That’s it, we just spent 1 month and a half in Japan, 1 month in Osaka and 2 weeks in Tokyo. It’s time to take stock of this incredible experience.
This is the very first time we come to Japan. The reason why we have never been there before is that we want our stay to be really special. So, when we were on a permanent contract, 2 weeks seemed too short; and when we were on an 11-month world tour, the budget for a stopover in Japan seemed too big. So coming here as digital nomads is really the best option for us.
Japan allows us to make many of my dreams come true:
- See the cherry blossoms
- See the geishas for real
- See Mount Fuji
As we are in “plan as late as possible” mode, we looked at the cherry blossom calendar only in January (2 months before the period), we were lucky to do it so late because this year, the flowers bloom 1 to 2 weeks in advance, and as they stay on the tree maximum 1 week, we had to be in Japan from April 1st to April 15th roughly – so somewhere in Japan, the cherry trees will be in full-bloom.
So we were able to see this in Osaka
and this in Kyoto
The flowers leave at the slightest gust of wind, as soon as the first rain… we thought we could enjoy the flowers for a week, so we went to Mount Yoshino a week later, with our hands in our pockets, only to see the cherry petals falling on our hair…
Seeing how ephemeral things can be has given me a lot to think about.
Since our arrival in Japan, I have been struck by insomnia while Japan is only 2 hours away from Vietnam. It’s as if I continue to live according to the Vietnamese schedule. I don’t think we can make the link with the movie Lost in Translation (where the characters also have insomnia for several months in Japan), but because of a super stupid detail: in the restaurants, they serve us free green tea, and it’s so good that I drink it several times a day, hence the insomnia.
But those long hours of trying to fall asleep allowed me to think again about myself, my life, life in general. It hasn’t happened to me in several months. I was incomfort zone in Europe and South East Asia. Here, even if it’s not really a world apart, things are new and different enough for you to take a new look at yourself and at life.
A perfect world
Here in Japan, everything is perfect in appearance. In the restaurants, there are baskets under the chairs where we can put our bags, there are hangers to hang our coats. In barbecue restaurants, we hide our coats under the seats so that they don’t embalm. At ATMs, there is a hook to rest your cane or umbrella, the screen of the dispenser is only visible to the person in front, there is even a small mirror in a particular shape to see if there is someone looking over our shoulders. When we buy something fresh, we are given small bags of fake ice cubes (i.e. it’s frozen but won’t melt) to keep it fresh until we take it home. When you order on Amazon, you can have it delivered to a store next door that’s open 24 hours a day, and pay only on delivery. When we are told “it’s coming on a certain date”, well it’s coming on that date. There are no garbage cans on the street, but everyone takes their garbage home to throw it away. The streets are always clean, and so are the subways. When the train or the subway is scheduled at 5:05 pm, it leaves at 5:05 pm without fail …
Everything is studied so that the slightest need, not yet expressed, is satisfied. Everything is done with such perfection that when you can’t find a spoon in the ice cream dispenser, you say to yourself “wait, we’re in Japan, we have to open our eyes, the spoons must be next to it” and yes, a few seconds later, you’ll find them in a small compartment in front of the dispenser.
Here, people don’t complain, they don’t raise their voices, they don’t run, they don’t yell at us. On the contrary, they are all very pleasant, smiling, polite, trying to do their best to help us and make our stay as pleasant as possible.
Yes, it’s so nice to live in such a perfect world. Sometimes I’ve asked myself, why do they do it and other countries don’t?
It is by talking with several expats that we finally understand, behind this perfect execution are hidden long hours of work, stress, checking in all directions and planning in case of X,Y, Z.
I think I came to Japan to learn to accept imperfection. I am an extremely demanding person with myself and especially with others. I can’t necessarily understand, when perfection is attainable, why others can do such sloppy work, or how they can have such an unsatisfactory life and continue to live it?
Japan has shown me that we can indeed achieve perfection, but always at the expense of our time and our health. Despite all the high technologies available, Japanese people continue to work hard and until 9pm every night. The salaries are equivalent to French salaries, but the working time and the number of vacation days (about 12 days/year) have nothing to do with the French rhythm.
The culture of detail forces them to work hard to deliver a flawless job, to meet deadlines. In the case of an app for example, there is a QA (quality assurance) team capable of listing hundreds of catastrophic scenarios (some of which may never happen) and for each scenario, the app in question must have a corresponding answer.
I’m not saying that I will stop being a perfectionist, but I will choose not to be sick of it anymore. I will continue to give the best of myself to achieve perfection, and to pull people up, but if they don’t, or if I don’t, I won’t think for hours about how else I could have done it. On the contrary, I’m going to analyze the effort made in relation to the time spent, draw conclusions, and move on to other things.
Geishas & Mount Fuji
…and also see Mount Fuji.
Our Airbnb in Osaka
Our Airbnb in Osaka hasn’t got us any more than that. It is half-traditional half-modern and therefore it has all the possible drawbacks: draught, no daylight, almost no heating, tiny bathroom, not very functional.
But the advantage is to be in the center of Osaka, close to Namba station, with hundreds of gourmet restaurants within a 5mn walk. And that, I really liked! Right next to our place, there is a café where we pay by the hour. We were turned away several times because the waiter thought we did not understand the principle of coffee by the hour, but we had to impose ourselves by displaying the translation on Google Translate “hello, can I stay here xx hours?”. So we work on it from time to time, when our apartment seems too cold (update: this café has closed its doors).
We also work at Starbucks in Dotonbori, where the 2nd floor looks like a giant library, and where you can stay for hours. Otherwise, we simply work on our little table in the kitchen.
For such a developed country, it’s quite surprising not to find so many free Wifi spots as that. In Tokyo, there are more, but in Kansai, it’s not easy. For good reason, people all have a wifi pocket on them (a portable wifi specific to each one), the rent of this one is quite expensive, and moreover, it isn’t really unlimited.
In fact, the speed is maximum up to xxxGB, and beyond, the speed is close to 0. So I really recommend you to take an Airbnb with a wired connection, and not with a wifi pocket.
We also each have a Japanese 4G card, just in case…
In the beginning, Osaka was chosen because it was not necessary to pay the high price of accommodation in Kyoto. But Kyoto is bigger than I thought. It takes us 1 hour to go from Osaka to Kyoto and then 45 minutes by bus to go to a temple. At this rate, it is too tiring to make the round trip in the day, and we finally spent much less time in Kyoto than expected. Next time, we will think about booking our airbnb (for one month) much more in advance for Kyoto.
However, staying in Kansai for a month was a good decision: there are so many things to see around here and having a pied-à-terre in Osaka allowed us to make many visits in one day and come back home, without having to pay for the accommodation in the evening, nor drag our suitcases in the transports.
Because of the tiny bathroom, JB and I spend our time in the public baths of the neighborhood, for 3€, it’s like going to the spa for cheap. You can take a long hot shower before lounging in the huge thermal baths – and pay extra for access to the sauna or hammam. At first, the nudist side bothered me a bit, but since no one is staring at anyone, it doesn’t bother me at all anymore.
I became a consumerist again in Japan. JB 😀 doesn’t like it too much but everything is too cute here, as I was saying, they meet needs that don’t exist yet.
On the cosmetics side, people don’t know much, but Japanese women spend more money on cosmetics than any other European country. For good reason: their routine consists of about ten products, and their products are terribly effective. So I threw away all my products and replaced them with Japanese products.
The clothes are also very pretty, simple and elegant. Japanese people seem to dress the same way. It’s even more striking when you are in the business district in Tokyo, where you look across the sidewalk and everyone is waiting for the green light, all in suits, it looks like they are coming out of the same store.
In short, spending time in stores was my favorite pastime. But I understand more the meaning of the book TheMagic of Storage – Marie KONDO. Japanese society is really consumerist, and sorting is essential because we have too many temptations, and too many possessions for a small living space.
A large part of our budget went into my shopping sessions 😀 but I bought enough to use for a year. In South Korea, I’m just going to renew my wardrobe, I promise 😀
2 weeks in Tokyo
Even if we didn’t work a lot, in 2 weeks in Tokyo, we hadn’t seen much of the city. Being in a more residential area, good restaurants were more rare than in Osaka where we were. I certainly felt a bit more stress in Tokyo, the neighborhoods are more lively, but apart from some essential experiences for tourists (Shinjuku at night, Tower of Tokyo, sumo etc.) I don’t feel any need to go back there. But I really want to go back to live in Kyoto.
In Tokyo, however, we did a lot of cool stuff, like going to this absolutely amazing viewpoint in Odaiba (it’s also a shooting location for one of my favorite series)
And then we also discovered DisneySea, the most beautiful Disney park in the world.
- Osaka : 2003€ for 36 nights or 43€/night
- Tokyo : 935€ for 13 nights or 72€/night
- Cheap: 650yen to 950yen/person
- Very good restaurant: between 2000yen and 3000yen/person (sushi, barbecue, beef etc.)
- Kobe Beef: 80€/person for a full meal (beef, rice, soup, salad, drink)
- Transportation : we preferred to pay as you go and not take the JR Pass
- Subways, trains, airport shuttle: about 35,000 yen/person for 1.5 months
- Plane Osaka => Tokyo : 64€/person (cheaper than the TGV)
- Sento/Onsen: 440yen/person for the sento. Maximum 1200yen/person for the onsen
I don’t think we have anything more to teach you about Japan. The information is available everywhere on the Internet
But I still give you some sites that I liked a lot and that correspond to the style of our blog.
Japan as seen by Sonia, she is super funny, you have to click above to access the following articles. It’s not the same style as our blog, but she was lucky enough to be hosted by a Japanese friend and has some crisp (and rare) information about the life of real Japanese people (we learn for example that it’s the same lady who makes the voice of all the electronic machines that talk).
Our experience has been more than positive! It’s been a long time since we’ve been so amazed.
Next time, we’d like to be closer to Kyoto (by booking much earlier on Airbnb), or more in the South because we haven’t explored that part yet.
I put here all our travel books:
Travel Diary Osaka (Japan) #1 : flight hours and our Airbnb
Travel Diary Osaka (Japan) #2 : our first onsen, Dotonbori and Shinsaibashisuji Shopping Street
Travel Diary Osaka (Japan) #3: Osaka Castle, cherry blossoms, Namba Walk, Bic Camera, SK-II
Travel Notes Osaka (Japan) #4: Sakura at the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park, Japan Folk Crafts Museum
Travel Notebook Osaka (Japan) #5 : One night in a Ryokan – Fudouguchikan Ryokan in Osaka
Travel Notes Osaka (Japan) #6 : My Favorite Restaurants
Travel Notebook Osaka (Japan) #7 : My favorite shopping addresses
Travel journal Kyoto (Japan) #1 : Sakura, Cherry blossoms
Travel journal Kyoto (Japan) #2: Museum of Traditional Crafts, Kyoto Botanical Garden, Fushimi Inari-taisha
Miyako Odori 2018 : Advice and Practical Tips – Travel Diary Kyoto (Japan) #3
Carnet de Voyage Kyoto (Japan) #4: Nishiki’s market, Cat Cafe
Carnet de Voyage Kyoto (Japan) #5: Kiyomizu-dera, Hokanji, Ishibei-koji, Gion district
One day in Koyasan – Mount Kōya (Japan) : Okuno-in cemetery, how to get there, Koyasan pass, practical info
A day in Nara (Japan): Tōdai-ji, Isuien Neiraku Museum, Yoshikien Garden, Kasuga-taisha shrine, mochis and deer from Nara Park
A day in Kobe and Himeji (Japan): Himeji Castle and Arima-onsen Hot Spring
I tested the Kobe beef in Kobe (Japan) and loved it!