Category Archives: Japan

Tokyo Subway Map – Photo Friday #11

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Welcome back to Photo Friday!

This week’s terrible quality iPhone picture comes from the Tokyo metro system from my trip to Japan in February 2020.

One of the biggest learning curves travellers face when coming to Tokyo for the first time is figuring out how to navigate the massive subway system. There is a seemingly endless amount of rail lines, owned and operated by a number of different train companies, and there are countless stations to choose from. It’s a lot to take in, and can definitely be overwhelming to try and figure it out if you’re arriving fresh from the airport, especially if you’re only running on a few hours sleep.

However, once you do figure it out, the Tokyo Subway system reveals itself to be one of the most efficient, effective, and intuitive examples of public transportation infrastructure in the entire world. Seeing as I try to keep these Photo Friday posts short, I’ll refrain from going into the reasons why, but feel free to let me know in the comments below if you want me to write a separate article outlining some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned through good old fashioned trial and error.

If you’re ever in Tokyo, and you find yourself starring blankly at the massive subway map on the wall, DON’T PANIC. It might take a few rides and screw-ups, but you’ll figure it out eventually, and once you do you’ll wish every metro system in the world was just like it.

See you next week!

Tokyo Subway Map, Tokyo Metro Map
Tokyo Subway Map, Tokyo, Japan (ca. February 2020)

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What’s the Luckiest You’ve Ever Been While Travelling?

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What is the luckiest you’ve ever been while travelling? I’ll start.

I narrowly missed two typhoons, and dodged an earthquake.

Let me explain:

The year was 2018, and the destination Japan. My brother and I had booked a 2-week long trip which would take us through such cities as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima in what would be our first time to Asia. In the weeks leading up to our departure, my Mom began to worry about our safety, as mothers do. In preparation for sending us off on our first international adventure without her, she began watching as much documentaries and travel videos on Japan as possible. The only problem? Those videos generally showcased many of the abundant natural disasters the country is known for.

Tsunamis, earthquakes, typhoons, volcanoes; if there was even the slightest chance of it happening, my Mom made sure we knew about it. I would like to say that her worrying was all for nothing, but in the end it turned out that dealing with these things almost became a reality.

The week before our departure, Japan was hit by Typhoon Jebi, in what would end up being the costliest Typhoon in Japan’s history in terms of insured losses, and the strongest to make landfall since 1993.

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We were extremely lucky that our trip hadn’t started yet. We had picked completely arbitrary dates and it just so happened that we lucked our way into missing a Typhoon. Obviously, this near miss didn’t do any good in reducing my Mom’s anxiety, but that’s not where our dumb luck ends.

We spent 5 days in Tokyo, and much of it was centred around avoiding the residual rain from the Typhoon. During our stay, we gained the habit of coming back to our hotel room around dinner time to feast on FamilyMart fried chicken and watch the Japanese Grand Sumo tournament on TV, which was taking place just across the river from our hotel. In-between matches, there would be the occasional news update, which would often inform us of an earthquake that had happened somewhere else in the country. My brother and I joked that we would be lucky to get out of Japan without experiencing one, not actually thinking we would. As it turned out, we cut it pretty close.

On the sixth day of our trip, we took the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) to Kyoto. After arriving, we found the nearest convenience store, stocked up on food, and settled into our new hotel room to watch the night’s sumo matches. It wasn’t long into the broadcast before the television cameras started to violently jolt, and the commentator announced that an earthquake was underway in Tokyo. At the time, it was pretty shocking for us. We were in Tokyo just a few hours prior, and had narrowly missed being in an earthquake. Even though there was no danger, we decided it was best not to tell Mom until after we got home.

Looking back at it now, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if we had been in Tokyo anyways. By Japanese standards, this quake was a mere inconvenience and I can’t find a single mention of it anywhere online today, evidence of its insignificance. If I remember correctly, at the time the quake was measured to be somewhere around the magnitude 3.0 – 4.5 range on the Richter scale.

Again, not that impressive in hindsight, but you have to understand that growing up in Southern Ontario, Canada, earthquakes were almost never heard of. I can only remember experiencing one in my life, about 10 years back, and it was so weak that nobody realized that it had happened until we heard about it on the 6 o’clock news later that night. So to have missed an earthquake by a few hours, was a big deal at the time. Looking back at it now, I kind of wish we had been in Tokyo to experience it. Just enough to get a little taste without tempting fate too much.

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After dodging the earthquake, the rest of the trip went by relatively smooth.

We managed to visit Mt. Fuji 5th Station as part of a day tour, (and the volcano didn’t erupt, so that’s good) and eventually made our way to Hiroshima before returning back to Tokyo to catch a flight home. It was during our return to Tokyo that we saw on the news that yet another Typhoon was headed towards Japan. Less than a week after arriving back in Canada, Typhoon Trami hit Japan, and although most of the damage was centred around the island of Okinawa, the storm caused hundreds of train, plane and other public infrastructure delays and cancellations across the country. Not really something you want to deal with on a 2-week holiday.

So, what’s the luckiest you’ve ever been while travelling? I think narrowly missing two typhoons, and dodging an earthquake is definitely top of the list for me. (Although travelling to Thailand in February of 2020 and somehow not getting COVID-19 is up there too)

If our itinerary had been just a few days shifted on either end of the trip, or had we spent a couple of more hours in Tokyo, my time in Japan could have been a much different experience, and one for the worst. I’m definitely glad everything worked out though, because Japan has become one of my favourite countries to travel to.

Even with all those pesky natural disasters.

What’s your luckiest travel story? Let me know in the comments below!


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Why You’ll Fall In Love With Japan

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If you’ve been lucky enough to have travelled to Japan, you know that it is a nation full of surprises.

On the surface, Japan is fairly normal. There are large sprawling cities, highly developed infrastructure, and familiar corporate brands not unlike you would find closer to home. This in part, is thanks to the nation’s post-war transition, and subsequent rise to become one of the world’s top economies. (Perhaps a discussion for another time)

But hidden beneath all of those familiarities lies something the Japanese have held onto for dear life: their way of life and unique culture.

One such aspect of this culture is the inherent respect that people have for one another. As a Canadian, we tend to have a global perception of politeness and tolerance in our society and while this is true to some degree, Japan just takes it to an entire other level.

When you arrive at your hotel, the staff handle your passports and credit cards like a newborn baby. Every time you enter a café, restaurant, or store you’re greeted like royalty. The service you receive in Japan is bar-none the best I’ve ever had in all of my travels, and nothing but the best is accepted by those who serve you. In fact, tipping in Japan is seen as rude. The Japanese see it as a pleasure, not an obligation to give you the best experience possible.

Kaminarimon (“Thunder Gate”), Sensō-ji Temple, Tokyo

This inherent respect translates to all areas of life, and are most noticeable in the mega-metropolis of Tokyo. The city streets are spotless despite there being a noticeable small number of garbage cans, the air smells clean and fresh, and in the 17 days I’ve spent in Japan I haven’t heard a single car horn.

Think about that for a second…

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The greater Tokyo area has a population of nearly 40 MILLION people. In any other large city you would be drowning in honking. When I asked a local about this, she was almost offended at the notion that a Japanese person would be as completely irrational as to honk in traffic. Japanese people genuinely care about each other, their environment, and how they can play a part in bettering the world they live in.

The mentality is very much society over the individual.

The best real-world example I can give of the deep rooted cultural tolerance, respect and politeness in Japanese culture is from an encounter I witnessed while waiting for a train in Kyoto in 2018.

Standing on the train platform looking across the tracks, I noticed two businessmen having a conversation. After a couple of minutes, the man on the left motioned to his watch and signaled that he had to leave. The two said goodbye to each other by bowing not once, not twice, not three times or four, but FIVE times back and forth. And these weren’t quick bows; they were slow and meticulous as if they were in the presence of royalty.

The man on the left turned and began to walk away before quickly bouncing back around as if he forgot to mention something. The businessmen talked for a couple of seconds before they began the arduous goodbye process all over again. Just like before they bowed several times, almost as if it was a competition to have the best form. The man on the left turned again and walked away for a short distance before realizing he had gone the wrong direction.

Tokyo, Japan. Not far from Tokyo Station.

He reversed his motion and as he walked past the other man, the two began to bow AGAIN. Each step he took he would stop, plant his feet and bow. It seemed to never end, and not until the two were 10 feet apart did they finally go their separate ways.

This whole goodbye process from start to finish had to have taken 3 or 4 minutes. I didn’t even spend that long saying goodbye to my parents when they dropped me off at University! The level of respect that the Japanese people have for one another and for those visiting their beautiful country is astounding, and quite frankly it opens your eyes to the almost barbaric nature of how we treat each other in North America.

To sum it all up, I could talk and write about everything I love about Japan for hours on end. The culture, the people, the food, and the sights all combine to make the nation somewhere I could return to time and time again. It truly is a special travel destination that never fails to give.

Unfortunately, my words don’t come nearly close enough to articulating just how memorable it is. It’s just something you’ll have to discover for yourself.


Thank you so much for reading, and if you’ve made it this far please consider liking the post, sharing it with your friends, and hitting the follow button so you don’t miss any of my upcoming material! And don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest!

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