Forget acting like a standard tourist. Stumbling around a foreign city with an unfolded map threatening to engulf your face, painstakingly picking out words in your Japanese-English dictionary so you can communicate that you need to find a bathroom ASAP. Leave this scenario for people who don’t know what they’re doing. You have higher standards. Even though you’ve never been to Tokyo before, you know the most essential Japanese phrases and plan on using the map app on your phone so you don’t wander aimlessly. Here are a few tips on how to seamlessly blend in with the locals of Tokyo:
All You Need Is Love TKO
While all the other North Americans may be dropping in on bars that feel like home, you can march to the beat of your own drum — by listening to the beat of the Japanese drums! The music bar Love TKO is a favourite of Tokyo locals, and most tourists haven’t discovered it yet. Twice a week, the city’s musical talent gets showcased, with new bands and growing favourites performing for their loyal fan base. Grab a couple drinks from the kitchen, and settle down to enjoy music groups that may be just a year or two away from achieving fame. When that time comes, you can honestly boast, “I saw them in concert before they were popular.”
Fun Shrine in the Sunshine
All right, “fun” might not be the word to describe a visit to a Japanese shrine. Fun describes the attitude of the teenage girls around you, giggling and taking selfies of themselves in front of a cultural holy place. You, on the other hand, can appreciate the sacredness of the shrine, even if you’re not a follower of Shinto, the traditional Japanese religion. Immersing yourself in the city of Tokyo means respectfully exploring their religion, too.
Most of these shrines are meant to be quiet, meditative places — a welcome change from the endless shouts and honking horns of the busy city. Some shrines, such as Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, are dedicated to people who gave their lives. No matter what religion you claim, a visit to a shrine in Tokyo is a sobering experience, but one that is well worth it. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find that inner peace you’ve always hoped for along the way.
You can’t possibly go to Tokyo on vacation without wanting to sample as much local food as you can stuff in your mouth. Sure, you can find North American chains like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, but why on earth would you travel halfway across the world just to eat something you can get every week at home? Be adventurous and head to Tochinoki to sample favourites like lotus sesame salad, or over to Ten-ichi for some fresh scallops and cuttlefish.
If you want to be really adventurous, check out Namco Namja Town, a theme park based mostly around food. While most of the culinary options presented to you are food-court quality — and that’s just as mediocre in Japan as it is in Canada — Ice Cream City is a real treasure. Have you ever seen those Facebook memes or email forwards about crazy ice cream flavours? Most of those come from Japan, and you can sample most of them right here. Check out unusual ice cream flavours like chicken liver, octopus, cow tongue, or wasabi. Now that’s a vacation memory your taste buds won’t let you forget!
Between time listening to deafening local Japanese bands and paying your respects at the quiet shrines, you’ll have a much better understanding of Tokyo culture by the end of your trip. And hopefully, you’ll be able to blend in enough that no one will bother asking you, “Shusshin wa doka desu ka?”—where are you from?
What are your tips for blending in with Tokyo locals?