9 Sublime things that will shock you about Japan


I’VE just returned from my first trip to Japan and it won’t be my last. For first-timers, toss away any preconceptions you may have had. For this is a country which surprises and delights. Here’s 9 divine things that will shock you about the Land of the Rising Sun.
1.Nudity Is Normal
OK. So maybe not outside, but pop these people into a hot onsen and watch the good times roll! So normal is nudity inside these traditional Japanese bathing houses, it is frowned upon and considered unhygienic should you attempt to wear your swimming costume inside. I should know, I attempted this sneaky tactic several times, but was actively discouraged. Even trying to cover your “bits” with the tiny towel handed to you, is promptly poo-pooed. The towel goes on your head, your boobies are there for all to witness. Awesome.

(What the HELL is this pair doing?)

2.The People are Super Friendly
Aussies like to think they are the friendliest folk on the planet. Sure, we’ll have a natter, but would you recommend a restaurant to a complete stranger AND pop down before they arrived and buy their first round of drinks? I think not. This happened to me in Osaka. And every time I even paused on the streets to catch my breath, a stranger would rush up to me, to ensure I wasn’t lost.

3.It’s Amazingly Affordable
Forget all of those horror stories you hear about $100 watermelons in Japan, you can eat like an emperor (and drink) for around $30. In fact, there’s plenty of authentic, funky food places which serve delicious dishes for around $3.80 a pop. Public transport is also cheap, easy and efficient to use. In fact, aside from hotels (and I’ve heard there’s some reasonable capsule rooms around), pretty much everything is cheaper than in Australia.

4.The Vending Machines are, um, interesting
We’ve all heard the colourful stories of Japanese vending machines containing illicit material such as women’s used underwear, but I am reliably informed only one such machine is still in existence, in Tokyo. (Which is a great shame, as I had a whole suitcase of dirty washing by the end of the trip). I did, however, manage to secure a pair of fresh, saucy white g.strings from one in Osaka, and a predication for my love life in another one in Kyoto. What you will find is a nation which relies heavily on vending machine food. Apparently, there are so many vending machines in Japan, there’s one for every 30 people. Rather than go to the corner store, Japanese people love their vending machines from which you can buy anything from hot corn soup to half-decent coffee.

5.Even the Monks Drink
You’ve got to love a culture where even men of the cloth like a tipple. You’ll find this in places like Mt Koya, south of Osaka, and home to Zen Buddhism. It seems they’ve found a loophole. Sake is not just sake but “wisdom water” and beer is “bubbled wisdom water”. While the “food for enlightenment” was surprisingly delicious, I won’t be eating 7 different kinds of tofu for dinner again, in this lifetime, or several of the next.

6.You can be a Ninja Warrior or a Geisha Girl for a Day
You can be pretty much whoever you want to be in Japan, and no one bats an eyelid (except a prudish Aussie girl in an onsen). During this trip, I partook in an eye-opening, one-hour class during which I was taught how to be a Ninja Warrior. Here, you dress the part, learn all the secret hiding spots and sneaky walking techniques, and even get to throw some fair-dinkum real Ninja stars. Another interesting activity allows visitors to undergo a full Geisha Girl makeover and even walk the streets, just to confuse fellow tourists.

7.The Food is Fabulous
Food, glorious food. The sashimi is sensational but there’s so much more to Japanese food. Did you know tempura was actually introduced by the Portuguese, as was meat? Eat some Kobe beef and you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven. Speaking of dying, I even tried the famed Fugu fish, which was slightly disappointing. If you are going to die over your dinner, at least let it be for something more delicious. But maybe the thrill lays in the threat of eating this poisonous fish dish?

8.The Beer is Better
I’d heard a rumour that much like Guinness in Ireland, Asahi in Japan tastes so much better in its home country. And in the name of research for this story, and because I am a true professional dedicated to my craft (beer), I decided to test this theory. Many times. Turns out it’s true. What’s even more interesting is the growth in craft breweries here. Check these out in Osaka at a great little bar called Beer Belly. Which is precisely what I had when I arrived back home (plus that suitcase full of dirty washing).

9.The Temples are Terrific
So many temples, so little time. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Hell Temple, discovering if I was to meet my angels or the devil himself, head to Kyoto’s Golden Temple for some truly Instagram-able moments. Up on Mt Koya, an unlikely and delightful way to spend the afternoon, is wandering through the cemetery which is home to thousands of temples, even more spectacular when dusted in snow. Yes, you’ll dig this gigantic grave yard. (See what I did there…)

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Inside Japan Tours https://www.insidejapantours.com whose specialist English-speaking guides will show you the real Japan, armed with insider knowledge and experience tailored to your interests. Qantas has several direct flights between Australia and Osaka including from Sydney and the newly-introduced Melbourne route. Fly Business Class, and you can also experience their new light-weight crockery range, which translate to more than 500,000kgs of fuel savings each year. http://www.qantas.com

A Yen for Japanese Men


MY toilet is called Toto and so, too, is the name of my potential paramour. From my heated throne, I ponder whether Toto, the man, would also be prepared to warm my bottom before blasting it with a jet of water. I suspect one final, perky puff of deodorising spray, just like my toilet serves up, is a step too far in any relationship. I am in Osaka, surfing both the porcelain bowl and Japanese Tinder, in a bid to better understand this mysterious culture and potentially meet a mate. It is my first foray into the Land of the Rising Sun and I am intrigued by everything, from the views, to the loo, to the deadly fugu.

I discover a delicious dichotomy of weird and whacky characters, best digested with fabulous fishy dishes and chased down by ice-cold Asahi beer. The rumours are true, Japan’s famous brew does taste better up here. And, it appears, so too do Australian women, if my popularity on Osaka Tinder is any indication. Look, I don’t want to brag, but I’m receiving more Super Likes than Super Woman. Toto aside, Nori, 48, whose name reminds me of a delicious Japanese roll, is only 13km away from my hotel, but can speak no English. My Japanese is limited to a hearty “Hai!”, a phrase you’ll hear often in this colourful country, but, like a circle, has no real beginning or end. There appears to be a bounty of blokes, but it comes with a catch. For while this is a quirky culture on one hand, it is also deeply conservative on the other.

My Inside Japan tour guide Richard, a boisterous Brit and Zen Buddhism devotee, tells me if I were to marry a Japanese man, I would be compelled to take his surname. If I were to have children, and return to the workplace, I would be demoted to secretarial work. And at work drinks, as a woman, I would be expected to pour everyone’s beer before someone acknowledged my “lowly status” and finally served me. A thirsty girl, I am horrified at the prospect. But there is also much to love about Japan.

I am sitting with Richard and two colleagues in Osaka’s Temma area, home to tiny standing bars and intimate yakitori restaurants, discussing Japanese life. (Richard’s also even poured my beer first). Want an example of Japanese hospitality? Not only is my party of four dining in Yakitori Mame, which has been recommended to Richard early in the day by a man known only as Uryu-San, when it comes to our first drinks, this mystery man has already paid for them. Richard says this is typical of the people of Osaka.
“This is the kind of thing that happens in Japan. I’ve heard stories of customers on tours, who, when they have had some free time, may have become lost. They are accosted by a local who tells them it’s too far to walk, and has not only hailed a cab for them, but jumped in and taken them to the destination, and paid for the taxi ride,” he says.

To really understand Osaka, head to the edgy district of Shinsekai which means “new world” in Japanese. Frequented by locals who say it’s modelled on Paris and New York’s Coney Island, the area was destroyed during World War Two, but has been rebuilt. It’s a stone’s throw from Japan’s tallest skyscraper and home to a number of fascinating standing bars. You’ll even find Osaka’s mascot Billiken here, who is hailed as “The God of things as they ought to be”. It is here that I delve into my first Japanese vending machine, and this one specialises in “erotica”. I insert my $5 and am rewarded with a pair of saucy white g-strings which I shove into my winter coat, and mistake for a tissue for the rest of the day. Things are off to a sensual start.

We amble a mesmerising maze of streets, pausing to pay homage to Jizo, a roadside deity which protects expectant mothers and travellers, before we arrive at Hell Temple. I stick my head in a hole where I’m told I can hear the sounds of hell. Disappointed, I detect nothing. I undertake an electronic survey to determine whether I am going to heaven or hell. I scrape into heaven. Just. There is hope for me yet. Later in the trip I return with my Aussie colleagues to Shinsekai and to Spa World which turns out to be my idea of hell. Picture wall-to-wall naked Japanese women, for whom a trip to the waxer has never occurred, and three prudish Aussie girls, clutching on to their towels, the size of a face washer. What I’ve seen, cannot be unseen. And I will be establishing a waxing clinic in Japan in the near future.

We push on to Kyoto, where I dive into my second Japanese vending machine experience. This one predicts “love fortunes”. I reach into the bowels of the beast and extract my fortune. My guide, Aya, translates my future. Apparently I am “unlucky in love” (I did not need to part with $2 to discover this); I need to “change my attitude” to love; and best of all, I need to find someone who is either 120 years older or 120 years younger than me. Not only that, I need to cook them a barbecue…inside my house. Love just got a whole lot more difficult and dangerous.
Aya, 42, confirms what I already know.
“It is hard to find a good western man. Japanese men look after their women and if they get sick, they look after them,” she says.
“But that is changing. Japanese men are getting worse and that’s the western influence. But Japanese men are not as good looking as western men, because they are short.”

Our jaunty Japanese journey continues, on to the traditional Japanese spa town of Kinosaki Onsen. Here, there’s seven different types of onsen, whose waters are believed to contain different healing properties. I head straight to Goshono-Yu, which is said to bring good luck in finding a marriage partner and preventing fires. If I am to believe my $2 vending machine reading back in Kyoto, I will need all the luck there is in finding a partner with a 120-year age difference, plus some fire prevention when I cook him that barbecue inside my house. I’m convinced these waters are working.

The last destination of my trip is up at Mt Koya, considered the most significant site in Japan for Shingon Buddhism. Even more fascinating, it’s home to 1000 monks, who no longer believe in celibacy and even like a drink. They call sake “wisdom water” and beer “bubbled wisdom water” up here and from the way I imbibe, I’m a wise woman indeed. Interestingly, women were not allowed on the mountain until the 20th century, which I believe makes me a hot commodity on this minus two degree day. Late at night, I lay on my basic mattress in my temple lodging and surf Temple Tinder. But the pickings are slim. Where are all the manly monks? The next morning, I join the monks in their 6am prayer service. There’s a deity in the temple devoted to love. I make a silent offering (desperate plea) and head back down the mountain. I’m heading home to stoke up the barbecue and wait for my 120-year-old mate.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Inside Japan Tours, https://www.insidejapantours.com whose specialist English-speaking guides will show you the real Japan, armed with insider knowledge and experience tailored to your interests.
Qantas has several direct flights between Australia and Osaka including from Sydney and the newly-introduced Melbourne route. Fly Business Class, and you can also experience their new light-weight crockery range, which translates to more than 500,000kgs of fuel savings each year. http://www.qantas.com

CROC AND ROLL

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QUELLE horreur! The first shock of my day comes when I realise I am on a flight to Cairns, not Cannes, as I had originally hoped. But I am quick to recover from this minor detail, Tropical North Queensland being, after all, one of my favourite destinations on the planet with frankly far better beaches than in France.
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It does, however, take me the entire 2.5 hour flight from Brisbane to come to grips with the fact that somewhere along the line, someone at Qantas appears to have made the incredulous decision to cancel its inflight love-song dedication channel “From the Heart”. Now many people wouldn’t understand but over the years it has formed the highlight of my Qantas flights, the channel to which sad singles like me have long aspired to hear our names.
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Oh yes, I’ve spent the best part of the past decade bouncing around this big brown land with the flying kangaroo hearing Peter dedicate something schmoopy to Pam, all the while fantasising that one day that girl would be me. I do note, however, that Qantas does now offer in-seat messaging and I surreptitiously turn mine on to see if anyone is interested in communicating with the girl in 11C. They aren’t. To entertain myself, I spend the rest of the flight staring at the inner thigh of the 30-something man in shorts sitting two seats over.
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I’m in Cairns for business, but it never feels like work when you’re in the tropics, what with World Heritage Listed Rainforest to my left and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to my right (which frankly beats the usual clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right), as I drive north. I’ve hired a car for my brief visit and even the bloke at Europcar is so jovial when I tell him my plans that he suggests we both keep driving and head across the Nullabor, on some kind of bizarre Thelma and Louise meets Wolf Creek scenario. I reject his invitation, as lovely as that sounds, and drive along the Coral Sea, quite happily alone.
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I am headed for Thala Beach Nature Reserve 15 minutes south of Port Douglas, but first I stop in Port for a pie. It’s not any pie I’m after, but a crocodile pie from Mocka’s Pies. Yes, plonk me in cane and croc country and all of a sudden I turn into Bear Grylls picturing myself all woman versus wild as I hand over my $5.80, and imagine tackling this beasty boy with my bare hands. I ask the woman with a soupy Greek accent behind the counter where the croc has come from and become excited when I think she says “the bush”. “The bush!” I squeal back. “No, the butcher,” she replies, deadpan. But it takes more than that to deflate me and fully sated I head on to Thala. Me: 1; Croc: 0.
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Now, at this point, I should mention it has occurred to me that the very next day I am going to be sea kayaking in croc territory, and I wonder how long it takes for a croc pie to pass through one’s system and for no trace, no scent of this sucker to remain. I can just imagine a float of angry crocodiles splashing around my sea kayak, stalking me to the death. But when I arrive at Thala I discover my tour has been cancelled due to high winds. Me: 2; Croc 0.
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I soon discover there’s plenty of other wildlife at this eco-tourism establishment to admire as I embark on a nature tour with the head gardener. One of the highlights of a nature tour is you learn about all of God’s creatures on the property. One of the lowlights is that you now know too much and I soon replace my ridiculous fear of crocs with an ill-founded worry about other things that go bump in the night. Me: 2; Other Critters: 1; Croc: 0.
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But I have nothing to worry about, not even the giant carpet python I hear of lurking five doors down outside Cabin 42. For I am in the tropics, and while there is plenty of wildlife, there’s not much that is going to kill you and I’ve got more chance of dying of boredom back in Brisbane on a bad day than anything here. Me: 3; Other Critters: 1; Croc: 0.
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In fact, the nature tour turns out to be the highlight of my stay, and I spend almost three hours with Head Gardener Brett Kelly as he takes me around this 58ha property pointing out spiders, butterflies, birds and plants. We end the tour at Oak Beach where Brett combines an element of one of the many other tours, the Coconut Odyssey, and husks a coconut for me to drink. Now, it’s not often a man husks a coconut just a basic spike and his bare hands and I find myself off in fantasy land again, this time picturing the man of my dreams, clad only in loin cloth, presenting me with a husked coconut. If there’s anything to get a city woman’s loins racing it’s the thought of a fella going all primal. I think Brett senses something is amiss and we end the tour shortly after the coconut husking. Me: 4; Other Critters: 1; Manly Men: 1; Croc: 0.
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I head back down to the beach and sit at Herbie’s Shack, where I have ordered a picnic basket ploughman’s lunch and ice-cold beer. Fully sated, I crawl into a hammock slung between two coconut trees and listen to the waves. I can’t see him, but I just know there’s a croc out there somewhere. Waiting and watching. Me: 5: Other Critters: 1; Manly Men: 1; Croc: 1.
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The Global Goddess stayed as a guest of Thala Beach Nature Reserve. To book your own stay, go to http://www.thalabeach.com.au
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