11:00am 19/06/2022
[Isshōkenmei] Discover the infinite charms of Japan (46)
By:Lee San

Japan finally breaks its fetters and has opened its doors conditionally to foreigners beginning June 10. Among the SOPs: All tourists must joining a tour group led by a qualified guide are allowed to travel into the country. In fact, this couldn’t have been a better piece of news for the many travel agencies worldwide.

What is more exciting is that after two years and three months, we finally get to go back to our dearly missed Japan again, as we look forward to soaking ourselves in the milk spas. I have said over and again that I really miss the unisex onsen scattered all around the Sea of Japan.

Besides, I am also looking forward to scaling the 3,776-meter Mount Fuji, and savouring the fabulous A5 Kobe beef as well as beef teppanyaki, in our first ever Japan tour post-pandemic in August 2022.

The Land of the Rising Sun is such a charming place, be it in sightseeing attractions, entertainment and food, or an up-close rendezvous with its rich and colourful culture. It is a place you would love to visit over and again, yet will not get bored by it!

As a matter of fact, I have met her for nearly 31 years now, and I would say I know her almost inside out. You can call me a walking Japanese encyclopedia. That said, while it is easy to get to know the country, understanding her people is a different story altogether. Like me, you will have to stay there for at least a few years!

Kabuki Cho 1-chome in 1950s through the 21st century.

I went to Japan to study in 1991, living in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo. Still remember that place featured in Jackie Chan’s movie Shinjuku Incident?

You are right, Shinjuku was such a chaotic vice den from the 1960s through the 80s. But thanks to rapid development in the tourism economy from the 1990s, the place improved tremendously and has become much safer now. At least during the time I was working at the Thai restaurant at Kabuki Cho 1-chome, I was never disturbed by the Yakuza gang, although drunkards could still be spotted all over after sundown.

Back then 100 yen could be exchanged for RM2.50, and my hourly wage was 700 yen. After three decades, the incomes of the Japanese people as well as food prices are still not much different today. Yoshinoya’s gyudon (beef rice) still costs about 300 yen, and 450-yen ramen is still very common today!

Shinjuku Station, the country’s busiest train station, is now fully refurbished, and Shinjuku remains the must-see destination for any trip to the Japanese capital.

You might wonder why the Japanese people just don’t like to speak English. That’s because the Japanese tongues are intrinsically not attuned to pronouncing English words, hence their lack of confidence in speaking the language. But there are always exceptions. My Japanese classmates, for instance, speak perfectly good English!

Actually it doesn’t really matter whether they speak English or not. There are always other ways to communicate, including with some help from modern technologies. As for the street signs, they always come handy with kanji characters and English!

During my stay in Japan as a student, I discovered that the Japanese government was not really serious about promoting inbound tourism then. Statistics showed that during those ten years, Japan registered only an average of three million tourist arrivals each year, rising rapidly to 10 million in 2015 and 30 million in 2019.

Of course, the greatest thing about the country is that no matter how modernized it gets, the Japanese people still value their traditional culture and tastes which have been passed down to them for millennia.

Following the lifting of travel restrictions by Japan, we are both excited and sad. Taiwan’s largest public listed travel agency Lion Travel said in a recent media interview that the cost of Japan tours would surge by 30-50%, and the same was agreed by travel operators in Hong Kong. Of course, Malaysia’s Japan tours will most definitely be much more expensive!

There seems to be no end in sight for the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, while the globalized inflation is taking its toll on our consumption power. Sigh!

Anyway, considering the fact we have been waiting too long to get back to Japan, just heck it! Come and discover the infinite charms of the sun rising country, Japan Endless!

More in the Isshōkenmei series

(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has traveled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)


Lee San
Apple Vacations


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