I do love Japan. It’s one of those countries that definitely takes you out of your comfort zone — the language, the signage, the culture — it’s one of the few places in the world where, as a visitor, it’s hard not to feel very ‘foreign’.
It’s undeniable that at first Japan can feel a bit overwhelming — I’ve spent time in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, and Kyoto, and there’s been moments in each of those cities where I just felt that all of my senses were being simultaneously assaulted.
But there’s also been times of incredible quietness, reflection and some amazing food.
For what it’s worth, here’s a few things that I’ve learnt along the way:
Magazines are really big in Japan
While the magazine industry in other markets is generally contracting as people switch to online channels to source their content, in Japan there is still huge demand for magazines — often on quite niche subjects. There’s obviously a huge wealth of manga, and I love the sub-culture of bara (gay muscle bears), but there’s magazines that specialise in all sorts of weird and wonderful subjects which is kind of inspiring to see.
They ride their bikes on the footpaths
That’s where they’re supposed to ride, and the footpaths are generally wide enough to accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists. Japanese cyclists tend not to be moving that fast, but they wobble along a little uncertainly and as they come towards you it’s not always clear what line of direction they’re taking, so they always seem to be about to fall off or slam into you.
The Japanese don’t like to linger over food
You go in, you eat, you leave. That’s how you eat in a Japanese restaurant, especially somewhere as functional as a ramen joint. Sitting around with friends and catching up while you eat isn’t really what you’re there for. You might do that in a cafe, but even that is a bit of a stretch.
Wifi isn’t as readily available as you would imagine
Most locals have a portable wifi device that they use wherever they go — as a result it’s unusual for cafes or restaurants to provide wifi to customers.
Don’t drink with Russians
In London they say ‘Cheers!’; in Japan they say ‘Kampai!’; the Russians say ‘To the next one!’ as they slam down each shot of booze. This resulted in a messy night in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighbourhood when my Russian colleagues decided that we should put the all-you-can-drink menu to the test. They won.
The Japanese eat more bread than I had imagined
There’s quite a lot of bakeries, and local people will often snack on all sorts of bread-related stuff. There’s one chain of restaurants called Honey Toast Cafe that serves loaves of white bread, hollowed out and filled with chunks of bread smothered in cream and honey. A very popular date option. Surprising.
There’s a lot more to Japanese food than sushi and ramen
I kind of knew that, so it’s not really news, but with each visit to Japan I’ve been impressed by the variety and distinct regional and seasonal specialities that you find everywhere across the country. They take their food seriously and it shows. Pot noodles in your hotel room is also a legitimate meal choice.
Coffee in Japan is generally pretty terrible
The coffee in cafes generally tastes better iced, but you can also buy cans of hot coffee from street vending machines — these are better than you expect them to be. If you like Starbucks, then that kind of stuff is everywhere, but if you’re serious about your coffee then you might struggle a bit.
There’s lots of ceremonies
My favourite ceremony is the 7–5–3 ceremony. Historically, child-mortality rates in Japan were very high, so parents would give thanks when a child reached the crucial ages of three years, five years, and seven years. Today you will still see children at these ages being dressed in elaborate traditional clothing, their proud parents taking them to the temple to give thanks for having reached an auspicious birthday. Very sweet.
Buy something on your credit card at the airport before you fly
I mainly use cash to pay for everything while I’m travelling, but about halfway through a recent visit to Japan I had a text from my bank’s fraud department asking me to give them a call. There had been some transactions on my card and, as they were in Japan, they wanted to check them with me: ‘We saw that you’d bought some items at Heathrow, so we didn’t block the card — we just wanted to make sure everything was okay.’ It’s not often you get to say nice things about your bank.
Japanese toilets are a joy to use
Thanks to the innovation of Japanese company Toto, most toilets in Japan (including many public toilets) are fitted with a system that warms the toilet seat and delivers a bidet service. The really good ones also dry you off with an oscillating fan. Now that is one smooth-talking toilet. Ah, Toto toilets, I will miss you most of all!
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How to pack for your first Pride
A trick question: What is more colorful than the Carnival in Brazil? If you said the RuPaul’s Drag Race stage, you would be half right, as the correct answer is – Gay Pride. Is there something happier and more colorful than this? These extremely happy events are organized all over the world – some are excellent, some are mediocre, but all of them are so much fun. No matter where you’re going – either your country but a different city, a totally different country or simply a couple of streets from your apartment, it’s very important to know what things you have to pack or prepare. Take a look at the following list, write the items down and put them aside in order to be fully prepared and not forget anything for your first Gay Pride!
The most important thing is to have all the necessities with you. Make sure that you have all the documents you need (passport included if you’re traveling abroad). As far as the clothing is concerned, make a plan of all the fashion combinations you will rock at the Pride beforehand. That way, you’ll save a lot of time thinking about the endless sexy combinations you can go with. Is it a sexy sailor or an S&M policeman? It doesn’t really matter – prepare everything in advance. Finally, don’t forget the essentials from the cosmetics department. Have all the moisturizers, crèmes and body lotions. Also, remember to take your favorite perfume with you as you want your scent to attract as many guys as possible!
Remember that you’ll be walking and dancing most of your time, so bring the most comfortable shoes from your wardrobe. The best option would be New Balance shoes, as they are extremely comfortable and always sexy and fashionable – you know that the gays judge, so why not choose something that gives you the best of both worlds? The thing that you want the least is to get blisters during the course of the Pride, so do whatever you can to avoid that.
It doesn’t really matter if you’re about to take someone home after Gay Pride (Who are we kidding? Of course it’s important!), but having the best underwear is crucial. Take a look at your underwear drawer, and if you’re not satisfied with the pairs you already own, do your shopping before the Big Day. If you really want to be bold and fabulous, you can also check online stores like Tani USA and get the sexiest underwear they sell – at Gay Pride anything is possible! Rest assured that somebody will definitely get to see your underwear, so it’s best to avoid any embarrassment because of poor underwear choice. Remember this mantra – good underwear in the streets, good underwear in the sheets (for a couple of minutes)!
Finally, think about all the accessories that you get to take with you for your trip to the Gay Pride and your stay there. First of all, take headphones with you as the trip there might be a bit daunting and long. Furthermore, don’t forget the gay pride accessories, such as rainbow flags, glitter, badges, and all the sexy see-through T-shirts you want to wear there. You want those nipples, arms and stomach to be seen, baby! If you’re planning to dress up into your favorite sex fantasy, make sure to have all the equipment you need (depending on the outfit, of course).
Condoms and patience
Both of these are very much self-explanatory. First of all, pack as many condoms as you can. You won’t necessarily be using them for their actual purpose, but you can also give them away at the Gay Pride, or make balloons that you will carry around. You never know how the Pride’s going to go, but it would be best to be prepared. After all, maybe you’ll be using them for their intended purpose. Finally, bring patience, as the crowd can get wild!
Apart from these, bring your open mind and good mood. Pour glitter all over your body, work those ass muscles a bit more if needed, and get ready for the time of your life!
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