Has the culture changed in Japan?

9 stories from Japan that will bring you closer to the country and its people

I travel to collect stories. Stories that are not in any book, that are your very own, that make up life - your life - in the first place. Especially in countries that are very different from my home in Europe, where people live different values ​​and maintain different traditions, I come across these stories around every corner, and they are mostly completely unexpected.

So unexpected that I always have at least one camera with me to be able to capture these stories in pictures. For example, I'm currently traveling with the M6, the new camera in the Canon EOS M series. The great thing about these mirrorless system cameras is that they are so beautifully small and compact and therefore perfect for taking really good pictures spontaneously. Because in the end it is pictures that bring stories back to life and that manage to capture special moments forever.

In doing so, I don't necessarily go looking for these special moments, these stories, but they come to me as if by themselves. Because I'm watching. I watch people, the situations in which they and I find ourselves, and I watch myself. How I think about what I feel and also what is going on in me, what is changing. I was only recently in a country that is so very different from my home: Japan.

I had heard many stories from Japan. But I prefer to write my own stories. That is also the reason why I travel and why I founded this travel blog: I want to find out what the world really is like out there and I want to share my experience with others.

Because as Alexander von Humboldt once said: "The most dangerous of all worldviews is the worldview of the people who have not looked at the world."

9 stories from Japan that will bring you closer to the country and its people

Bicycles pass me, it is a pleasant 23 degrees, the air is still fresh, a few people are walking in front of me at a slow pace and I can hardly hear a sound. I am on a big intersection in the middle of Tokyo! It is my first morning in Japan, my first story that I will collect in this country, the one entitled “Tokyo is the rest itself”.

1. Tokyo is calm itself

I have already been to several major Asian cities, have lived in Bangkok for more than half a year and I was absolutely convinced that a big city - especially when it is in Asia - is chaotic, bustling and at least very noisy. But Tokyo is everything, just not that. Maybe it was because I was during the "Golden Week", the holiday week par excellence, was on the road in Tokyo, but contrary to what was expected, hardly any cars drove on the streets, people strolled comfortably on the sparkling clean sidewalks and, if at all, bicycles rolled over the asphalt.

This noise that I was used to from other megacities such as New York, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Cape Town or Barcelona, ​​this constant background noise, a mix of engine noises, voices, footsteps and other typical city noises could not be heard here. It was unusually quiet and I was unusually relaxed. Because as an adventurer, I prefer to avoid big cities like Tokyo, only spend a few days in them before I get back out into nature.

A grin spread across my face: Finally a city in which I felt at home straight away and I just didn't feel that feeling of tightness around my chest. A feeling that, thanks to just one picture, I can always relate to.

2. Tokyo discovered coffee for itself

That grin got even bigger when we passed a specialty café. It was only 10 minutes ago that we had left our small but nice AirBnB apartment, and I was magically drawn to the smell of freshly ground coffee beans. Because besides adventure, my heart beats particularly strongly for good coffee - and for Line, of course.

In the next few days we discovered a lot more such cafés and I was particularly surprised by the passion and dedication with which the topic of specialty coffee is approached in Tokyo. Unlike in the now felt 100,000 hipster cafés in Berlin, for example, you can choose between different coffee beans and you will sometimes be presented with a real menu that explains more about the growing area, the beans and how they are prepared. Drinking coffee is practically celebrated here, made into something special, which in my opinion it is. Another story that I am happy to take with me from Japan and which, thanks to my Canon camera, was able to capture in several pictures.

3. Order is all of life

Another story that played out in this one café is: "Order is the whole of life in Japan." Do you know that? Something is happening around you and you don't really understand what it means at first? Are you trying to interpret the situation and find out how best and, above all, how to react correctly? This process is called "sensemaking."

So Line and I went into the café, sat down at one of the free tables and, as a matter of course, each of us was given a small basket. The woman who gave it to us turned and disappeared again. We, however, looked at each other questioningly and then around. There were also baskets like this on the floor at the neighboring tables, and these were where people's pockets were. "Aha!" These baskets are intended to neatly pack away your own bag or backpack and not just to put it on the floor. “So that they don't get dirty from the extremely clean floor of the café?” I asked myself, slightly mocking - again with a grin on my face. “Different culture, different customs,” Line said and smiled at me.

Even this picture of a basket, which may seem completely unspectacular, tells a very special story, one that found me quite unexpectedly in the middle of Tokyo. And luckily, I had my M6 handy this time too to capture this story.

4. Toilet paper was yesterday

Anyone who knows me knows: I think technology is great! Whether cameras, smartwatches or Alexa from Amazon. Anything that makes our lives easier and maybe even gives us a little more time to experience adventures outdoors in nature is a great thing in my opinion. And as is so often the case, it's the little things in life that make the difference, like the toilets in Japan - that are responsible for the fourth story.

A toilet in Japan is not just a toilet bowl with lid and water tank - no! Toilets in Japan are true high-tech devices. A toilet has at least 5 buttons here and only very few have an English explanation under the Japanese characters. But what is the motto of my travel blog? Correct! "Make every day your adventure!" - and in Japan even going to the toilet will be an adventure.

In addition to the usual flushing of the toilet, you can also have your buttocks rinsed off here. Of course, the pressure and the position of the jet can be adjusted as you wish. And as if that wasn't all, some toilets also have a built-in hairdryer and deodorant spray. Oh yes, did I mention that some toilet lids open automatically as soon as movement is registered in the bathroom? They close automatically - that's clear. Some also play music if there are unpleasant noises in the toilet ...

5. With giggles and comics (er) a lot is easier to explain

I once heard that the font used in public signs, such as street signs, reveals a lot about a country's culture. The most commonly used font in Great Britain is a conservative one and thus reflects the rather preppy style of the British and the royal family.

In Japan, on the other hand, I noticed that many signs are designed in a very child-like manner and that mostly comic-like drawings are used - also from the official side. In some subways, for example, you will see small stickers stuck on the doors that show a panda whose paw is painful because it has got stuck between the closing doors. Many advertising and other posters are also designed in this way.

So I discovered another story on these posters, stickers and signs: “With giggles and comics, a lot is easier to explain”. For me, this design reflects the, in my opinion, sometimes very childlike nature of the Japanese. Because in Japan there is also a lot of giggling. Be it just like that or maybe to make a rather uncomfortable situation a little more bearable and to loosen it up.

You have probably heard of it before: In many Asian countries such as Thailand and Japan it is absurd to get upset - at least in public. No matter how upset you are because something does not work as intended or agreed, you should never show your frustration, you should “save face”.

During my time in Japan, for example, I did not even experience someone even rudimentarily becoming loud or even showing aggressive facial expressions and gestures.

6. You can't be polite enough

Instead, the Japanese treat you with great politeness. Because, as my sixth story from Japan shows: “You can't be polite enough”. In Japan there is not only a lot of giggling, but also a lot of smiling and a lot of bowing. Even if you buy a water on 7/11, the cashier bows to you and thanks you for your purchase with a hearty “Arigatou”. At some hotels, the employees even stood bent over in front of the entrance until we could actually no longer see them through the rear-view mirror of our rental car.

The funny thing about traveling and such experiences is that you get used to it very quickly and you may automatically adapt to it. So I caught myself leaning forward all of a sudden as if by myself and softly mumbling “Arigatou Go-Zai-Mas”.

In general, I noticed how I changed after a few days in Japan: I began to walk more slowly, speak more quietly and take even more care of my fellow human beings. Because there is no rushed or pushed in Japan. Just as little as you blow your nose out in public - you do that if only alone in the toilet and until then the snot would rather be pulled up. What did you just say? Other countries other manners?

7. English is not a world language

In fact, few people in Japan speak really good English. As soon as you travel outside of Tokyo, English becomes less and less a given. But let's be honest: Do the majority of Germans speak good English? I would say no. And besides, with hands and feet and a smile on your face you got ahead hundreds of years ago.

Still, it is sometimes frustrating when you don't get along. There are three people facing each other and trying to communicate somehow. At the end of the day, you think you have clarified and understood everything, and you later discover that it was unfortunately not the case. But that is also part of traveling: That instead of € 40 you have to pay € 200 for a parking ticket all at once because you simply did not understand what the other wanted from you or tried to explain to you. So my seventh story is more of a realization, namely that English is not a world language.

8. Contrasts are the norm

Whether in Tokyo or Kyoto, or in any major city in Japan: tradition and modernity are closely related. So you walk in Tokyo over the famous Shibuya Crossing with its many colored lights, shops and restaurants all around, and a few blocks further you come across an old, small temple. While you spend the night in a traditional ryokan on a futon mattress on the floor, in the robot restaurant you are served by screwed-together metal that is controlled by software.

In the city of Nara, on a walk through the park and the temple complexes, you will encounter deer, which are actually wild, but are now so used to people and have been fed so much that they stumble behind you like a loyal dog. Spring has just broken out on one side of the Japanese Alps, but as soon as you leave the tunnel that leads you through the mountain into the beautiful Kamikochi Valley, there is snow on the roadside and it looks like Canada. Here the monkeys are really still wild and will run away from you as soon as you take just one step towards them.

In Karuizawa, after a rapid ride through the forest, you relax your muscles in the onsen, a natural hot spring, while a few days later you would like to jump into the cold lake water while canoeing at the foot of Mt. Fuji, because it's so warm outside.

It is what it is: In Japan, contrasts are the norm and the country surprises you every day. Thanks to my Canon camera, I was able to capture these contrasts, these surprises in pictures and I will remember them for 30 years as if it were just yesterday.

9. Off The Path are the real stories

In Japan, crazy and beautiful things are waiting around every corner and sometimes exactly when the real spectacle is long over. Something I will never forget is our visit to Tsukiji Market, Tokyo's fish market right on the harbor, where the freshly caught fish is sold to the chefs of the many restaurants. Instead of going to the market early in the morning like everyone else and plunging into the hustle and bustle of dealers and buyers, we decided not to go to the market until noon. Because my travel blog is not called Off The Path for nothing and this is my ninth and last story from Japan: “The true stories are found off the path”.

Our visit to the market is almost indescribable: instead of crowds, empty aisles awaited us. Instead of shouting absolute silence. Here and there a fisherman would put away his cardboard boxes or wash the floor clean with buckets full of water. The lights on the stalls were still burning sporadically, for the most part it was dark under the huge roof of the market hall. The atmosphere can hardly be put into words, but that's exactly why I had my M6 ready again this time - because as the saying goes: "A picture is worth a thousand words."

Japan is a novel full of stories!

And what is my story from Japan now? The one that I had to pay € 200 to park in Kyoto because I didn't speak English? Or that even going to the toilet in Japan is an adventure? Or maybe the fact that a metropolis can also be quiet?

It's not just one story - on the contrary: it's the many little stories that ultimately create a novel. A novel that always changes you a little, that gives you joy and is sometimes a little frightening, that sometimes doesn't let you sleep because it's so exciting, and then in turn makes you dog tired because of the many new impressions. A novel that comes to life thanks to the many pictures and that will keep you captivated in the future thanks to these very pictures. A novel that is much more intense than any printed book.

Because it is the one story of travel. The one that forms travel, that it changes you and constantly presents you with new challenges. Challenges that put a smile on your face at the end of the day, that bring you closer to yourself, but also to other people.

It is travel that gives you an incredible number of fabulous stories. Stories that will find you again and again and that you will never forget - stories for which you live. Stories that are best captured in pictures.