LI CHERN – Travel in Japan – from Malaysia

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Meet Li Chern, a spirited traveler from Malaysia who embarked on a delightful two-week journey across Japan, touching the hearts of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Wakayama, and more. Fueled by a lifelong fascination with Japanese culture, nurtured through anime and language learning, Li Chern’s adventure was a dream come true. Experiencing Wakayama’s soothing onsens and Mie’s exquisite seafood were among the many highlights, deepening Li Chern’s affection for Japan’s captivating landscapes and warm-hearted people.

Interview – Travel in Japan

WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

Malaysia

WHAT DO YOU DO IN JAPAN?

I traveled for 2 weeks in Japan. Started off with Tokyo, then Osaka, Kyoto, Wakayama, Nachi-Katsuura, Matsusaka, Toba, and ended back in Tokyo.

WHY ARE YOU INTERESTED IN JAPAN?

I’ve always been fascinated with the country since forever; am thinking it’s mostly due to exposure to anime since young. Not only that, as I grew older I picked up familiar Japanese phrases while watching animes in Japanese and it felt just so ‘Sugoi’ learning a foreign language on my own, with the support of my favorite anime/characters. I signed up for a few month’s study course on Japanese while in university and since then I have continued learning the language in my capacity. In J-dramas, we often see how hospitable Japanese people are, with the way they tend to put people’s needs before them; later on I learned probably ‘Omotenashi’ is in the heart of all this and this made me even more intrigued about Japan.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO STAY IN THIS CITY?

I traveled across a few prefectures in my 2 weeks of travel and although it was tiring, I truly enjoyed it. I highly recommend staying in cities in the Wakayama & Mie Prefectures. I’ve thought hard about whether wanting to visit Wakayama & Mie Prefectures due to the limited time I had in Japan. There were so many places to go, and so many things first-timers should see. But I just knew in my heart that Japan has so much more to offer – I would have regretted it more if I had not visited these quaint cities & towns when they were so near to Osaka & Kyoto.

I chose Wakayama mainly to visit a special trainmaster in Kishi – The trainmaster is named Nitama, and Nitama is a cat (Do check out Kishi station!). I would’ve loved to venture around Wakayama more but my schedule allowed only for a quick tour around Wakayama Castle and Ohashi Roka. Nachi-Katsuura was my favorite stop: A coastal town some 3 hours away by JR from Wakayama, famous for onsen, tuna, and a world heritage site, the Kumano Kodo trails. Trekking up to Nachi Falls in a Heian costume – I felt like I traveled back in time and I could feel myself at peace, while the trees in the Daimonzaka trail swayed softly to the cool afternoon breeze.

Matsusaka and Toba are both in Mie prefecture, a neighbour of Wakayama prefecture. En route to Toba, I spent a night in Matsusaka and had an enlightening tour around the town – I learned that Matsusaka is famous for its cotton, and of course, the Matsusaka Beef. As for Toba, I wanted to drop by a visit to the Ama divers, while taking the opportunity to sample fresh catches caught by the Ama divers themselves!

WHERE IS YOUR LOCAL RECOMMENDATION IN THIS CITY?

In Wakayama prefecture, please do take the opportunity to bathe in an onsen. I had my first onsen experience in Wakayama, it was truly memorable, and most importantly truly soothing for my tired feet after walking for 30k steps a day! Wakayama is also Japan’s top producer of premium fruit, so while I was there I tried a variety of Mikan (sweet oranges) products – mikan jelly, mikan juice, mikan candy, mikan itself, etc.

Please also try out the seafood if you pass through Mie prefecture. And if you are willing to make the journey to Toba (it was a long travel via JR and bus), I promise you the journey will be so worth it. I learned about the history of Mikimoto pearls, spoke to a 92-year-old Ama diver and tasted fresh lobster, fish, and shellfish caught by the divers themselves who braved an average 15-degree Celsius waters for these catches. I visited Mie with an open mind and left with a head filled with more local knowledge, a full stomach, and a heart filled with admiration.

WHAT DID YOU ENJOY THE MOST WHILE STAYING ABROAD?

Everyone in Japan was so kind, courteous, and friendly! And I suppose being able to speak some Japanese added layers of good feelings to the experience I had. I could feel everyone was out to make sure we were comfortable and it was so touching. And the least I could do was try my best to speak Japanese and I am glad a lot of Japanese I met were also happy that we could converse slightly in their mother tongue.

One particular encounter I’ll remember forever, was when in Nachi-Katsuura I chatted with an old lady as best I could with my broken Japanese on where I came from, how long I’d been in Japan, where am I going next, she was enthusiastically replying what she can understand and when I was about to leave her shop with my purchases, she handed me 5 large mikans, and as I was thanking her profusely, she handed me 2 more tiny mikans. I thanked her more and left the shop with tears in my eyes at such generosity I was given. My ultimate recommendation is that please take the opportunity to truly strike up a conversation with the locals, you’ll definitely experience so much more than the basic ‘Hello, thank yous’.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE BEING IN JAPAN?

Navigating through the large cities’ train stations was frustrating – Although I did manage to get through Kyoto station and Umeda station to the desired subway entries and exits, I would have loved more to spend the energy and time used, to experience life outside the stations. Fortunately, such issues were limited to cities with large subway networks.

In terms of communication issues, I was able to speak slight Japanese so that probably saved a few frustrations. I would love to be able to speak better though: to be able to communicate with the locals my thoughts, questions and appreciation.

DID YOU EXPERIENCE ANY CHANGE IN YOUR LIFE AND FUTURE PROSPECTS?

I returned from Japan, promising to improve myself to be able to converse better in Japanese the next time I visit Japan. I am also now actively practicing at home the few good habits I noticed while in Japan, for example, the separation of trash & recyclables. I have been able to navigate my way in a Metropolis like Tokyo, as well as within a vast coastal city like Nachi-Katsuura and Toba; I feel a sense, more courageous now than I was before.

So yes, my life did change for the better since returning from Japan. Hontou ni arigatou gozaimasu, Nippon!

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM?

I would love to go on a solo trip to Japan, just myself and the beautiful country with its vast offerings. Not only a solo trip, but a solo trip armed with a better grasp of the Japanese language first as well – I want to be able to engage in meaningful conversations with the locals, share our thoughts properly, and make good memories.

MESSAGE TO OUR FRIENDS WHO WILL GO TO JAPAN.

There is never a better time to go to Japan. I had plans to visit Japan many years ago but I had so many considerations, and then there was the pandemic. I am blessed to have friends who nudged me to take this trip, and honestly, after returning from Japan, I realized I could have taken this trip sooner. Go for it if you have the means to and are able to.

HOW DO YOU LEARN JAPANESE?

Memorize hiragana and katakana. Learn phrases and build vocab from sites, and social media. Also, learn a few kanjis, they are everywhere in Japan.


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