From a very young age I could feel the magnetic pull of Japan drawing me towards it. As a child, I used to sit on my living room floor with an atlas trying to find far away places that I could travel to using my imagination, I moved my finger across the map as far east as I could until I came to a small sliver of islands and exclaimed to my mum “I want to go to Japan!”, she replied “you wouldn’t last over there as you don’t like fish and they eat it raw!”. I looked at pictures of Japan and its history in the Encyclopedia Britannica (retro I know), I dreamt of a land guarded by samurai warriors, a place entwined in legend and home to mythical creatures and monsters that must be appeased to to avoid their wrath.
It was my childhood imagination that created the burning desire to travel to Japan and it was in my teens and early twenties that research and intrigue fuelled my desire even more. So, after I graduated from university I decided to turn my dreams into reality, along with my good friend Karl who perhaps had an even stronger desire to visit the land of the rising sun. We saved up, working part time jobs, and with some help from our parents as a congratulations for graduating university, we eventually gathered up enough money to make our dream a reality, planning out a month long trip around Japan which to this day I still look back on with great fondness.
Despite both being 21 we were still a bit wet behind the ears and our parents said goodbye like we were taking a one way trip to the moon, we boarded the plane from Manchester airport, the first leg was 6 hours to Abu Dhabi with a short stopover before boarding another plane for the second leg to Tokyo Narita airport, and with a great stroke of luck we were upgraded to first class for free! this made the 8 hour journey very pleasant indeed.
We got off the plane at Narita airport and collected our huge suitcases, I travel very differently now, packing as light as possible but it was our first time so we can be forgiven. The air smelt different, the whole place felt so different and amazing, I already knew this place was going to live up to all of my expectations, I could just feel something and it was telling me ‘this is going to be a life changing adventure’, and I wasn’t wrong.
We took the metro to Ginza station, a central economic district of Tokyo. We stayed in the Park Hotel Tokyo in the Ginza area, we could see it protruding out of the skyline with its distinct prism shape, we checked in, dropped our bags in the room, jumped in the shower, put on some fresh clothes and were out the door in under an hour. The excitement we were experiencing was like being on amphetamine, no naps for us, it was straight out the door to explore.
Walking through Ginza towards Shiodome we had our first experience with Japanese food, we stepped into a small hole in the wall type place with a curtain hanging over the door. We ordered some nigiri (sushi made from a finger of rice with a piece of fish on top), some maki rolls (fish in the middle, surrounded by rice, wrapped in nori seaweed), miso soup, and some octopus balls, along with the octopus dick, I joke. I took a bite of the maki roll and thought to myself “oh god, how the hell am I going to eat this? it tastes like Poseidon’s arsehole. Does all sushi taste like this?” Thankfully it didn’t; I took a bite of the nigiri and fell in love with sushi. It took me a bit of time to realise, but it was the nori seaweed that didn’t agree with my palate and it still doesn’t to this day. If you’re like me and find that you’re tasting something reminiscent of dirty dock water then it may be the nori seaweed, try getting something without it, this is why I never go for maki rolls, nigiri is my favourite. We had a couple of Asahi Dry beers raised our glasses and said “we’ve made it”.
During my trip to Japan we spent some time in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Fujinamiya and Osaka. I am going to make this one quite a long series so as to give Japan the credit it deserves.
Hope you enjoy what is to come and I hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve seen so far. Hope to catch you in the next segment. Always feel free to shoot any questions or suggestions my way, I love a good chat about anything travel, beer or whisky related 🙂