Returning for the third year to the Rakuten Open in Tokyo, I cannot possibly express how happy I was to be back in Japan. It is one of my favorite countries and cultures, so this week I chose to blog about what I love so much about the special island nation.
Five Things I Absolutely Love about Japan:
1) Food: If you follow my blog at all, you know that I tend to care a lot (maybe too much!) about the food in the different tournament cities we visit. Japan is home to some of the tastiest food in the world. Some of my favorites are the amazing sushi and the incredibly delicious Kobe beef.
I love trying all the different sushi offerings in Japan, where traditional sushi is very different from the rolls and items served at American sushi restaurants. Uni, or sea urchin, is one of my favorites that you rarely see stateside. Most sushi here is served as sashimi (just pieces of raw fish) or nigiri (rice topped with wasabi and a piece of fish), while sushi rolls are less common. I find the sushi in Japan to be incredibly fresh and tasty, especially the tuna.
Kobe beef is also one of my absolute favorite treats. Probably one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten was at a teppanyaki restaurant here in Tokyo called Misono in Ginza. We really enjoyed eating there again this year. Another great way to enjoy Kobe beef is shyabu shyabu style, where you cook thin slices of the meat yourself at the table in a pot of boiling water. We were very lucky to enjoy a delicious shyabu shyabu dinner with the president and board members of Srixon, who produce Kevin’s tennis racquets, at a traditional Japanese guest house. It was a very special experience, and one I will remember for a very long time.
2) Scenery: Japan is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. There are beautiful ocean and mountain vistas everywhere, and even the cityscapes are stunning. The population density is high in Japan, so there is an abundance of architectural modern marvels. The modern architecture is intermixed harmoniously with the ancient buildings and shrines dotted throughout the city. Even the bridges and transportation structures have an inherent beauty in Japan, and it is so pleasurable to take it all in. My dream is to visit again one day when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, as I’ve heard this is also quite a sight to behold.
Typically, the inside of buildings can also be remarkable. Hotels and restaurants contain stunning fountains and water features indoors and out. Japan is also known for a very high level of cleanliness. There is little or no litter, and hotels, restaurants, and shopping areas are spotlessly clean. It is absolute paradise for a neat freak like myself.
3) Presents: Japanese culture has a very special tradition of giving and receiving gifts, so it is not at all uncommon to be given a present upon meeting someone or visiting with them. At the tennis tournament, fans are also incredibly generous showering players and their families with presents. Who doesn’t love gifts, right?! When in Japan, I have received so many kind, thoughtful, and generous items that it sometimes feels like a holiday every day!
As much as I enjoy being on the receiving end of the gift giving, it is almost more fun to give presents to others. I really enjoyed shopping for items to bring to my friends in Japan. The presentation of gifts is also important, so I spent one whole morning wrapping all the items in paper and bows. I really embrace this cultural tradition of doing something thoughtful and generous for others, and I think it leaves everyone with a feel-good experience.
4) People: Japanese people are some of the most hospitable and accommodating individuals in the world. When visiting, I feel the thoughtfulness that goes into even the smallest acts is second to none. I already discussed the gift giving, but there are countless other examples of the kindness and thoughtfulness of the Japanese people. Even just having a confused look at the airport is enough for someone to stop and offer you assistance. The level of service and attention received as a guest at a hotel is some of the best in the world. Although mostly small things, these little experiences where people go out of their way to extend kindness makes quite an impression. The people of Japan take so much pride in everything they do, and it is impossible to ignore.
In addition to kindness and generosity, Japanese people know how to have fun! They take a lot of pride in social gatherings and making sure people have a good experience together. In general, I have found people in Japan to be incredibly jovial and easy to spend time with, even with communication barriers. At the players’ party every year, they enlist some competitors to participate in fun games such as “sushi roulette.” To play, five people eat a piece of nigiri at once, and one piece has been loaded full of spicy wasabi. It is hilarious to watch the reaction of the unsuspecting individual who gets the “loaded” piece of sushi, and they are often brought to tears from the temporary burning sensation. Fun little games and icebreakers are commonplace and make for special memories.
People also show so much respect for one another in Japan. Manners are expected and valued, and I think the Japanese might be collectively the most polite group of people in the world. Individuals from this nation are constantly bowing to one another, saying please and thank you, and demonstrating their respect for one another. It is easy to visit this country because of how everyone behaves. I imagine what is not so easy is for Japanese people to experience the comparatively harsher and ruder cultures of other nations.
5) Details: This is tied closely to the people and the culture, but I have noticed an incredible attention to detail in Japan unlike anywhere else in the world. It is as though your needs are anticipated before they arise. There are so many examples of attention to detail throughout each day in Japan. At hotels, each room is stocked with countless extra toiletry items, from toothbrush to razor, in case you did not bring your own. Each room will also contain things such as slippers, a lint brush, a shoehorn, water bottles, coffee and tea fixings, robes etc. I can hardly imagine wanting for anything. Another example is that the mirrors in hotel bathrooms are heated so they do not steam up when you take a shower. Even the toilet seats are heated and offer high-tech features such as sound effects!
At restaurants, you are always offered a towel to clean your hands or face before and after eating. Another thing I noticed is that some restaurants have special beer dispensers to ensure a perfect pour every time. Waiters are incredibly attentive and nothing is overlooked. Even the plates and serveware are significant at restaurants, where having a varied collection of beautiful serving pieces is valued.
I noted similar attention to detail when we played golf here in Japan last year. The locker room amenities were superb. The club also had high-tech features such as self-driving golf carts, blowers to remove grass from your golf shoes, as well as a drying room where you could hang your glove to air it out at the turn.
The examples are endless, but in almost every experience, the Japanese go out of their way to make sure each and every person is looked after and shown special attention. I could rave all day about the incredible experiences and relationships we have built in the wonderfully special country of Japan. I was thrilled to be back again, and really enjoyed everything that I experienced this year. I am looking forward to everything else to come during the rest of the Asian swing in 2015. Sayonara for now!