I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of visiting Tokyo because there always seemed to be so many wonderfully weird things about the city. Just so you know, when I say weird, I mean it in a good way. I love cities with a personality. And Tokyo has one in spades. Here are just a few quirky things that I experienced in Tokyo that made me fall head over heels in love with the city:
1. Tokyo is orderly, except for the crosswalks
Much like you’d expect, things are insanely orderly and clean in Tokyo. People wash their hands, they take off their shoes and place them perfectly parallel in doorways, they bow to everyone, they line up to the left on escalators to allow others to pass. But all of this order disappears the second you enter a crosswalk in Toyko. At the city’s crosswalks there’s no rhyme or reason. The moment the sign flashes green, hordes of people flood into intersections, crossing every which way. Head to the “Scramble” – Tokyo’s most iconic crosswalk located in Shibuya – and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
In Beijing I am in awe of the fact that the squat toilets can actually flush. In Southeast Asia, it’s typically necessary to flush squat toilets using a pail and water, so an automatic flusher seems like a luxury to me. Well, in Tokyo they take their toilets super seriously.
My first encounter with a Japanese toilet was in the Haneda airport. When I walked into the stall I was so perplexed by how high-tech and luxurious the toilet (actually the whole bathroom stall) was that I almost just turned around. (Oddly enough I had the same reaction when I saw my first squat toilet in Thailand.) There were dozens of buttons and settings, all in Japanese of course; the toilet even emitted the soothing sound of running water upon entering the bathroom. The stall was equipped with its own sink and had little bottles with lotion and mouthwash. And this was the airport bathroom. What the hell?
3. There is a one-of-a-kind fashion sense
I have been dying to visit Tokyo for as long as I can remember. One of the major reasons the city first piqued my interest was because of the girls of Harajuku. I thought it was such a trip that girls would dress up in crazy outfits and makeup and just sort of hang out in one of Tokyo’s trendy neighborhoods. The reality is that not everyone in the Harajuku district dons crazy outfits, but fashion really is wonderfully quirky and cutting edge in Tokyo. It’s not uncommon to see girls dressed in school girl outfits (though some are actually school girls) or wearing crazy makeup or sporting dyed blonde hair. It seems like anything goes in Tokyo.
4. There is proper sushi eating etiquette
I’m not sure if this is actually a cultural thing in Japan or if it was just the rules of one of the sushi places I went to in Tokyo. Either way, I thought it was funny because I apparently have really bad sushi eating etiquette. Instead of filling your whole dish with soy sauce you should just put a tiny bit in (maybe so you don’t waste it?). When dipping your rolls, dip them in the soy sauce with the fish – not the rice – side. Apparently it is rude to leave rice remnants in your sauce bowl. I’ve been doing things wrong for so long.
5. People eat lots and lots of natto
Oddly enough I first tried natto here in Beijing. It was recommended by a friend in the city who used to live in Japan and absolutely raves about it. Admittedly I was less than impressed with the strangely sticky and pungent dish when I first sampled it. Natto is actually made from fermented soy beans that are coated in a fungus. And while it doesn’t taste (or sound) all that great, it is wildly popular in Japan because of its health properties. Natto is seriously a superfood, to the point that I occasionally still eat it here in Beijing because it’s that good for you. FYI, when you eat it with rice and soy sauce it kind of masks the taste.
6. Taxi doors open by themselves
I don’t know why this happens or how it became a thing in Tokyo, but taxi doors automatically open and shut. When I first saw it I couldn’t help but think that it was something straight out of a scene from a futuristic sci-fi movie. What’s also cool is that all the taxis look like they are from a ’50s film, so it makes the whole thing that much more bizarre.
7. Tokyo dwellers love teeny tiny bars
The bars in the semi-seedy Shinjuku district are kind of amazing. There is one section of town that’s full of narrow alleyways where you can find some of the strangest bars I’ve personally ever laid eyes on. There are nearly 100 in total. The area was actually put on the tourist map after Anthony Bourdain filmed an episode of No Reservations here. So it is touristy but it’s well worth a visit, if you ask me. Most bars seat 5-10 people. I was kind of disappointed that the majority actually charge a fairly hefty cover. But I enjoyed peeking into them and seeing some of the quirky themes – think horror films, troll dolls and ’50s films.
8. There is cool street art hidden around the city
We all know I love street art. So obviously any city that has any street art is a winner in my book.
9. Pachinko is a really big deal
I have no idea what this game is all about, but it is insanely popular in Tokyo. It kind of looks like the slot machines you’d find in Vegas. Casinos have smoke-filled interiors, row after and row of slot machines; there’s a deafening roar of marbles shooting out of slots and the dinging of the machines. It’s a weird scene in there, but oddly fascinating.
Have you ever been to Tokyo? What are some the quirky things you liked about it?