Wander around the first of many, many temple complexes in Narita and feel appreciative of the trees, babbling brook, and yummy incense smell. Peek into the temple but don’t go in because you have no idea what’s going on. You don’t even know why people are clapping in front of that other shrine. And you don’t know what you’re actually supposed to do in there. So really act like the ignorant tourist you are and take a goofy picture of yourself in front of the big pagoda. Own it!
2. Do something unexpected
...Like a reggae festival in the mountains near Kumamoto (Aso Nature Festa)
Camp out for a few days. Scope out the uncommonly relaxed Japanese people in full on hippie dress: Thai fisherman pants, tie-dye, hair wraps, dreads, big crazy floral dresses. Make friends with some sassy hippie kids who give you presents of grasshoppers and tell you a story about a lady who danced around with her top off around 2 am the previous night.
3. Eat eat eat
Snack on tasty food everywhere you go…including all the convenience stores. (You will never look at 7-11 the same way.) Bentos. Kaiten sushi that arrives on a miniature shinkansen. Rice balls wrapped in meat and cheese. Inari. Raw horse meat sushi (not bad). Balls of fried octopus. Pizza-like treats from the bakery. Soy sauce flavored chips. Taiyaki - like a fish-shaped waffle, filled with custard or red beans. Nom nom nom.
4. Throw in another festival for good measure
Head to Kumamoto’s Drunken Horse festival, which commemorates some victory over Korea. Apparently these little black tufts are supposed to be Korean heads!
Learn that the horses are no longer drunk, just feisty and pissed at being marched all over town with a parade of drunken dancers, chanters, drummers and people carrying flags. When they get extra rambunctious, the horses are spun around in a circle.
Stare at the mix of traditional dress and wild hair and makeup – glitter hairspray, major teasing, big bows, shaved patterns, braids, a whole lot of hair dye and maybe some wigs. Feel way underdressed and boring.
Even in this craziness, get used to being a spectacle, a gaijin celebrity. The only people who dance and yell and clap loudly as the parade goes by. Give a lot of high fives.
5. Get on the road
Hop in this cute little box and explore the roads of Misato. Illiteracy and no GPS means paying attention to landmarks and frequently consulting your hand drawn map. This is tiring.
6. Get obsessed with Japanese children
Visit schools with your English-teaching friend. Experience cross cultural déjà vu at a middle school track practice. They’re hurdling and long jumping and sprinting. Occasionally they’ll come up to you, giggling, and ask you questions in English. What kind of food do you like? Do you have a boyfriend? Why are you here? Find that your answers in English, as you try to use basic words and speak slowly, are much more awkwardly phrased than their questions. Yay!
Learn that elementary school kids are responsible enough to run their own softball practices. And coordinated enough to use stilts and unicycles.
Watch 3-5 year olds practice their taiko drumming, gymnastics, and dance routines. Girls do the hula. Boys do something aggressive looking with tiny plastic swords. Even though the kids are crazy organized and serious as they go through their performance, as soon as it’s over they transform into normal 4 year olds – screaming and jumping and hugging and climbing on your lap. Kawaii overload!