Travel Tuesday: 3 Silly Little Things I Love About Tokyo
As the current crisis continues, I keep reflecting and relying on my old travel memories to get me by. Lately, this has led me to reflect on my time spent in Tokyo, Japan — a favorite of mine for a long time. Not only was it the destination for my first-ever solo international trip but was also where my wife and I choose to have our honeymoon. Obviously, the city holds a special place in my heart, which is also why I speak of it often.
While I could write a massive article detailing all of the things I adore about Tokyo and Japan in general, I thought it’d be more fun to just focus on a few minor items that bring me happiness when I think about them (and will make me even more joyful when I get to experience them again). So, without further ado, here are three silly little things I love about Tokyo.
Vending machine coffee
Okay, hear me out. It’s not that I think the hot, canned coffee that you can find in some vending machines in train stations around Tokyo is really that much of a culinary treat — it’s more just that I’m impressed with its existence. Sure, I’ve seen coffee dispensed by machines here in America (namely at rest stops and perhaps hospitals), but this version is far superior and way less hassle. And while it might not taste amazing, it has been smooth and very drinkable in my experience.
A tip here: if you want your coffee hot, make sure you know what to look for. While some vending machines will only offer cold coffee, you can spot the hot versions by looking for orange buttons and little fire icons that denote warm beverages. Also, once you do buy your java, be careful of the can’s exterior as it’s typically much warmer than the liquid inside. Finally, while it may be convenient to grab your coffee and continue to your destination, you may notice that you’re the only one walking and drinking — and that you probably won’t see a trash can anytime soon unless you pass a convenience store or another vending machine. Instead, I’d recommend taking a moment to enjoy you’re drink and discarding it before you walk on.
To be clear, when it comes to coffee in Tokyo, the vending machine version is merely a fun novelty that can also come in handy in a pinch. Meanwhile, if we have more time to spare, I definitely prefer one of the many local (and some not-so-local) cafe chains to be found. In particular, my wife and I loved ordering one Americano or coffee to share and then balancing it out with a nice, subtly sweet hojicha latte.
Train station jingles
Heading back to the train stations, you may notice that there are little jingles that play when trains arrive or depart. While these are fun on their own, they’re even cuter when you realize that some different stations and tracks have their own little jingles. Heck, on my first visit to Tokyo, these train jingles even helped assured me that I was in the right place as the tune that played when we arrived at Maihama Station (closest station to Tokyo Disney Resort) was a rendition of “It’s a Small World.”
In some cases, these jingles will get stuck in my head. Other times, I’ll think that they remind me of another song I’ve heard and I’ll spend my day trying to solve the mystery (only to come up short). Either way, they’re an infectious and fun part of the Tokyo train experience.
By the way, it turns out that there’s one dude who’s composed more than 100 of these seven-second melodies that can be heard across Japan, which he discusses in this great video I found. Not only does he explain how the neighborhood the station is located in influences his instrumentation and musical choices for the jingle but that, if you listen to the melodies along the Tozai line, they combine to build a full song. Mind: blown!
Like most people (at least I assume), I don’t buy a lot of compact discs anymore. However, one of my favorite things to do upon touching down in Tokyo is wander through some of the record stores to be found. Part of this is due to nostalgia — not just for the CD medium itself but more so for chains like Tower Records that still operate around Japan. But, more often than not, what I’m looking for in these record stores is music that can’t be found as easily elsewhere.
As any nerdy music lover/collector can tell you, Japanese releases of records often contain bonus tracks that the version released to North America are not equipped with. Granted, this practice is likely fading as everything gets digitized, but you can still find older albums for sale with songs you may have never heard. I’ve even come across entire albums (okay, EPs) that weren’t released stateside. Therefore, while some of these songs may now be found on streaming services or YouTube, I still like seeing what treasures I can find in physical media form.
Another aspect of these record shop trips I enjoy is discovering listening to some of the local artists in several different genres. For example, I remember seeing billboards for Ayumi Hamasaki’s album Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus all over Shibuya and other parts of town during my first visit to Tokyo in 2010. It turns out that Ayumi is a massive pop star in Japan, so this level of promotion makes sense. Anyway, while the $30 CD price was a bit much for me to swallow at the time, I still enjoy listening to her music (and that record in particular) on Spotify. On subsequent trips, I’ve also sampled everything from Japanese punk rock to electro. Again, while I may not purchase these records on the spot, I do make notes about what I enjoyed and look for ways to consume their music once I’ve returned home. Thus, I hope these types of record stores stay open so that I can have similar experiences whenever I get to return.
While there’s a long list of things I miss about Japan (and traveling in general), these three small, offbeat, and perhaps a bit romanticized aspects are ones I think of most often. As a result, it’s these memories and others that have both sustained me through these rough weeks and given me something to look forward to once things return to some form of normal. Whenever that does happen, you can bet that one of the places I’ll want to visit most in Tokyo, Japan — one of my favorite cities in the world.
Also published on Medium.