Three Little Words


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Asia » Japan
September 29th 2016
Published: September 30th 2017
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Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...

... can Dinobots exist in reality, and you can see them every day at the Robot Show!
Geo: 35.67, 139.77

For travelers who have had the supreme pleasure of visiting Japan and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, three little words will always come to mind when thoughts return to the Land of the Rising Sun. While it could be I Love You, it isn't, nor is it some variation of Everything so ____, where you could in theory fill that blank with delicious, cool, edgy, futuristic, beautiful, or any other positive adjective you could possibly think of. But no ... the three words I'm referring to are Only in Japan ...

However, it's not simply enough to merely utter those words verbally or internally - they must be accompanied with some type of slightly-confused facial expression, a knowing smirk, a nod, or a shake of the head. Japan is a country so full of cultural idiosyncrasies, that one of the highlights of any visit here is the constant search for them. Japan, especially in big cities like Tokyo, is the most massive form of information and sensory overload imaginable, where you can find something new, exciting, or bizarre everywhere you look.

Nowhere else in the world is life so multi-faceted or unique; nowhere else in the world will you find so many
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...

... especially in Tokyo, which is Japan at its fluorescent finest, can fluorescent lighting be as integral to the skyline as the stars of moon. One of the simple pleasures in Tokyo is simply strolling around its nightlife districts, and basking in the warm glow that only artificial fluorescent lighting can provide. Its an epic experience of epileptic proportions!
seemingly nonsensical sights that, upon closer inspection, make all the sense in the world. Simply Google the words Only in Japan, and see what pops up - while many of them will surely have sexual undertones, some of the depictions are far more innocent in nature, and are so commonsense that you wonder why nobody else thought of them sooner.

While many tourists remember the ubiquitous vending machines, the oddly-themed cafes, or the Goth-Loli girls of Harajuku, some of the most memorable aspects of Only in Japan for us were the charming cultural quirks. When we left our Ryokan in Kyoto and the owner followed us out the door, bowing each and every time we turned to look back at him; the restaurant host who rushed over to the door as we left, triggering the automatic motion sensor so we wouldn't have to do it ourselves; the coffee shop staff who magically-appeared to throw blankets on our shoulders after we came in from the cold, wet weather ... it's all so Only in Japan ...

It was with nearly-uncontainable excitement that we departed for Tokyo today, barely able to wait for more Only in Japan moments, but it was quickly
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...

... can turtles be made from equal parts fluor, sugar, cuteness, and deliciousness.
tempered as we landed - crossing over the International Date Line typically wreaks havoc on the circadian rhythm, so our plans of hitting the ground running, squeezing in some dinner and sightseeing before tucking in for a well deserved early slumber, evaporated as quickly as the day. Our early arrival time of 3:20 PM didn't end up being so early, after all - by the time we had sorted out a SIM card at the airport and rode the train in from Narita to Tokyo Station, it was nearly 6:00 PM, during peak rush hour.

We had forgotten about the typical crush of commuters at this time, so it was a jarring experience as a tsunami of people crashed over us while we disembarked the train (Only in Japan!), an experience exacerbated by our disorientation and jet lag. We even had to find a little corner in Tokyo Station to pause and regain both our breath and orientation, struggling to find the exit to the metro line while simultaneously avoiding the throngs of people - over 400,000 passengers pass through Tokyo Station daily, and we seemingly felt each and every one of them brush by as we cowered in our
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...

... can giant monsters hide in plain sight! Look closely - who do you see lurking in the background, behind one of the shorter skyscrapers? It's Godzilla! Run for your lives!!!
little corner.

Getting on the metro to our hotel no longer made any sense, as it would surely require Tokyo's famed pushers to shove everybody onto the train (Only in Japan!), certainly making for an extremely uncomfortable ride. Instead, we changed our plans and took a small modicum of solace in the most comforting Japanese experience we knew - a steaming hot bowl of luscious noodles at Tokyo Station's famed Ramen Street! Only in Japan, will they make a dedicated effort to present eight of Tokyo's most-famous ramen shops in one location, so that travelers can easily sample and compare almost all of the major types of ramen found in Japan. In a way, it feels like something straight out of an episode of Iron Chef, and you half expect Chairman Kaga to come out to initiate the battle of Tokyo's best!

There is nothing quite like a bowl of ramen to temporarily erase the fatigue induced by nearly twenty hours of travel, with your mouth, tongue, and throat on fire as the boiling hot broth and chewy noodles make their way down - in typical Japanese fashion, one doesn't wait for ramen to cool before eating; it must be
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...

... can stone statues still rock out so fashionably, despite the most-epic of bad hair days.
swallowed at its peak temperature, or the flavours would be compromised! It was a blur of noodles, slurping, and burping, as we rapidly downed our meal. Only in Japan, can oral first degree burns taste and feel so good ...


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Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...
Only in Japan ...

... can they not only turn a dumpling into a cute little caricature, but also give it a powerful and dramatic story line. Look at the desperation on his face, as he tries to escape from a steaming bowl of hot soup - it's a performance that would make Al Pacino proud! Look at how his legs dangle helplessly, as the life is slowly being choked out of him by two chopsticks, in some kind of bizarre crucifixion-inspired torture - it's heartbreaking!!!
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...
Only in Japan ...

... can Host/Hostess Clubs exist so openly, despite the conservative culture, and somehow not seem sleazy. Tokyo's red light districts are famous for their Host/Hostess Clubs, where customers come seeking attention and companionship from a member of the opposite sex. Essentially, you get a companion who hangs on your every word, pours your drinks, lights your cigarettes, and generally fawns over you. The funny thing is that in almost any other country, you would expect these establishments to be nothing more than glorified brothels - while it's certain that some level of prostitution takes place in some of these establishments, the majority of clubs don't condone it, and the entire concept is actually quite harmless, despite the dodgy outward appearance.
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...
Only in Japan ...

... can the horizontal be swapped for the vertical. For those accustomed to street-level shopping, it's always a good practice to remind yourself to occasionally look upwards while strolling in Japan. This is one of the smaller entertainment complexes in Tokyo, but you can still see that there are several business within this one tower - some of the larger high-rise complexes in Tokyo could have hundreds of different shops, cafes, and restaurants hiding within. You could probably spend an entire day and explore only a couple of them, which are much like a North American-style shopping mall, only extended vertically, and not outwards.
Only in Japan...Only in Japan...
Only in Japan...

... can two caricatures do battle using ramen noodles and the baskets in which they are boiled. They really should throw some togarashi into the mix, as well - that shit will burn your eyes out if someone tosses a handful in your face! Much more powerful than bear spray!
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...
Only in Japan ...

... can an entire bakery be devoted to cute little pastries and cakes, like these panda brownies.
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...
Only in Japan ...

... can beautifully-packaged and crafted snacks contain even more beautifully-crafted snacks. Check out that owl in the middle of the round gift box - the owl is actually another box, packed with more beautiful little snacks inside!
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...
Only in Japan ...

... can grapes cost up to $360 USD each, with a bunch recently auctioned off for $11,000 USD! While these were far from that price, they were still prohibitively expensive at about $35 USD a bunch. High-end fruit in Japan may be aesthetically perfect, but we will never know if the taste could ever justify the price, since we can't bring ourselves to spend that much money.
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...
Only in Japan ...

... can musk melons be glowing orbs of perfection, seemingly carefully-crafted out of an ethereal substance by the ghost of Michelangelo. Unless you see these melons in person, it's difficult to comprehend how flawless they are, without a single bruise or blemish. Could you justify spending over $40 CAD for a "basic" melon? How about $350 for these ones, which are considered the highest of the high end? No thanks, we will stick to the $20 pears that they also sell - those are a bargain in comparison!
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...
Only in Japan ...

... can cute little pastry birds take a page out of Madonna's playbook, and actually "Vogue".
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...
Only in Japan ...

... can rice crackers be so meticulously-arranged and packaged, for both your viewing and culinary pleasure.
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...
Only in Japan ...

... can three seemingly incompatible things such as Sushi, Ninja, and a Toilet, coexist so harmoniously. Actually, a Ninja and Toilet I have no problem with, but Sushi and a Toilet? Those are two things that should NEVER go together, in any order ...
Anxiously Anticipating ANA's Departure to Tokyo ..Anxiously Anticipating ANA's Departure to Tokyo ..
Anxiously Anticipating ANA's Departure to Tokyo ..

... a mere 11 hours later, and we would be touching down in Japan!
Asian Airline-Style Food ...Asian Airline-Style Food ...
Asian Airline-Style Food ...

... while service was markedly different from North American or European carriers, ANA's offerings did share one trait in common - low quality! One can never expect much of airline food, but we have actually had some pretty good stuff previously on other Asian carriers. Perhaps the problem is that a fried potato croquette in curry sauce just can't stand up to a reheating at 40,000 feet ...
A Nostalgic Stroll Down Ramen Street ...A Nostalgic Stroll Down Ramen Street ...
A Nostalgic Stroll Down Ramen Street ...

... though we ate here a few times on the last trip, we couldn't remember exactly where, so there's a good chance that we'd eaten at the same place before. Choosing is rather difficult, even though all eight restaurants are nearly side-by-side - from pictures alone, it's difficult to see exactly what the differences in style might be, but it is all but certain that you'll end up with a decent meal, no matter the choice. It was probably quite comical for the workers, as due to jet lag, we had completely forgotten how to work the ramen vending machine, and were struggling to obtain a bowl of ramen.
Even Better Than Ramen ...Even Better Than Ramen ...
Even Better Than Ramen ...

... were the gyoza - so crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. The beauty of Japanese food is often in its simplicity - things don't get much more basic than ramen and gyoza, but it is amazing how often it is so stunningly and flawlessly executed.
Takoyaki ...Takoyaki ...
Takoyaki ...

... one of the most famous of Japanese street foods - sweet and salty octopus fritters.


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