Tokyo was the first city I visited on my first big overseas trip. I only had a few days there, and at that stage I hadn’t really figured out what kind of traveller I was, what I really loved to do. I stayed with some friends who were living there and had a fantastic time, including celebrating New Year’s Eve. But I think it would be great to go back there now, over a decade later, when I have much more travel experience under my belt and I know why I love travelling so much, and see more of what this amazing city has to teach me.
What did I love about Tokyo?
Probably the initial reason I have been thinking about Tokyo this week is because I have discovered a great little Japanese restaurant right near my house that does really yummy okonomiyaki. It was definitely my favourite food discovery of my time in Japan!
I also loved the street food like takoyaki and yakitori, as well as the opportunities eating it brought about to meet people wandering by who just wanted to say hi and practice speaking English with a gaijin.
I was also pretty excited about discovering a vending machine with hot chocolate in a can!
I loved getting a small glimpse of the different way people do things in different places, such as the impact of house sizes on our relationship with domestic animals. In Australia many people have pets, and some even pay someone else to walk their dog for them. In Tokyo, I loved seeing the guy with lots of dogs you could pay to take for a walk, and visiting the cat ‘museum’ where you can have an hour or so to play with some feline friends.
I loved seeing glimpses of experimental technology that was yet to make it to my homeland, from robot dogs to mobile DJ vans and everything in between.
And Tokyo was also the first place outside Australia I saw snow, and experienced it as just an everyday occurrence, so that is a pretty special memory!
What did I learn from Tokyo?
Something I noticed in Tokyo was the number of places that appeared to replicate things familiar from other parts of the world.
This could be seen as paying homage, but I couldn’t help wonder if at times it betrays a seemingly common kind of fear that one’s own cultural distinctives are not quite ‘enough’?
What I’ve learned in my travels since Tokyo is that what I really love and what I really learn from is getting a sense of what makes a particular place and its people unique, what makes them tick, what they have to teach the rest of us. I don’t want to see the same tourist attractions you can see anywhere, I want to know what makes each place and its people who they have uniquely been created to be.
I missed out on on having time to explore Tokyo’s rich history and culture in a way that I could learn from and be challenged by more deeply, which is of course why I’d love to go back!
But one random thing that really struck me when visiting Tokyo was the degree of specialisation seen particularly in the way different types of shops were grouped together, and different shops sold only specific products.
We found everything from a brush/broom shop …
… to a frog shop!
I was impressed by the specificity, and for me it says that it is ok to choose to just do one thing as long as you do it to your utmost. I think we can all use the reminder to be who we are and do what we do sometimes.
Japan, I look forward to coming back now that I know what it is about travelling that I really love and learn from and receiving more of what you have to offer.
In the meantime, you do you, Tokyo.