Don't be guiri!
How are you? We are happy to tell you about Haikugirl’s Japan. Her real name is Alison Muskett and she is passionate about Japan. Way Away interviewed Ali and here you have amazing recommendations when travelling to Japan:
– What is the most impressing place in Japan you have ever been? What advice would you give to someone who wishes to travel there?
It’s hard to pick just one impressive place in Japan, but one of my most memorable experiences has to be my trip to the Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) in Sapporo, Hokkaido. I had never seen so much snow in my life, and seeing gigantic snow and ice sculptures there was just unbelievable. As well as enjoying the festival while I was in Hokkaido, I was able to try local food, such as ‘soup curry’ (which certainly warms you up!), and visit other tourist attractions, including a chocolate factory. The Yuki Matsuri happens yearly in February, and it’s an unmissable experience. Dress for the cold weather – the snow will be piled high, and streets do become slippery – but remember lots of layers because inside it will be very warm.
– What do you hate to forget in your suitcase when travelling?
I’m a big fan of lists, so I don’t think I have ever forgotten anything while travelling. I guess the one thing I would be gutted to forget would be my camera battery charger – I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t take photos.
– What would you say to those travellers who are afraid to travel on their own, and end up going to a travel agency even if they do not like taking part in organized tours?
The first time I went to Japan in 2006 I was 24 years old and had never travelled alone before, but I had the best two weeks of my life. I travelled around Japan, using a JR Pass (a kind of train pass only available to foreigners) and, although I couldn’t speak any Japanese at all, I really didn’t run into any problems. The key to my trip was planning – I was nervous about travelling alone, so I planned everything meticulously before I went, and booked all my accommodation in advance. I spent months planning, and was then able to relax and enjoy myself for the whole of my trip. Now, there are so many blogs and websites giving advice about travel, and it must be much easier than when I went 7 years ago. So, if you’d like to travel alone but you’re feeling a bit scared, my advice to you is to just go for it! Plan, plan, plan – and then have the best time of your life.
– What kind of food have you tried on your travels around Japan and you found it delicious/surprising? Can you recommend us any place where to try it out?
I’ve tried a lot of interesting food in Japan, and I really think it’s the country with the best food in the world. As a pescetarian (I eat fish but not meat), it was sometimes difficult in Japan, but I could always rely on sushi. For a genuine taste of Japan, though, I would recommend trying takoyaki from Osaka. If you just walk around downtown Osaka you will come across a number of stalls selling freshly made takoyaki – a kind of dumpling with octopus in it – and you can just stand on the street eating it. It’s very hot inside – so be careful not to burn your mouth!
– Finally, tell us something that happened to you travelling and that you will never forget!
This is another difficult question to answer, because I had so many amazing experiences in Japan. Something I will never forget, though, is attending a festival with my Japanese friend. The festival was called Oni Matsuri (Demon Festival), and it was a proper local festival, bound in traditions. At the climax of the festival, lots of white flour-like powder is thrown out into the crowd, and you have to dive in and try to grab these lucky bags. We got covered in flour, but it was so much fun, and incredible to be involved in something so traditional that must have happened in that town for years. When travelling, I like to try to get involved in local things as much as possible, and to try to see the country as residents must see it. One of the best ways to do this is to attend local festivals and events.
Ali, thank you very much for your time and your advices. We are sure, travellers are going to take them into consideration!
What is the most impressing place in the world you have ever been? What advice would you give to someone who wishes to travel there?
The Golden Temple in Amritsar on the Pakistan/Indian border took my breath away, as did Lalibela in Ethiopia. For Amritsrar, don’t go in the Indian summer, it’s almost unbearably hot! For Ethiopia, just go go go, you’ll have the country almost to yourself. Perfect.
What do you hate to forget in your suitcase?
I travel with a backpack exclusively, and I’m pretty much always on the road but I try to make sure I always have at least $100 USD in cash stashed away somewhere in there. If I’ve forgotten that, I’m always stressed that perhaps I won’t find a working ATM or an open cash exchange place. The cash is my safety net.
What would you say to those travellers who are afraid to travel on their own, and end up going to a travel agency even if they do not like taking part in organized tours?
I think it’s normal to be scared, but we have to embrace those fears. I talk about motivation a lot on my site, and essentially taking that first step is the hardest part, so commit. Buy the one way flight, turn your back on the tour, then you have to do it, you’re commited. And from then on in, it’s just easier and easier (and much more awesome!).
What kind of food have you tried on your travels and you found it delicious/surprising? Can you recommend us any place where to try it out?
Should I tell the truth here?! Let me think, pigs penis, lambs testicles, scorpion, dog, snakes blood, rabbit head, turtle soup, locusts, silk worms, starfish, bees and whatever else you can possible imagine! In terms of delicious food overseas, I just love love love gai yang, kao niew gap nam jim jao (griled chicken, sticky rice and spicy sauce) in Thailand, hunt it done and thank me later 😛
Finally, tell us something that happened to you travelling and that you will never forget…
I’ll try to keep it to a clean memory clean in case my mum reads it! I’ve done a lot of cool things like climbing Kilimanjaro, going to a world cup final, swimming with sharks etc. But the one lasting memory I really have was when I signed my teaching contract in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had just eaten in the local market, ordered my food in Thai, and I was late for work. I drove my motorbike around the corner a little too fast and almost crashed into an elephant, I stabilised myself and carried on. 10 seconds later I had a beautiful feeling of “Wow, I’m really living in Thailand, on a motorbike, the weather is beautiful, I’ve done it, I’m living my dreams”. I remember the thought like it was yesterday, and it was beautiful.
Kyoto, former capital of the Japanese Empire
Depending on where you pack your underwear when you travel, we find two types of tourists. On one hand we have the backpackers, a charming stock that seems to be reproducing faster than mosquitoes; actually, many times they go together: flies, cockroaches, and other small beasts. Don’t take this the wrong way, it is not that they (we) are dirty people, but that is the price you have to pay in some countries to save some money with cheap guesthouses or hostels. In others, simply is the destination itself: very exotic places full of insects, where only brave people like the backpackers dare to go deep into them. The other race is the rollpackers, those are the ones who pull their wheeled luggage, real couch potatoes with brand name suitcases. Most of them travel in groups, wear the same colour caps or t-shirts and, like a modern army, follow their leader or guide to finish with all the monuments available to visit.
We are mistaken for and by both of them. In a way, we are a hybrid. Our luggage has wheels, but also backpack handles. However, as usual, mixed races are always rejected. We still laugh when we think about the argument that we had in a hotel in Hong Kong, where they didn’t want to give us a room, even though we had a reservation. Our untidy appearance (just landed from India), was not acceptable for that 4 star hotel that we found in the Internet at a very low price: “maybe we look like different but we are not!”. You should have seen the receptionist’s face while he was looking up and down at us, dirty, with our wrinkled clothes and our luggage on our backs. It was worth to be seen. But the other ones were no different. When, in any canteen or bar of any hostel we took out our laptops, essential to keep up with our trip, many backpackers grumble looking at us and grab their beer firmly showing us their rejection. However, when they see that we also “drink from the bottle”, they smile like saying “sorry, I thought you were one of the others”.
Nevertheless we have to admit that, at the end, all of them receive us with open arms. Perhaps with the evil intention of converting us into one of them: “Come to our youth hostel” or “Join this excursion”. Undoubtedly, they do it in good faith, but you end up sick and tired. Not of them, but of their tourist guides: the paper ones of the former’s and the living ones of the latter’s. The backpackers, as crazy about brand names as everybody else, don’t leave their countries without the typical Lonelyplanet, the most evil tool we’ve ever seen. No matter how big or small the city or town you are searching about is, they will give you an endless list of places to visit, hotels to stay, or thousands of restaurants to eat. You are the one who have to choose which one is the best. If it goes badly, it is your fault. If it goes well, it will be their success. What an easy business! The rollpackers, on the contrary, leave every decision in the local guides’ hands. Even if they take them to visit third class monuments that nobody knows, stores where they try to sell them Aladdin’s lamp or unbearable restaurants with waiters dressed like natives, they put up with everything without complaining and keep paying.
Can you imagine someone that tells you only about the places that are really worth to visit, and recommends only that restaurant or hotel that has something special and whose price is the right one? A kind of guide that comes up with the most interesting route, that tells you the number of days that you need in each place, what is the best and cheapest way to get there and also where to get the tickets? Like a trip planned by a very good travel agency, but authentic. Do it yourself. In other words, an Ikea trip built online. You can organize your trip in no time at all. Apart from saving yourself all kinds of fees, you are certain that those recommendations are the best options and not the ones which deliver higher commissions to the sellers. Compare to Lonelyplanet and similar guidebooks, is also an advantage. You can save yourself time reading thousands of pages and deciding among all the options for restaurants, hotels or routes which one is the best. Besides, you have the top links directly available to make the reservation at the best price. Isn’t it great? How much would you pay for a service like that?
(when we wrote down this post we started imaging Way Away for the first time. Two years later we are on air and… so far so good!)