As you know, I went on a date with Kyoto a few months back. It brings me much sadness to say that Kyoto has gone on many dates… with other people in front of my back. *Side note: is it possible to be in front of someone’s back? I don’t see why not… Though I guess the meaning would be changed to “doing something inappropriate in someone’s face?” I’ll let you decide.
Anyway, one such date was with Aga. Is it obvious that I’m trying to form a support group for those with ties to Kyoto? Aga and I got to talking and the following is Aga’s enlightening thoughts. Let’s dive into it, shall we?
Up Up and a Bear: Please tell us a little about yourself.
Aga: My name is Aga. I’m an entrepreneur, coffee lover, alpaca hugger and photographer. Check out A Matter of Taste where I share my food & travel adventures. In February of 2015, I went to Japan with my husband and liked it so much we went there again in July/August.
Up Up and a Bear: Being an alpaca hugger is much better than an alpaca MUGGER, am I right? Hahaha… I take the resounding silence as your support for my juvenile sense of humor. Let’s move on before this sake wears off. So, how did you prepare for this trip?
Aga: For the first one we went hardcore – 3 guidebooks marked with post-it notes and weeks spent on online research (YouTube, tripadvisor, blogs), which resulted in a detailed plan in a pdf file. The second one was easier, we knew where we want to go next, had our hotels booked, but all details & what we’re going to do the next day were set in Japan, during the trip, every night before we went to bed. This was a much less stressful approach and I would recommend doing it this way – just know the basics and focus on details later on.
I cried at the airport when my time in Japan came to an end
Up Up and a Bear: Great advice, Aga. I also prescribe to that philosophy: pack light, know a little bit about where you’re going but let the destination tell you what to do next. That has typically worked out very well for us. Before your trip to Japan, what were your thoughts on the country’s culture, food, people, and their way of life?
Aga: It was always kind of a mysterious country for me – on one hand there is that amazing culture, so different from anything I knew from living in Poland and Australia. On the other hand I didn’t know what I should think about with all the crazy stuff – the fashion, TV ads and some really weird music. I didn’t really know much about the food either – just the things I’ve tried in Australia like sushi rolls, okonomiyaki made at a farmers market, ramen, udon and maybe some sweets. Having tried those, even if not very authentic, I knew I was in for a treat!
Up Up and a Bear: I just finished eating some delicious porkwood but you’re making me hungry again mentioning those dishes! What’s porkwood you ask? It’s pork that’s so hard it’s like chopping wood with your teeth. So you knew you were in for a yummy treat, what else did you learn while you were there to change your original assumptions?
Aga: Culture vs weird stuff – they’re both there and it’s easy to experience both or none, depends on where you go and what you pick to see. Food – so much better than I expected. I could praise it for days (Japan turned me into a rice snob and now I moved from buying cheap rice at my local supermarket to $35/5kg rice imported from Japan).
Up Up and a Bear: I have not seen anyone describing herself as a rice snob before, so thank you! Now I’m going to use it left and right. Beside from the rice-love discovery, what were some other aspects of Japan that you found surprising or interesting?
Aga: I think it must be the people. Everyone we met there was friendly, helpful and lovely. Even when we couldn’t communicate with words – who knew waving hands at each other would be such a universal language. We were often stopped by people wanting to just exchange a few words in English, to get a real life English-speaking experience. We probably said “Hello!” a hundred times when we met a big group of school kids in a folk museum. The surprising thing for me was that many elderly people were much better with English than the young ones! Or maybe young people are shyer.
just know the basics and focus on details later on.
One tip à propos the language – don’t start a conversation with “Do you speak English?” 90% of the people will say “no.” Just go straight into the actual question and you’ll see they understand and will either reply or help you with whatever you need.
Awesome people made our trips unforgettable. We were given a bottle of cold green tea by a shop owner and his family on a very hot day in Nagoya and felt like we’re part of the family. A man on a bike we met at the beginning of a hike came to see us again 2 hours later just to ask if we liked the walk and what we thought about the waterfall. A band performing in Himeji spotted us in the crowd and made an effort to greet us and ask some questions in between the songs.
Up Up and a Bear: That’s awesome! My own experience was very pleasant as well. The Japanese people went out of their way to be courteous to us. It was refreshing. Could you see yourself living here? Did you get the sense that it’d be easy to fit in, to find work, to get around?
Aga: Yes, yes, yes! I would love to move to Tokyo for some time. I don’t think I would live there for more than 5 years because I really like Australia, but up to 5 years… why not? Getting around is easy; work – you can always find it if you’re willing to make some compromises. Would it be easy to fit in? I think so. As I said, people are so lovely there, I’m sure they would help with this.
Up Up and a Bear: Please send postcards when you move there! I would concur with you about living in Japan. I would love to live there for a few years. And to that, what did you find most enjoyable about Japan and what didn’t you find enjoyable?
Aga: I truly enjoyed EVERYTHING: the food, the people, the cities, the nature, and the amazing Japanese toilets. I was even amazed by the 8 AM rush hour at Shinjuku station. And I must confess I cried at the airport when my time in Japan came to an end and it was inevitable that I have to go home.
just the things I’ve tried in Australia like sushi rolls, okonomiyaki made at a farmers market, ramen, udon and maybe some sweets. Having tried those, even if not very authentic, I knew I was in for a treat!
Up Up and a Bear: I would agree with you on all your points there EXCEPT for the madness that is the subway stations. We were so lost the first day or two. It was frustrating but I think we got the hang of it by day 3. I guess it just takes some getting used to. Speaking of getting used to Japan, you’re coming back there later this year, do you feel comfortable this time around?
Aga: Of course. I can’t wait to get there, see some new places, have some new interesting experiences and keep exploring & discovering.
Up Up and a Bear: What would you say to someone who is thinking about going to Japan but is hesitating?
Aga: Stop hesitating! (haha, obviously) But seriously, there is nothing to be hesitant about. It’s the safest country I’ve been to, the food is great, people are amazing and everyone will find something interesting there, no matter if you’re into nature/cities/weird stuff/food/history. All I want to ask is – why aren’t you booking your ticket yet?!
Up Up and a Bear: Well said! Thank you Aga for sharing your thoughts on Japan and I hope to hear more of your stories soon!
To follow Aga’s grand adventures through Japan, join her at A Matter of Taste. DO YOU SEE THESE AMAZING PICTURES? Get more on Aga’s Instagram @aga_amatteroftaste. Aga also does some amazing videos on her YouTube channel (see below)
NOTE: All pictures in this post belong to the insanely talented Aga.
Want to meet more amazing people? Read Dare to Dream – the Inspiring Story of Two Traveling Sisters.
Wherever you are right now, and wherever you’re going, travel on my friends!