TV host Koel Puri lists down 7 things to do when visiting Japan
Yes, it snows in Japan, and it looks like this. Koel at the snow village at Hokkaido
Japan is actually the way author Haruki Murakami describes it. Sometimes, when I am walking the roads here, I don't know if I am on the inside, or the outside, looking in. It's surreal, and I feel that living here is like living in a bubble," says television host Koel Purie, who moved to Tokyo when husband Laurent Rinchet shifted there on work, a year-and-a-half ago.
She calls is a "massive cultural shift", not a "cultural barrier" to cross, "because the Japanese are polite and help you out. But, in Japan, personal desire comes after what's good for society. So, you have to change your mindset."
Currently caught up with filming a TV series for Japan Tourism, Purie is the perfect choice for a lowdown on enjoying Japan as the Japanese would.
Koel has traded her tight skinnies for anti-fits
Shop for quirky indie labels
Don't go to high street stores. It's only at the indie, homegrown stores that you get a whiff of Japanese design. For instance, I am yet to find a plain, white shirt in a Japanese store. If you find one, it is sure to have a quirk — buttons on the back, or a cut where you don't expect it. I used to be an exhibitionist, but I have started embracing anti-fits. In Tokyo, visit Shinjuku, Lumine, and Hiroo near Shibuya. This is where you will find the small designers.
Koel gets her Geisha face on
Become a geisha
It may be a tad touristy, but I had a great time roaming the streets of Tokyo dressed as a Geisha. It's a lesson in self-control. When we started out, they wrapped my hands in a towel so that I wouldn't be tempted to touch my make-up. It's so restricting. This is a must-do in Kyoto, which is steeped in history.
Picnic at the parks
Because of the urban space crunch, most Japanese head out on weekends and holidays. Laurent and I do that a lot too. We go trekking or visit the snow village in Hokkaido. There is a church there made of ice, and you feel like you are in Narnia. You'll need repeated shots of saké to keep warm! The Japanese also like to sit in parks, like the Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, that are often venues for events.
Watch out for the picnic baskets the Japs carry. They are so beautiful, you could cry! And, yes, you must visit Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano Prefecture. It's an Onsen park (hot spring park), where the snow monkeys surround you. And, if you want to soak in some culture, head to Hakone Open Air Museum, outside Tokyo, to soak in contemporary art.
Koel practises breathing in front of a meditation priest
Sip tea, meet a meditation priest
Try signing up for a traditional tea ceremony. It has you realise that the Japanese never leave anything to chance. Everything is planned, even how your cup faces you. They look into every detail. Also, try a course in Zazen meditation in Kyoto. This meditation helps you rid your mind of impurities by breathing. The priest first helps you still your mind, and then he hits you with a stick hard, and then you need to be still again.
Go, eat vegetarian
The Japanese love their vegetarian food, and it's spicy just the way Indians like it. Try the Souk Curry, a mix of the curry as we know it, and the Japanese Dashi soup. The heat gradient on this goes from 0 to 40. My mouth was burning at 5. Also, try their confectionaries. They are addictive. Learning the language just enough so you can read a menu is fine. Then, you can walk into the hole-in-the-wall joints and enjoy authentic fare.
Rent a room at the 'love hotel'
Laurent and I are past the honeymoon stage, but couples should try the love hotels in Tokyo. Each one has a theme, and checking in is like living a fairy tale. You may just have a merry go-round in the middle of your bedroom. I'd recommend the Star Wars room. There is never a dull moment there.