First thing I realise is that I’m going to get the footwear thing wrong. We arrive at our beautiful little ryokan on the main drag of this little hot springs resort town, and immediately our sturdy, Gore-Tex lined walking shoes are spirited away in favour of some plain brown guest house slippers. When we reach our room we must remember to walk no further than one or two steps inside before removing even these items of footwear, and offer nothing to the fragile tatami mats but bare or stockinged feet.
If it’s your first visit to Japan, you might be put off visiting an onsen because you are not sure of the correct practices or etiquette. Don’t be. Onsens are casual places for Japanese people, and once you have a grasp of the basics you’ll fit in perfectly.
Ekiben are special bento boxes for train travel. They are the traveller’s friend, and saviour of the non-Japanese-speaking tourist. Pop into any train station or supermarket and hunt through the shelves of refrigerated delights for something that vaguely looks like something you will eat.
Many cheap and cheerful eateries in Japan have a system whereby you place your order at a vending machine outside the door, then present the wait staff with your meal ticket when you enter.
Also known in the west as “Japanese pizza”, this create-your-own-adventure snack is a staple in Osaka and Kansai province, but the people of Hiroshima claim to serve the best okonomiyaki (or “hiroshimayaki”) in the country.
I’m not a huge fan of Japanese food. My palate is much more attuned to the more robust flavours of their Indian, Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian neighbours. I recognise and appreciate the Japanese approach to food, their clean palate, their appreciation of texture, their focus on impeccable presentation, but it’s never my first choice when eating out.