Welcome to Japan, Welcome to Mars

A friend had warned me before the trip: “When you will arrive in Japan, you will believe that you are on the  planet Mars “I didn’t believe him at first. Nowadays, most of the people has seen at least once in its life a picture or a video from Japan. What is then so special with this country? Let me highlight you about the uniqueness of this land with some unusual experiences one can only face in Japan. My stay there has lasted for ten days and we were in and around Tokyo. Welcome to Mars!

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One of the numerous temples one can find in Kamakura.

Not just a simple café

To illustrate why some people think that Japan can be compared to Mars, let’s start with cafes. There are obviously cafes in Tokyo similar to Western ones. Nevertheless those I will talk about are completely different. One type of café is called “maid café”. In this café, you can order exactly the same food and beverages as in a normal café. The difference lies in the fact that the waitress or waiter serves and treates your group, for a while, as you were kings and queens. The entire cafe applauds to your venue which gives you a VIP feeling. This kind of café has been developed in different concepts. One can go on a maid café where waitresses/waiters are the teachers and your group are students or they may be police officers while you are criminals. In a way, when you enter into such a café you should be ready to become an actor in a play. One equivalent in the Western world would be to be involved within an Disney act while you are just visiting Disneyland.

Another type of café, you can visit, are cat cafés. Due to lack of space, the Japanese have found a solution to live with their dream pet ! They haven’t a pet in thier flat. They rather go to have a cup of coffee in a cat café and stroke cats for one hour. In the café there are around twenty cats for 30 square meters. A brochure is dedicated to each cat and depicts its entire story. When entering into the cafe, all the customers receive a small bag of candies to feed the cats. If, by any chance, one wants to take a break from cats, one can play on the console instead. Anyway, from now on if a japanese asked you to go to a café, you know you should ask first what kind of coffee he or she is talking about.

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One giant icecream one can get in a maid café

If you dare to go to a Japanese drugstore…

Sweden is known worldwide for having a lot of candies in their drugstores. What kind of special goods can you find then in a Japanese drugstore? If you want to have breakfast, you can take an O-Nigiri, a “Rice ball”. It is as big as a half fist. Inside the ball there is either meat, salmon or shrimp to name but some. In the shelf for beverages, there is one unsual drink: bottles of cold tea. There are milk and water versions. The surprise in these beverages comes from the fact that there is absolutely no sugar in the cold tea. This makes much it bitter than the western versions. The most exotic item in the store is strangely a western candy: a Kitkat. It actually exists in many different flavors of Kitkat including mango, banana, but also potatoes, green tea, wasabi and cherry blossoms. Yes, it means the chocolate is modified to have a potatoe or a wasabi flavor. That is definitely an experience for your mouth. And last but not least, the franchise holder that owns the drugstores offers these goods for a cost of around 100 yen (1 €) meaning nothing.

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In the street one can find cleaners for glasses.

Learn how to survive earthquakes!

Japan is the only country I have been to where a fire station invites an earthquake training. In Tokyo, it was possible to get such training in Ikebukuro district. First of all, people learn how to extinguish a fire and then they look at a video which explains the reflexes one should have in order to survive an earthquake when being in a building. After watching the video, you enter into a kitchen that simulates earthquakes. All guests had to sit around the table, the pot was on the stove and sharp knives laid here and there. The earthquake started and we all hoped we would remember the reflexes we had just learned. Seeing everything falling in the kitchen was definitely a unique experience!

Kamakura, Japan’s St Tropez?

Let’s leave Tokyo’s center for a while to go to the suburbs. The city of Kamakura is fifty minutes by commuter train from the center. This city is well known for its beaches and is therefore popular in summer. You should feel somehow as if you were on the French Riviera, but the Japanese version. Here and there, between buildings, there is a myriad of temples. One can pray, rest and go to the beach. With my friends, we started with the usual tourist attractions, namely the center and some temples. Around 12 o’clock, we decided to have lunch on the beach. We took with us “bentos”, some kind of Japanese lunchbox. The sand was white, the sun was shining and hawks were flying in the sky. No one were on the beach, except an old couple. It was somehow mysterious, exotic and wild. We did not understand why so few people were at the beach in such a sunny day. It took us ten minutes to understand. The beach was wilder than we thought. Hawks gathered over us, flew lower and lower until they … attacked us, or more precisely the food (Attack). Three minutes after, we had to pack up the food and go away from the place to avoid another attack. The old couple laughed and surely thought we were crazy. We walked a kilometer from the beach (retreat) and checked regularly how the enemy behaved. Hawks unfortunately came after us. We hid out in a small street where they could not see us anymore (Victory).

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A sign warns us from the potential danger!

Akihabara, a temple for otakus?

If there is one place where all the geeks gather when they are in Japan, it is definitely Akihabara district. There are simply huge shopping malls where you can buy manga, anime, Japanese computer games, art books and figurines of your Japanese favorite heroes (even in full scale), If you like animes such as Evangelion, Death Note or Dragon Ball Z to name but some, this place is for you. How about buying a Mario-plaster or a Zelda’s carpet? Beware, Akihabara is really a labyrinth and you can easily spend a day there before you find everything you want to buy. Plus, you have also to succeed in finding your friends again in the crowd at the end of the day. Just a piece of advice: Check your bank account before you start buying items. It’s hard to stop!

Shibuya, where you understand the meaning of the word “fashion”.

Shibuya district is mainly devoted to fashion. It just need five minutes to realize how late Europe and America fashion styles are in comparison to the Japanese fashion. Many people talk about a decade. I saw shoes with pleated leather, with buckles and metal pieces, in tons of different colors and even some withprinted pictures on. There are also clothes which are two in one, with a trendy style, the most popular is “shirt-jacket”. You can undoubtedly give your H & M clothes for your grandmother if you plan to stay in Japan. Buy a new wardrobe over there if you want to have some style.

The trip ended after ten days, it was time to go back on Earth, to the nice old Europe. We were broke, but we felt somehow rich, filled with unforgettable memories and having our minds upside down by the discovery of another way of life. One thing was certain: we would one day return there. See you soon Japan!

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