For the new generation of experiential travelers, seeing a city through the eyes of a local is the ideal. Having spent time in Korea as an expat, I am all too familiar with the tourist experience vs. the expat experience. We never dined with the tourists. We never visited the landmarks alongside droves of snap-happy visitors, guided by a map. And we certainly never paid hiked-up tourist prices. That said, knowing the language, the road less traveled and a city’s tourist traps is a priceless wealth of knowledge that only comes with time spent getting to know the area and from making mistakes. And whilst you’ll not transform into a local overnight, here are some top tips for experiencing Tokyo like a local.
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Eat and Drink Like A Local
Eating like a local isn’t as difficult as it sounds. The Japanese nation is proud of its food heritage and it’s widely celebrated across the city, far outweighing the number of western establishments. Go big and book into a restaurant devoid of English on the menu. Not only will you know it’s the real deal, but also that the flavors haven’t been messed with for the benefit of tourists’ palates. Also, keep an eye out for establishments packed to the rafters with locals – this is always a good sign of quality, and you can take it as a given that the cuisine is as authentic as it comes. A favorite local dish to try is shabu-shabu (sukiyaki), a boiling broth that’s set at the center of the table in which diners dip beef and vegetables, before slurping up the remaining liquid in the form of rich, broth-soaked noodles. Top tip – try everything. You may not know what it is that’s going into your dish, but consider it the only way to find out.
Sightsee Like a Local – Therefore, Don’t!
Okay, so the main reason you have come to Tokyo is probably to sightsee, so if you’re going to do it, do it with some tact. Avoid tourist-heavy landmarks like Tokyo Sky tree and Tokyo Tower. Instead, head to the likes of the Tokyo Government Building where the views far eclipse those of the former and admission is free. Tokyo is brimming with rural refuges, where each park doubles up as a place to sit down, relax and watch the world pass by. People watching – an activity in itself – is complemented by the pace of city life in Tokyo. Avoid the masses by booking onto exclusive happenings. The opportunity to hang out with sumo wrestlers and go behind the scenes at the stables in which they learn to grapple is a once in a lifetime opportunity. This exclusive and private day out is offered by Palace Hotel Tokyo, which just so happens to be one of the best hotels in Tokyo, and will not only allow you to experience life as a local but to see how these local celebrities live on a day to day basis as they vigorously train. At the end of it all, if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed by tourists, take some time to wander the residential neighborhoods.
As far as accommodation in Tokyo, there are plenty of areas in the neighborhood you can stay at. Just make sure to do your research!
Dress Like A Local
When in Rome, dress like a local. As an expat in Korea, I often found myself clad in vibrant colors with nonsensical English plastered across my chest. I may have felt odd, but I no longer stood out like a sore thumb. In fact, my students even thought I had fashion sense. Get the Tokyo look when in the city and find yourself in step with this impeccably dressed nation. Harajuku fashion is known the world over as being some of the most outlandish, colorful and mismatched there is (just some of the weird things you’ll encounter in Tokyo). Don’t let my description put you off because nailing the Harajuku look is like a badge of honor that should be worn with pride. The boutique shops in the neighborhood are where you’ll find the coolest threads – so revolutionary that the high street stores are the ones playing catch up.
Get in Touch with A Local
If in doubt, get in touch with a local before landing on Asian soil. And in the tech-savvy, social media-enthused, internet-loving world we live in today, it couldn’t be easier. Forums, apps, Facebook groups and even language exchanges – the list of ways to communicate across the many ponds that stand between your home country and Japan is endless. They’ll take you by the hand and show you what it is to be a true local in Tokyo.
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