 4: The Written Word
While I was volunteering as an olympic ambassador this summer I thought I'd be really clever and learn some Japanese so I could converse with fans. I soon gave up on that idea!
I wanted to know the Japanses word for umbrella (well, we were in the middle of the wettest British summer ever!) and I thought it would be brilliant to be able to explain that umbrella's were not allowed in the stadium.
I typed 'umbrella' into a translation tool and laughed out loud when the following was returned: 

 Needless to say, my attempt to speak Japanese ended there! But what an amazing written language! So reason number 4 for wanting to visit is because I would love to learn what some of these amazing symbols mean. (I did actually ask one fan how to say 'Hello' and they told me 'Moshi Moshi'. I thought they were joking until I got home and googled it and it really does mean 'Hi' so for the remaining matches I 'Moshi, moshi'd' to everyone - it generated lots of smiles!)

Reason number 5: Culture
When I was young, I often visited an aunt who had lived in Japan for a while and I was always fascinated by the pictures and ornaments she had from her time there. Two of the words I always remember from my visits to her house were 'Bonsai' - the minature trees that most people have heard of, and 'Ikebana' - the Japanese term for very stylised flower arranging.

My Aunt loved to talk to me about the silk pictures she had and the tiny trees and flower arrangements. So reason number 5 for wanting to visit would be to recapture some of those memories and view Bonsai and Ikebana in their home country.

Reason number 6: Anime

OK, I admit it, I'm still addicted to 'cartoons'. Most people will know of Pokemon which obviously uses the basic concepts of anime, the styles of drawing, the big eyes and the very bright colours. I'm a huge fan of Manga art and anime series such as Fullmetal Alchemist.
I have spent many happy hours lying on the floor with Piper as she tried to copy or trace characters from Japanese Anime, so reason number 6 for wanting to visit Japan is to be in my spiritual cartoon home! I really want to be a Pokeman! (Although the picture above obviously isn't a Pokemon)

Reason number 7: My car & the Japanese motor industry
When I gave up work I also had to give back my company car, which was a convertible mini cooper. So I went looking for another 'sporty' car. Somehow I ended up with the least sporty car you can imagine - a Nissan Note! 

When I look back at my choice of car I realise that something was guiding me to buy a practical car. Obviously now, when I'm trying to fit Piper and Daisy's car seats and buggy in the boot along with a load of shopping, or when I'm taking my Dad out and need to also take his wheelchair or mobility scooter, I'm so grateful to have a car with plenty of passenger and boot space!
Living in the middle of the UK, I'm also very aware of the dwindling UK motor industry. So Reason number 7 for visiting Japan is to see what percentage of cars on their roads are 'home made' i.e. Japanese!

 Reason Number 8: Cuisine
When I think of Japanese food I think immediately of Sushi. As a vegetarian I obviously wouldn't eat fish, but I have seen some amazing vegetarian sushi creations on the web. For example there are some amazing instructions for rolling vegetarian sushi here at the 'instructables' website 

There are few countries in the world where a vegetarian diet is accepted as widely as in Japan. Clearly having rice as a staple food makes eating in this country much easier than in some places where meat is seen as a necessity. 
So my 8th reason for visiting Japan would be to experience the cuisine and find out more ideas for rolling veggie sushi!

Reason number 9: Life expectancy
Ok, so I can't really post a photo for this reason but I'm really intrigued by the fact that Japan has the second highest life expectancy of any country in the world. Why? That's what I want to know!
Could it be the cuisine? Or possibly that they just have an overall healthier way of life? I really have no idea - hence reason number 9 for wanting to visit - to find out what they are doing right - so I can do it myself!

Reason number 10: Geography
 For many years I thought Japan was a single island nation. To be honest, as a child I remember seeing the place name 'Kyoto' and thinking that someone had just mixed up the letters of Tokyo! Gradually I realised that there was more than one island - but it was a long, long time before I learned that the country was actually made up of 6,852 islands!

What an amazing thought! When I consider that people in the UK from various counties are so different, I wonder whether residents of the populated islands of Japan think of themselves as having a unique identity.
So reason number 10 would be to visit as many of the islands as possible and meet as many of the people to see what similarities and differences they have.

Reason number 11: Technology part 2

I know I've already commented on cameras but technology is so close to my heart that I really do have to return to it! Since the very first time I saw it I've been in love with ASIMO, the amazing robot from Honda.

I am so amazed by the technology involved in creating a humanoid robot that has better balance and spacial awareness than I have! I love, love, love it!
So reason number 11 for wanting to visit Japan is to sneek a peek at what other humanoid robots they have. If I could bring one home with me I'd leave everything else behind in order to smuggl it into my luggage!

Reason number 12: Grumps
Like me, Grumps is a complete travel junkie! Like me, Grumps has never visited Asia. Like me, Grumps would love to visit Japan.
It really is no wonder that we call this poor chap 'Grumps'. He works his socks off then comes home and plays happily with Piper and Daisy before frequently dropping off to sleep at the most inopportune times - for example here when he was 'playing with Daisy'!

I've listed my first 11 reasons why I'd love to visit Japan, but my 12th reason is because Grumps would be the perfect partner for all of those reasons. 
1. People; He picks up on personality traits that I completely miss and often spots things happening that I would be totally oblivious to!
2. Technology; he ALWAYS presses the wrong button! As per the picture below when he tried to take a self portrait with his passport - typical blurred shot because he doesn't read the instructions!
3. Environment; I genuinely have never known anyone happier to look at flora and fauna when we go away on holiday. He loves to find new plants and then learn all the details about how he could grow them at home.
4. The written word; Grumps has such a knack for retaining squiggles and symbols. When we went to Greece he could look at a Greek word once and remember it for the rest of the holiday. I'd love to try him with Japanese!
5. Culture; Grumps is possibly the least cultured person you could imagine, but his only crafty aptitude is an ability to do origami! I can imagine he would return from Japan as an expert paper folder!
6. Anime; Grumps' idea of a good cartoon is Bugs bunny! He just doesn't 'get' anime. I hope that by taking him to the home of Anime I might convert him!
7. Cars; The biggest car fan ever! Grumps can identify a car manufacturer from 100 metres! Every new car he sees is like a new toy! He would be absolutely in his element in Japan.
8. Cuisine; Grumps is also a vegetarian but he is much more open to trying new foods than I am. He would adore trying new foods in Japan.
9. Life Expectancy; this is the biggy for me. I want Grumps to live forever! So anything we could do to increase his life expectancy would be a fantastic bonus.
10. Geography; My map reading skills are none existant, and my sense of direction is definitely missing. Grumps on the other hand can look at the sky and know which way is North, or which direction we need to move in. I'd truly be lost without Grumps alongside me in Japan!
11. Technology part 2; Grumps refuses to believe that ASIMO is real. He is convinced that there is soneone inside a robot suit. I'd love to prove him wrong.

Well, that's it, my reasons for wanting to visit Japan. I hope the guys at  InsideJapan Tours and Virgin Atlantic enjoy reading it.  My fingers are well and truly crossed!

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