If you’re visiting a country and not suffering some culture shock, then why bother, really? Anything less is more of a holiday than travelling, which is completely fine, but if you want to have your mind blown, then get to a country like Japan. We grilled traveller Samantha Stewart about her recent adventure.

What were your general impressions of Japan before visiting?
A place of stunning gardens, historic temples and ancient culture.

What were you most excited about before visiting?
I was really looking forward to visiting the capital city Nara because it’s famous for being a deer park and it lived up to the reputation. They’re everywhere; crossing the streets, sleeping on the roads, and all through the parks and temples. Deer are highly respected there and are considered messengers of the gods.

First impressions after landing?
How big it was. The cities go on for as far as the eye can see. The streets are so clean. And there seems to be little or no homelessness. It’s one of the safest places I’ve ever been. The kind of place you could leave your bag on a bench, come back 15 minutes later, and still find it sitting there. They take so much pride in their country.

The temples are so picturesque it’s like someone’s holding a postcard in front of you

What was a couple of cultural highlights?
The temples and the scenery, in general, is stunning. I loved Kyoto – it’s a little more old-school Japan… very traditional, with beautiful streets. That’s where we got to dress up in kimonos and stroll through an amazing bamboo forest.

How was the food?
Amazing! Literally the best steak I’ve ever eaten! And I’ve tried a few. Even my friend, who’s vegetarian, tried the steak and had her mind blown. Ironically, most of the beef is Wagyu imported from Australia, which is why lots of Japanese call it “Aussie beef.”

What were the people like?
So helpful, kind, humble, hard-working and polite. Very few people speak English, and they get quite embarrassed when they can’t understand you, but they try really hard to help. You feel safe all the time.

What surprised you most?
How there are so many people in one place, but it just works. It’s calm chaos.

Favourite destination?
A place called “The Golden Gai” in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It’s a network of six narrow alleys, connected by even narrower passageways which are only just wide enough for a single person to pass through. Unbelievably, there are over 200 little bars, clubs and eateries squeezed into this tiny area. The place is insane! You find the most unique little bars behind hidden doors down each alley. You end up climbing these steep stairs, and often you get turned away because it’s a bar that only holds 10 people at a time, so they’re full. So you head off to the next one.

How different is it looking at photos of Japan and being there?
It’s as beautiful as it looks in photos.

What will be your lasting memories of the place?
The food and the humble people. It truly is such a different world to Australia. So many quirky things to see. The temples are so picturesque it’s like someone’s holding a postcard in front of you.

What would you say to someone thinking of going?
Can I come?

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TripADeal travels to here

Image: Also the land of the setting sun… dusk on a typical street in Kyoto.

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