The world is vast, and there is definitely no shortage of things to see in it. Some may think that due to globalization taking hold of the world, that they’ve seen everything, and the other side of the globe might just look like the park down the road but with slightly different foliage. On the contrary, the truth however, could not be further from that. There are some places on this very planet, which are simply too good to pass up, full of wonder, excitement, and an everyday reality completely different from the one you have grown to know over the years. If you want to explore our very own planet, and see the different takes on life that places offer all around the world, then keep reading because we are about to go on a trip to two places which might just capture your heart for good.
Japan: The Land of the Rising Sun
Both Nihon and Nippon, literally translate to “the sun’s origin”, as in the place where the sun originates. Certainly a bold and impressive title, which over the course of many years, has evolved and went through several phases throughout other countries. Eventually, it ended up as what we know it as today, simply “Japan”, well at least in the west. With a title that beams with pride so strongly at the very core, the country has a deeply embedded and established culture, which can still be felt throughout daily life on the island to this day. Due to it being a relatively remote location, far away from the ever-influential western world, during the time when everyone was trying to be more like the west, Japan stuck to its values, and the results of this are clear for everyone to see, making it as special as it is today.
Shrines and temples intertwined with a lively metropolis. Japan is so overwhelmingly different compared to “the norm” that the average westerner has grown accustomed during their life, that a rather strong culture shock is sometimes inevitable. The way people dress, the way people act, the way people get on the tube, the way you are greeted when you enter a convenience store, it will most probably catch you off-guard, so give yourself a few days to adjust if you ever visit. Going on about the culture might seem like a rather broad topic, as it is rather encompassing because just about everything in Japan stems from it, but it really cannot be emphasized enough. While western values are dwindling amongst the younger generations, Japan is doing quite the opposite. Temples and shrines, locally known as Jinja, are scattered all over of Tokyo’s even most busy and hectic districts, like Shibuya, Shinjuku or Akihabara. The deeply rooted conventional ways of life, paying respects to the deities at shrines, finding out your fortune and leaving wishes on tablets hanging about on racks provided in temples, beat ever so strongly throughout the hearts of the locals. The classic way of paying respects at shrines is an extremely common sight. People of all ages can be seen passing through the torii gate then swiftly making their way over to the temizuya (a water pavillion consisting of water ladles and a basin) to purify their hands and mouth before finally approaching the altar. After throwing a coin into the “saisenbako” offering box, the bell is rung to greet the deity of the altar. Quickly followed by clapping their hands twice, they bow and express their gratitude to the deity in their mind before they go on with their day. Not exactly an everyday sight in England or America, which is a shame because it is as endearing the ninetieth time you see it, as it is the first.
Hobbies and technology embraced by all age groups. While the west may keep with the ideology of maturing and setting aside hobbies only to be replaced with drinking and watching TV in your living room, while Japan fully embraces its hobbyists and stick with a “Nice things are nice” kind of ideology. No matter if you are interested in something popular like the latest manga and anime, or something more niche like an overwhelming interest in different types of trains around Japan, all sorts of businesses have you covered. Akihabara, which often known as “Tokyo’s Electric Town”, has become a mecca for hobbyists across the globe, mostly notorious for its massive focus on Otaku culture. That includes manga, anime and video games, but all sorts of other electronics got caught up in the mix over the years. Famous for its giant billboards and flashing lights, riddled with maid and costume cafes, Akihabara is definitely a place you have to see to believe.
Jakarta: The Big Durian
What can be said about Jakarta that hasn’t already been said? It has been doing its job as the capital of Indonesia rather well, even while being held back by its rather unpleasant sounding nickname, “The Big Durian”. The durian being a reference to an extremely smelly Southeast Asian fruit which has been described to smell like “onions”, “turpentine” and even “raw sewage”. It is so infamous for is pungent aroma, that you can often find signs around the city which forbid openly carrying it around in public, much like a “No smoking” sign. Despite all of that, it is still commonly referred to as the King of Fruit by the locals. There is probably some clever joke which relates the durian to the city somehow, but it is currently unknown to the person writing this post.
Shopping galore. If you ask just about anyone who has visited before, one of the best things to do while in Jakarta is probably shopping. Ranging from flea markets to huge shopping malls, there is definitely something for everyone. If you want to truly experience the Jakarta shopping experience, you might just have to pay each field a visit. The district of Menteng is famous for its flea market trademark variety in goods which include a ridiculous amount of textiles, arts and crafts and more food than you can shake a stick at. Despite the whole district being known for the markets, the main market is known as the Jalan Surabaya Flea Market which has been around since the 1970s. While exploring, you may come across some signature items which include vinyl records and wooden carvings. Also, in true flea market fashion, the whole market expects some haggling, so snatching a bargain or two is nowhere near impossible.
Historical significance. Being the capital in itself carries quite a bit of historical significance, however, other than that there are still several things you could go to see to satisfy your inner craving for knowledge and tourism. The Monas Tower is one of the most famous monuments in Jakarta, being a symbol of independence in Indonesia which was declared after the period of Dutch colonialism. The tower has an observation deck atop the tower which allows you to view Jakarta like never before. Of course, while that may be the main attraction, there is a gallery where you can take a trip down the country’s memory lane and find out about the various historical events which took place in Indonesia. The whole structure stands tall in the middle of Merdeka Square, which literally translates to “Freedom Square”, if that does not make you pay Monas Tower a visit, then nothing will. While you’re there, you can always visit the Istana Merdeka, the presidential palace. Well, maybe “visit” is a strong word as it is off-limits, but you can go and admire the palace from afar, wishing you can too one day own a house of such grandeur. Funnily enough, if you are planning on possible settling down in Jakarta or having a holiday home there, finding quality property is relatively easy, even online on websites such as rumahdijual.com/jakarta-selatan/apartemen. The market is in pretty good shape, and buying or renting property in Jakarta is considerably cheaper than other big cities, like London, or New York.
Classic holiday necessities. If you are the kind of person who needs a city break every now and again, not being able to function off shopping alone like some people, then Jakarta also has you sorted. Unlike a lot of big cities, Jakarta does indeed have its very own beach. The Ancol beach is part of the Ancol Jakarta Bay City, and is in relatively close proximity to the city centre. As well as a beautiful sandy beach along the sea shore, you can find a plethora of swimming pools and other attractions such as a water park and even a Sea world. While the whole beach may technically be public, the other facilities are understandably not free of charge. If a beach does not feel holiday-ish enough for you, why not organize a day out to the Thousand Islands? A mere few hours outside of the city centre you can find yourself amidst dozens of small picturesque islands, all complete with their own beach and coves. After all, why settle for just one beach, right? You can take a tour via boat to take you around each island, allowing you to take in the beauty of the islands one by one, at your own pace. Truly an unforgettable experience, and not something you see everyday.
Photo by Pawel Nolbert
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