All eyes were supposed to be on Japan for the 2020 summer Olympics but the coronavirus took hold of the world and the games were postponed to this year, 2021.
The country known for its cherry blossoms, humble citizens and world-class food is now ready to host the world, but differently. In an unprecedented move due to the pandemic, Japan isn’t allowing any international visitors except for the athletes who will be participating.
Set for August 2021, we got a deep dive into the best spots in Japan and Tokyo where the games will be held.
Popular TV personality Lalla Hirayama is no stranger on our screens as a TV presenter for lifestyle and sports shows. Speaking to The Citizen, Lalla moved to South Africa when she was six years old. She says if by any lucky chance tourists are allowed to the capital, the city is still a hub of activity and many feet.
“Toyko is very busy, it’s the most populated city in the world. The city centre would be hard to avoid if you’re looking for secret spots and avoid large numbers.”
Even with its many technological advancements, Lalla says the people are still very proud of their culture. She says visitors can always expect to receive warm hospitality, a strong cultural identity and it’s always about the next person.
Her simple advice is to know a few Japanese words when asking locals for any type of assistance or just greeting people and Google assist or translate is also handy.
“The people really appreciate someone who’s humble, they will not be receptive to people who come off rude or loud.”
She advises that words foreigners – gaijin – need to know are sumimasen, excuse me, arigato, thank you, and gomen’nasai, sorry.
Pack light. Lalla says shopping options are varied, affordable and you will be very tempted to shop till you drop. Also, carry cash. Most shops and even some malls don’t accept cards and another travel trip, late March into early April is a must for future travel to Japan to witness the famous cherry blossoms. “It’s very worth it,” she adds.
“It is a short limited time because it’s just a few days to a week but it is certainly worth it because it is beautiful.”
Not just the sites are exceptional, “some of the places don’t seem real because it is so beautiful”.
One of these places is Okinawa, with picturesque clear blue beaches and one of the few places in the world marked as a “blue zone” – where people live the longest.
Known for its cuisine, being the top two countries with the most Michelin Star restaurants in the world behind France, and savoury global favourites such as sushi and noodles. Lalla swears by the beef, street food and the desserts.
“Komishma and koba beef are divine, it melts in the mouth, the beef is out of this world. Japanese food is known to be light, healthy, delicate and tasty. The sushi is definitely not what you eat here or anywhere in the world, it’s definitely less fussy and much less mayonnaise.
“I love the desserts, the smoothest gelatos and the Japanese are perfectionists. Whatever they do, whether it’s cakes to classic traditional desserts, it’s done with perfection.”
Taking pride in the long-standing relationship between Japan and South Africa such as the initiative where the Asian country funds 1,000 African students to get their MBA education, the star is quite passionate about these relations.
She has her own show called Sharing The Sun on YouTube. It gives viewers a detailed guide on how the two countries have formed a strong bond over the years. Episodes also include famous faces such as Nasty C sharing their experiences in the country.