Find Yourself in Tokyo
Those who wander aren’t always lost!
It’s pretty common these days for people of all ages to hit the open road in hope of ‘finding themselves’. Is it just a myth, or is there some truth behind that fact that experiencing a new culture or place can help us to have that lightbulb moment that changes our life forever? If it is true, there’s no better place to find yourself than in the colourful city of Tokyo. Popular with luxury travellers and backpackers alike, this brightly-lit city is on the map for all the right reasons. If there is a key to finding yourself, it lies in having an open mind and stepping out of your comfort zone. Here’s how to do it in Tokyo.
Sample the local food
Sometimes when you find yourself surrounded by an unfamiliar culture it can be tempting to shy away from the local food and delicacies. Talk to the locals and find out what’s a must-try and what’s a need-to-avoid. And if you can’t enlist the help of a friendly local, put your pocket guide back where it belongs, take a leap of faith and order the most abnormal thing on the menu. It might challenge your senses, but it’s a great way to step out of your comfort zone. Head to one of the many izakaya that line the streets of Asakusa and brush shoulders with the locals for a traditional Japanese dining experience.
Learn some Japanese
When in Rome, right? Whilst Japan isn’t the easiest language to pick up if you were born outside Asia, there’s nothing like giving it a good, solid go to make the most of your time in the city. There are a number of schools offering Japanese classes if you’re in town for long enough, but if your visit is fleeting, take your guide book back out your pocket and sharpen your tongue. You’re bound to impress a few faces along the way, and who knows, it might make your life easier!
Eat street food
Whilst Japan’s street food culture isn’t as prevalent as the likes of Thailand and China, there’s still a world of tasty snacks to be tried if you look in the right places. Raman is one of the most popular dishes in Japan and will appear on almost every street corner, in every shop and can even be bought from vending machines. Head to Tsukiji Fish Market for some of the freshest sushi on earth and keep your eyes open for Ningyoyaki (delicious, sweet cakes), Okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) and sweet potatoes being roasted on hot stones around the city.
Image credit: Flickr
Experience the silence
How can you expect to find yourself if you’re surrounded by the bustle of the streets? Thankfully, Tokyo is home to a number of rural retreats. The Imperial Palace Gardens are a great place to start. Vast lawns are surrounded by verdant trees and beautiful flora, forming the perfect place to ponder. Have a good look at your reflection in one of the many ponds. Read a book on the lawn. Admire the beautifully manicured topiary. Whatever you do, soak up the silence and enjoy the moment. Visit when sakura season is in full bloom for the ultimate experience.
Image credit: Flickr
Embrace the culture
Whilst Japanese society is ever-evolving, sharing its continuously developing technology and trend-setting fashions with the rest of the world, many of Japan’s traditions date back thousands of years and are still present in culture today. From social conventions to traditional art forms, there’s a lot to be learnt and understood in Japan. Be inspired by a kabuki theatre performance or entertained by the mysterious geisha, whatever you do, strive to learn more and experience those things outside your comfort zone by immersing yourself in the culture where possible.
Catch the sunrise. Catch the sunset.
What better place to watch the sun rise than in the land of the rising sun itself? The name stems from the fact that Japan is the first place to see the sun rising. Watching the city rise from beyond the cityscape is an unforgettable site, but it’s the sunset that will really have your attention. Head up to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for a full panoramic view of the city below. As the sun sets beyond the majesty of the mountains in the distance painting the sky a thousand shades of purple, pink, orange and yellow along the way, you’ll witness the city below switching on for the evening in one almost simultaneous click.
Take a walk without a real plan
As they say, those who wander aren’t always lost. Explore Tokyo’s many pockets of winding, narrow streets and the residential areas sheltered from the fast pace of the likes of Shinjuku and Akihabarah. Enjoy the best ramen you’ve ever delved your chopsticks into, discover a tiny bar with Tokyo’s best sake and unearth a hidden shrine, devoid of any trace of tourism.
Travel solo and make new friends
Exploring a city solo is an invigorating experience and many see it as the ultimate way to do it, but things can feel a little lonely along the way. Say ‘yes’ to everything, go to events, mingle with the locals at the bar and strike up conversation. Remember that Japanese we told you to learn earlier? You’re welcome. After all, it’s always nice to have a friendly face on hand in case you get stuck. With websites like Meetup.com and Facebook at our fingertips, it’s become easier than ever to meet new people in the area, so you’ll never be short on options.
Do something that scares you
If the idea of dining at a restaurant where food is delivered via conveyor belt rather than by human scares you- do it. If the notion of sleeping on a traditional tatami mat makes you feel uncomfortable- try it. If the sound of belting out a classic pop song in a karaoke room in front of a room of Japanese locals is far from music to your ears- give it a go. If we didn’t try things that scared us- we’d never discover anything new.
Image credit: Flickr
If you’re going to find yourself, you’re going to need to relax. There are a number of luxury spa hotels in Tokyo to choose from if you’d like to relax in privacy, however, if you want to keep things traditional- head to an onsen. These traditional public baths are believed to have special healing powers due to the volcanic mineral water- perfect for the weary traveller who’s been busy exploring the city on foot. Visit Niwa no Yu in Nerima for an afternoon’s relaxation in the central pool, outdoor jacuzzi and Finnish-style sauna.
Ian Garstang is a travel writer and marketing specialist working in the luxury travel market. Ian is the editor at Luxury-Travels.net and has worked with such brands as GHM Hotels, Four Seasons and Aman. Ian was named Hotel Club’s ‘Bali Expert’ and Nominated in the top 20 luxury travel bloggers on USA Today. Ian has written for various websites that include A Luxury Travel Blog, Luxury Asia News and Travelo Cafe.