I was about to visit Asia for the first time, and of course I had certain things in mind, when I thought about Japanese culture and its people. Still, I didn’t really know what to expect. I am not a big planner and think that it doesn’t matter how much research and planning you do in advance – the experience itself is the thing that counts and without too much planning your experience might be even purer. What I found were all kinds of colours and anecdotes I want to share with you.

Bowing train conductors, cherry blossoms, wonderful food, lovely people, temples, skyscrapers, parks, karaoke, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, konichiwa, arigatou gozaimasu, Hanami, all you can drink….  All blurs into one hazy dream after being back.

The colours of Japan, photo by Joi Ito | travelettes.net via

 Shimmering white

I took the opportunity to visit Japan as I was invited to a wedding – and how often do you get this opportunity? I even got to wear a kimono for the big day; it was shimmering white with pink, yellow and grey flowers and a bright coloured sash! Putting on a kimono is nothing like ‘just slipping it on’. It’s a procedure that can take more than half an hour, and you certainly need someone to help you. My little helper was the bride’s tea ceremony teacher. Once I was tucked up, I felt like a completely different person, only able to take tiny steps, one at a time.

The wedding was such a special event and so different from anything I had ever seen before. The golden temple, Buddhist monks, gorgeous sweets, a pond with koi fish, drinking salty cherry blossom tea, the stunning couple in kimonos, charming guests, paying respect to the ancestors, sake, sitting so straight with the kimono until your back hurts.

The Colours of Japan - Nina Bayne - The bride putting on her own makeup

The bride’s and groom’s guests and family sat on opposite sides which gave me a hard time to decide which side to choose. The couple sat in between on golden thrones, they read their oaths, there was chanting, gongs and incense; the highlight was the celebration of the tea ceremony which unexpectedly included sake, not tea. They drank it from different tiny vessels, first the bride, then the groom, back and forth, each time from a new vessel; this ceremony celebrated the fact that from then on the two of them were a family. Afterwards all guests drank a sake toast to the newly weds. The monk surprised them by reading the bride’s parents’ oaths who got married in the same temple 27 years ago – was so touching and beautiful. After the ceremony everyone stood in line to pay their respects by bowing and burning smelling salts.

The tea ceremony teacher showed me discreetly how to fold the sweets’ wrappers in a decent way to let it disappear. In theory this whole event could have been a slippery slope in terms of manners and culture but nobody made me feel this way. I wonder what I did wrong that I don’t even know.

The colours of Japan | travelettes.net The Colours of Japan - Nina Bayne - koi pond

Thumping neon

Tokyo! Standing at the Shibuya crossing displayed in the oh-so-often quoted “Lost in Translation” people are floating by from all directions. What a great city, the buzzing atmosphere, blinking lights, neon signs, it made me feel so alive! Navigating your way through it can be a challenge, but go with it. You can never be lost with the right attitude. Rather go with the flow and experience it with all your senses. This way you’ll find Piss Alley with its cook shops, your favorite Ramen shop in town (I can recommend Afuri), that weird little house squashed between skyscrapers, and fashion victims with crazy hairstyles and shoes not made for walking in Cat Street, Harajuku. A very special experience is a visit to the Park Hyatt’s Peak Lounge during sun set, and if you are lucky enough, you’ll get to see shy Mount Fuji. Here is a list of ten more awesome things to do in Tokyo.

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The colour of invention

By the way: Do you know what a Kotatsu is? It’s the most genius invention you can think of! It is a low table with a blanket on top; you put your feet underneath – and here’s the genius part: under the table there is a heater! The Japanese have a few more things I would really like to have here to improve every-day life. For example plastic bags for wet umbrellas at the entrance to most shops; in a lot of small bars and Ramen shops you have either baskets or a shelf underneath your table where you put your bags, jackets, umbrellas (in plastic bags). Some places have lights to show if a bathroom is occupied or not; and those toilets in general! Heated with lots of fancy functions I have not even tried half of. It´s all the small things, but they make life so much simpler!

The colours of Japan, photo by t-mizo | travelettes.net via

Radiant orange

I am lost for words to describe the Japanese temples which are so different from each other. For example the world heritage Itsukushima shrine with the Torii Gate standing in the sea. You can see it from far away when you come there by ferry to visit Miyajima Island. On this island you can’t escape the nosy and hungry deer that roam around it which was a big surprise to me. As deer are sacred in the Shinto religion there are signs asking tourists to treat them gently and with patience which can be hard at times as they stick their noses into your food, munch on your jacket and pursue you on the beach. 

The colours of Japan, photo by xiquinhosilva | travelettes.net via The Colours of Japan - Nina Bayne - Miyajima island

Embarrassing red

I will share one anecdote that showcases Japanese mentality to its embarrassing best: when I walked out of a supermarket a tampon slipped out of my pocket, unnoticed. In general, embarrassing! But in Japan? One of the male employees ran after me, offering the lost property in both hands with a bow. I was lost in translation, lost in cultural difference, without words and only left to bow back and stutter: arigatou gozaimasu, arigatouuu!

The colours of Japan, photo by half rain | travelettes.net via

For even more advice on how to travel Japan, check out the Travelettes Itinerary for Japan!

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*Guest post written by Nina Bayne.