Monday, February 6, 2017

10 Things We Learned From Visiting Tokyo

Heading to a new country is always fun. In 2015, we visited Tokyo, Japan for the first time. We loved it so much that.... in 2016 we decided to go again.

Over the two visits we cumulated several cultural things that we always tell everyone who decide to vacation there next. Tokyo is easily one of our favourite cities - its culture is incredibly charming, the technological quirks of the city will blow your mind and the city is always bustling with energy. For a first timer though, we know how confusing and overwhelming it can be. Read on to hear what we learned.

(1) Solo Slurping

The booths above are at Ichiran, a popular Japanese ramen shop. The booths are to help with "flavour concentration" so you can fully appreciate the meal

Space is rare and precious in such a populous city - most restaurants contain enough seating for just 10 people. In North America, our experience of eating normally consists of chattering over shared dishes and if you're eating alone, it's typically at home. However, in Tokyo, as we were out dining, we began to notice one thing in common with most restaurants - people come, eat and go... alone! In Japan, it's a different vibe. Most restaurants are made to eat-and-go and it is extremely common to see a businessman come in, quickly inhale a bowl of ramen and then leave - all in under 30 minutes.

The first picture above is Ichiran, a popular ramen shop in Japan that promotes "low-interaction dining" where customers seat themselves, fill out their order on a sheet of paper and receive their food from a pair of hands through the booth window. In other words, it's encouraged to eat an entire meal without seeing or speaking to another human being - service included.

(2) Subway Etiquette

Unlike the TTC, it's considered rude and inconsiderate in Tokyo to be speaking loudly to your friends or on your phone when you're on the subway. You'll actually see signs on the subway that say to turn off your phone or switch it to silent. The silence will be deafening at first - people talking in hushed whispers or low murmurs but you get used it very quickly!

Our major tip for the subway is NEVER travel during rush hour times (around 7 - 9am and 5 -7pm). Subways in Tokyo have less seating areas and waaaay more standing room and you'll see why during rush hour. While it didn't happen to us, you may be pushed by a policeman onto a seemingly packed subway if you travel during rush hours.

(3) Smoke inside but drink outside

The more enclosed a place is, the more likely you'll be allowed to smoke. If you want to smoke on the street, there are designated smoking areas and rooms for you to do so. While there isnt a country-wide smoking ban, smoking on the street is prohibited in certain parts of Tokyo because of child safety. People who smoke typically hold their cigarettes at their chest or waist - which is around the same level of kids heights or people in wheelchairs. Combine that with the high population density of the city where you're pushing up against others and you can see why the on-street ban makes sense!

While you can't smoke outside, you CAN drink alcohol on the streets - although most respectful people will choose to drink in establishments instead of on the streets.

(4) There are barely any trash cans on the streets

For such a busy and crowded city, it's incredibly clean. Absolutely spotless. Yet, when you look to discard your onigiri wrapper, you realise there are NO trash cans around. None. Why? Apparently the lack of trash cans began as an anti-terrorism measure back in '95 when terrorists were putting bombs in trash cans. Now, trash cans are rare and sparse but you won't see anyone littering. You'll even see people putting even banana peels, cigarette butts and wrappers into their bags to throw out later. It's both shocking contrast to the littered Toronto streets but it is a beautiful habit.

(5) Pocket Wi-Fi is a MUST

Whether you're looking for an AirBNB or hotel, find somewhere that offers pocket Wi-Fi - basically a small wireless router. Not only are SIM cards difficult to get in Japan if you don't speak the language, but having a pocket Wi-Fi allows for multiple people to connect to the web with you.

(6) Slurping isn't rude!

In North American culture, slurping might be considered noisy and obnoxious. But, slurping isn't rude in Japan (or in many parts of Asia for that matter!). When you enter a ramen restaurant, you'll hear the sounds of loud slurping everywhere around you. Instead of being known as bad manners, slurping noodles is like paying compliments to the chef - it is evidence of enjoying the meal.

(7) Don't tip.

Seriously - don't. Even if you think you are being generous, you will get chased down the street and be given any extra leftover cash that you may have left on the table with good intentions. A good rule of thumb is just to not tip, no matter how odd it feels. Just politely thank your server or taxi driver with a smile and leave.

(8) Convenience stores will be your best friend

We don't even glance at convenience stores when we're in Toronto but in Tokyo, we hit the convenience store almost every day. They're much more than just repositories of junk food! The holy trifecta of convenience stores that nearly every one goes to are: Family Mart, Lawsons and 7-11. From alcohol (and hangover cures) to insane chip flavours to sushi and soba, you can find anything at the convenience stores. If you're using the Suica or Pasmo transportation cards, you can fill it up there as well!

(9) Clear umbrellas are a must and a norm

It WILL rain when you're in Japan (it always did when we went anyways). We don't know exactly why most umbrellas we saw were clear but our guess is that it has something to do with Tokyo's high population density. The transparent umbrellas make it much easier to see without having to lift up the umbrella while you're walking through big, tightly packed crowds during rush hours.

(10) You can buy nearly everything from vending machines

One thing you absolutely cannot miss on the streets of Tokyo are the seemingly endless amounts of vending machines. Think of ANYTHING and you'll likely be able to get it from a vending machine. We've seen machines with underwear, hot instant ramen noodles, cold and hot coffee - even bento boxes! If you're hungry after a late night out and there's no where to buy food - look for vending machines!

- - - - -

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave your love