Before I write this post it’s important to note that I love travel cliches. When I visit somewhere I’ve always dreamed of I am a walking talking cliche. I want to drink Guinness in Ireland, dance to bagpipes in Scotland and eat Paella in Spain. It’s those cliche moments that allow you to embrace the fact you are travelling in those exotic locations. For Lee and I they are bench marks for a country. Not everyone appreciates these moment and everyone travels differently . These moments can be found in a thousand different ways. But if , like us, you want to have those moments that make you stop and say ‘wait a minute, I’m really in (insert country here)’ then these are the posts for you.
So with all that being said, let’s talk about Tokyo.
When we decided to move to Korea we knew without a doubt we would be taking the hour flight to Japan while we were here. We found the perfect opportunity to go last September, during the Korean national holiday of Chusok . We even managed to recruit one of our friends to come along.
I loved everything about Tokyo. It’s people, food and culture were everything I hoped for. Before going to Japan we made a list of things we knew we wanted to try and do in the 4 short days. Our list was about two pages long and we did manage to do quite a lot of it but for your sanity (and my carpal tunneled hands) I won’t list them all. Instead I’ll share the five most iconic things that have become cliche but are actually those pure blissful moments when you are traveling that allow you to step back and say ‘wow, I’m in Japan’.
5 Cliche Things You Should Do In Tokyo:
- Watch Sumo –
Sumo is synonymous with Japan. When you think of Sumo wrestlers it conjures pictures of Japanese flags floating behind them large men in diapers while they stamp their feet down in the sand and throw salt. When we decided to go to Tokyo I knew I wanted to see sumo. Lee knew there was no way in hell he wasn’t going to track down a Sumo in a nappy. Luckily for us we were visiting during one of the main Sumo championships. We paid quite a hefty price (no pun intended) for the all day event and hoped it wouldn’t be a waste. I can tell you categorically , it was not. The huge venue was full of eager locals as well as people that had travelled to Tokyo just for the event. We ate sumo themed food, drank beer and watched the most interesting live sport I’ve ever seen. The only down side to sumo is that the warm up to each 10 second match is epic. Sometimes they would bow to each other for a good twenty minutes before a fight would begin but this really is what you have come to watch. Seeing them throw the salt and bow to the respected members of the judging panel all added to the experience. If you go wanting to experience the ancient sport and rituals rather than the actual 3 second match , you will not be disappointed . Lee even made me chase down a sumo in the street to have his picture taken beside him. Let me tell you that no man has ever smelt as good as that sumo wrestler. Shocking fact: sumo’s (or at least that one) smell like chocolate.
2. Go to a Sake Bar
We were extremely lucky that during our visit to Tokyo our friend brought us along to dinner with his old Oxford school mate. His school mate is actually Japanese and knew the ins and outs of Tokyo. The day we spent with him was by far the most interesting. He led us three, the lost looking foreigners, to a restaurant where we ate the most delicious Cow’s tongue. Yes I realise that sounds disgusting but its really tasty. We even ate the free snails we were given. although I was eating it all out of politeness to start off with it was actually delicious. This was followed with a trip to a Sake bar. None of us (even our new Japanese friend) had tried Sake but I’d been told to go to a real Sake bar and to ask for the sweeter stuff instead of the spicy brand. We found a tiny bar that sat about 10 people, which is common in Tokyo and ordered. The next thing we knew, we were being handed delightful solid cubes of wood filled to the brim with sake. This in itself wouldn’t be weird apart from the fact there was also a giant glass of sake in the block too. We blew every etiquette rule out of the water since we had no idea what we were doing or how to drink from this tower of booze but it was …um…tasty is the wrong word…It was interesting. We drink Korean alcohol a lot here in Korea so it didn’t blow our taste buds as they are quite similar but I would definitely take it slow the first few tasting. It’s extremely strong stuff.
3. Buy something from a vending Machine
When ever you mention you are going to Japan someone will tell you about the vending machine that you can buy dirty underwear from. Although seeing that written down makes me think that this may just be a weird fact that my weird friends know. Dirty underwear being forgotten, we were interested to see if it was more of a myth than a reality that vending machines were everywhere and selling all manner of things. When we arrived we realised very quickly that the rumours (not the pants one, that’s still unproven) were true. Every corner, even dark alleys have vending machines for hot coffee or coke. We did see a few random ones for fruit, ice cream and one for books but my favourite, by far, was the ramen machine. Inside a small , sorry make that TINY restaurant we were pointed towards a large machine with all manner of buttons. We all guessed at what there were from the tiny pictures, paid and took a seat. A few minutes later we were presented with the most delicious noodles I’ve ever eaten. Even to this day I have dreams about that ramen. Poor Lee who doesn’t seem to have too much luck with Asian food happened to press the wrong button and got a bowl of ice vinegar noodles. These are much loved by locals but were quite a hard flavour for Lee to swallow. Either way it was a fun experience and I’d do it again.
4. Go to an Arcade
This was something our friend Mark and I knew we wanted to do before we’d booked our flights. Mark is an avid Mario Cart enthusiast so he wanted to destroy Lee at a game or two. I was in it for the bizarre games such as the ‘first date’ game a friend had played on his trip to Tokyo where you had to woe a lady with button bashing. We tracked down a traditional Japanese drum game. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing or what the options were but it was fantastic fun. Japanese arcades are a world of their own and a great little hide away if you are visiting Tokyo in the blistering heat. Go on, let your inner teenager out.
5. Cross the Shibuya crossing
I remember telling Lee we had to go to Shibuyu crossing while we were in Japan. He agreed and I was a happy camper, that was until ten second later when he asked what it actually was. Here was the downfall in my plan because Lee hates busy roads and lots of people but like a trooper (and because I told him many beautiful Japanese woman may be there) we headed to the crossing and took a moment to take in its splendor. In case you haven’t heard about Shibuya it is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world with as many as one million people crossing a day. It is a crazily fun thing to be a part of and it adds to the fun knowing its the busiest crossing in the world. You’ve just become a record breaking road crosser. The famous crossing is featured in many films such as Lost in Translation. It gives you this feeling of being right in the centre of it all when you look up around you to the towering buildings and big screens. This spot feels exactly like Times Square in New York. This felt like real Tokyo to me. Iconic, busy, Kitsch and of course beautifully cliched.
Well thats our top five. There are millions more I wanted to list but these are the five that I think of when people mention Tokyo. Cliches are cliches for a reason. The things I’ve listed are truely unique to Tokyo and made it feel real for us. Hopefully it will do the same for you. Like Alan Bennett says – “Clichés can be quite fun. That’s how they got to be clichés.”
What cliche things are you looking forward to doing? What cliche things have you done around the world? Where in Tokyo do you love or are you travelling there soon? Let us know and send us any questions you have about this lovely city.