I don't think our world trip could have got off to a better start than the two weeks we have just spent in Japan.
I (this is Simon!) had a trip to Japan just once a couple of years ago, and had always believed that Julie would love the place. But somehow, I think the experience seriously exceeded any expectations from either of us.
So we thought it appropriate to just say why. Here's our 10 favourite things about Japan (in no particular order):
1. The incredible warmth of EVERYBODY. Always courteous, friendly and happy - in shops, on trains, in hotels, restaurants and just walking the street.
2. The respect that everybody has for their environment. Japan is the cleanest (and most crowded) place we have every been to.
3. The love people have for children. Ophelia was a real hit (perhaps sometimes because she is a bit of a novelty) and everywhere we went, women and men would stop to play with her or just listen to her intense ramblings! It's not that people don't love kids everywhere, of course they do - it just seemed more obvious and again just very very warm.
4. The beautiful little (and sometimes hidden) shops. Japan - and Tokyo in particular - has some incredible shops with beautiful products presented in very well thought out spaces. It's a delight to go shopping.
5. The love of great design products. Julie I think nailed it when she said that Japan has the perfect mix of European, American and Asian (mostly Japanese) products. They search for the best and bring them all together in these little shops.
6. The way people dress. People are not just beautifully presented but have some really interesting mix of styles. It's lovely just to see. Julie in particular liked the high socks and beautiful shoes...although none of them fitted her..!
7. The food. Amazing amazing fresh food. Not just the fish - the fruit, the other meats - even the pasta! We ate in an Italian restaurant (Ophelia LOVES pasta) and had one of the best pasta meals we have ever eaten. All of the pasta was made freshly in front of us!
8. Heated toilet seats.
9. Presentation. This is in some of the other points but I think it deserves it's own point. Japanese people don't have that much space, there are 30 million people in Tokyo alone. The thing is, it never feels too crowded and I think that's because they know exactly how to present everything - from objects in shops, to storage in houses and food in bento boxes. It's exquisite.
10. The trains. I just love the trains.
Beyond these ten things, we'd just like to make a special mention to a few very specific Japanese people who showed us a little more intimately the best of Japan. Takako, Hiromi, Kazumi, Fumie and Rie from Paumes, Michi and his beautiful family you ALL made it it great.