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Experiencing Japan for the first time

| Words by Zoe Crane |

We talked to Michelle from our Oxford office about experiencing Japan for the first time.

Michelle joined our Secrets of Japan with Takayama Festival Small Group Tour. We find out what it was like to visit Japan for the first time. From the delicious food, the welcoming locals, beautiful scenery, and did we mention the food?

Michelle (left) enjoying dinner in Hakone

1. Forgetting the jetlag! How did you feel when you first arrived in Tokyo?

Japan has always been my dream destination to visit. I couldn’t believe I was in Japan until the plane touched down at Narita airport and I couldn’t stop smiling! After the long haul flight from London, I was feeling very tired but so excited at the same time – no time for jetlag.

2. What did you imagine Japan to be like? Was it different to what you expected?

I didn’t know much about Japan apart from what I had seen on TV and films. The world busiest pedestrian crossing in Shibuya, Tokyo and the Gion Geisha District in Kyoto. I expected Japan to be like London, modern but it is better than I imagined or expected.

Admire the extraordinary city from the famous Tokyo Tower

3. What did you think of the Takayama Festiva? What makes it unique?

The Takayama festival was really interesting, I really enjoyed the local food in the center of town during the festival period. Unfortunately as it was raining heavily this year, most of the programs were cancelled and we didn’t get to see the floats in action. Instead we caught a glimpse of the floats and displays at the Festival Exhibition Hall.

We missed the floats due to poor weather - here's what they would have looked like!

4. What are the locals like in Japan?

The locals are extremely friendly, polite and patient. They are just the happiest people in the world.

5. What was your favorite meal?

I love Japanese food. If I had to pick three dishes they would be:

  • Wagyu beef noodles
  • Wagyu beef sushi
  • Ramen

A delicious bowl of pork ramen in Tokyo

6. What were your top 3 most memorable experiences?

  • Ordering meals from the vending machine was a lot of fun. You don’t really get this anywhere else!
  • The breathtaking snow mountains scenery on the overland journey from Takayama to Shirakawago.
  • Our farewell dinner and a special Maiko (Geisha) performance. Our group had the opportunity to ask her all sorts of questions, which gave us a better insight into the tradition.

A unique experience to spend time with a Geisha, usually a service is only available through a personal introduction.

7. If you had the chance to go back to Japan, where would you go and why?

I would like to visit Takayama again. This laid back town has lots of little quirky shops, cute local restaurants and lots of different places to discover.

8. What’s your advice for first timers to Japan?

  • Bring comfortable walking shoes - the best way to discover Japan is by foot.
  • Don’t tip - it’s considered rude (even insulting) to tip for any services.
  • Seafood is quite prominent across Japanese cuisine, something for vegetarians to be aware of!

Enjoy fresh sushi for breakfast at Tsukiji market - the largest fish market in the world

9. Sum up your overall experience in 140 characters

I’ve learned so much about the Japanese culture and food. I had an amazing time, simply unforgettable experience. Cannot wait to go back!

10. What is your favorite photo from your trip and why?

The breathtaking view over the historic village of Shirakawago.

Shirakawago, a beautiful example of traditional Japan. Best known for its farmhouses with steeply pitched thatched roofs