Back to the Future: Ultra-Modern Japan

Beginning in the 1980s, Japan emerged as a global leader in technology and design, staking its place at the forefront of all things “futuristic”. Today, that reputation is more deserved as ever, with the country continuing to prioritize modern solutions to modern problems. Any traveler to Japan will notice some of these things right away, while other processes are hidden further under the surface. When The Luxury Travel Agency visits Japan, here are a few of the things that impressed us the most:

1) Public Transport. Depending on the land you call home, your level of awe while riding Japan’s trains may vary; European public transport is largely well developed, while North Americans have little to speak of. Regardless, there are few (if any) countries that can match the Japanese system. The superstars are the shinkansen – “bullet trains” in English – whose lines run down the length of almost the entire country. These trains reach speeds of up to 320 km/h, and yet it feels as if you’re barely moving. Driving a car from Osaka to Tokyo would run you about six or seven hours – the bullet train does it in two. Local systems are also extremely comprehensive; the Tokyo subway alone is served by over 13 lines and 285 stations, with signs posted in five languages. Trains are spotless, safe, and always on time – in fact, operators are required to issue written apologies to riders for only a few minutes’ delay!

2) Infrastructure. Located as it is along the “Ring of Fire” (a zone circling the Pacific Ocean where many tectonic plates meet), Japan and its citizens must be constantly on the lookout for earthquakes and their by-products, such as tsunamis and flooding. To this end, many of their coastal cities are designed and constantly updated with new protective measures. In the capital city of Tokyo, a gigantic underground manmade cavern acts as a relief for potential floods, diverting water under the city rather than through it. Every building – even one or two-story homes – are designed to fully withstand minor earthquakes, while larger buildings such as skyscrapers are built with a laundry list of protections, including giant blocks of rubber at their very base and shock absorbers in the walls of every floor.

3) Toilets. It’s not something most people talk about – but with Japan, it’s impossible not to. The country prides itself on cleanliness, so it only stands to reason this would extend to personal hygiene. A guest at a 5-star hotel might find a toilet with about ten or twelve different functions and buttons for adjusting each of them. Heat up, cool down, freshwater, puffs of air; who knew going to the washroom could be so civilized? After returning from Japan, you may have difficulty going back to your old setup again!

4) Restaurants. This category is a bit more difficult to pin down – there is an untold variety of restaurant and cuisine styles to explore, each operating in their own way – certain experiences tend to stand out. Your correspondent once ate a steaming, delicious bowl of ramen in an Osaka restaurant, without seeing or interacting with a human being at any point! Diners approach a type of vending machine at the front, select their dish, toppings, and level of spice, put their money in the machine, take a ticket, and head to a one-person stall with a curtain in front. After what seems like mere seconds, the curtain is lifted just high enough for your ramen to be passed through from the kitchen. An introvert’s heaven – and the post-pandemic value is easy to see!

Anyone interested in getting a glimpse of what our world may look like over the next few decades has to visit Japan – and The Luxury Travel Agency can take you there. Contact us today to plan your journey!

Sayonara Sushi: 5 Other Must-Try Japanese Dishes

Everyone knows about sushi; perhaps Japan’s most famous export, sushi has made its way across the globe, and you won’t find many large cities without a restaurant to offer you a few rolls. When it comes to Japanese cuisine, sushi is only the tip of the iceberg – any visitor to Japan should keep their eyes peeled for the following delectable dishes, favourites of The Luxury Travel Agency:

1) Ramen. Like sushi, ramen has made its way onto the world stage, but it doesn’t quite carry the same elevated reputation. One reason might be its stature as comfort food – you won’t find it on many five-star menus, yet it’s nearly impossible to walk more than a block through Tokyo or Osaka without spotting a ramen restaurant or stall. The only constants are wheat noodles and savoury broth; every region has their own spin on the dish, and even adjacent vendors might make the same dish in different ways. Toppings often include sliced pork or chicken, soft-boiled eggs, sheets of nori seaweed, bean sprouts, and much more!

2) Okonomiyaki. This is a “savoury pancake” whose origins lie in the Kansai region (Osaka and its surroundings). The batter is a mixture of flour and shredded cabbage, fried on both sides with a heap of ingredients and sauces. The name essentially translates to “how you like” – as in, “make it how you like” – so the possibilities are endless! Your author enjoyed a version with shrimp, octopus, green onion, local vegetables, and bonito flakes; warm, crispy, and stomach-coating, this is a comfort food to rival anything you have at home.

3) Wagyu Beef. While our previous two dishes are loved as “comfort food”, wagyu beef occupies the other end of the spectrum. Renowned worldwide as some of the finest meat found anywhere, wagyu most often refers to a specific type of Japanese cattle, who metabolize their fat within their muscle, rather than around it. This leads to cuts of meat with incredible marbling, tenderness, and taste. Many gourmands recognize “Kobe beef”, which is simply a type of wagyu from – naturally – the city of Kobe. As the country with (by far) the most awarded Michelin stars, you’ll have plenty of options for experiencing this melt-in-your-mouth delicacy!

4) Takoyaki. Also hailing from Osaka, Takoyaki are deep-fried “octopus balls” that are wildly popular amongst street vendors and their customers. A wheat batter forms the base, filled with diced octopus, tempura bits, ginger, and green onion, then brushed with a unique sauce used only for this dish. Pick up a plate of them while you wander the streets of Osaka – hot and crispy, these are the perfect street food to enjoy while exploring a terrific city!

5) Shabu-shabu. If you’re the type who loves cooking their own food, this dish is a must. Shabu-shabu is a meal for the whole table; servers will bring a pot of broth and plates of sliced meat and vegetables, which you can add piece by piece to the broth as you wish. Few other dishes provide a social aspect the way this one does – the perfect combination of a restaurant experience with the control of cooking from home.

A trip to Japan is a journey into a culinary tradition like none other – and The Luxury Travel Agency can open doors into a world of food that you’ve never known. Let’s plan a trip to the “Land of the Rising Sun”!

If you like Asia, you might enjoy this article about some lesser-known spots in Thailand.