At the end of April in 2019, I was lucky enough to afford a one-week vacation in Tokyo, Japan. In that one week, I told myself that I had to immerse myself in the country’s culture as much as I possibly could.
Whether that meant eating Japanese dishes I had never tried before or following the cultural practices that were different from that of the west, I needed to treat this trip differently from my past trips that typically took place in the United States.
On my first night there, I learned quickly about exceptional etiquette in Japan. I was eating takoyaki from a shop near my hotel while walking around the area and I noticed people looking at me weirdly.
That was my first mistake. In Japanese culture, it’s frowned upon when one eats or drinks while walking.
I also learned that putting your chopsticks in your bowl faced up is bad luck and resting your chopsticks on a bowl is just as wrong.
Aside from learning about the etiquette as my trip progressed, I went to some pretty popular landmarks and areas.
Out of the places I visited, I have to say my favourites were the Hachiko statue in Shibuya, the giant Gundam statue in Odaiba, and the Asakusa temples.
I was able to do so much in that one week, but I definitely wanted to do more as soon as my trip was coming to an end.
I was planning on coming back to Japan this year, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was forced to reschedule my entire year in general.
As disappointing as cancelling my trip was, I thought I should come up with ways to “experience” Japan in the comfort of my city.
What I’m doing to substitute the trip
Cooking at home is something a lot of people have been practicing since the pandemic lockdown began, and I saw it as an opportunity to try and cook Japanese dishes.
I’m not exactly the most skilled in the kitchen, but some Japanese dishes are quite simple to make and a lot of them share similar ingredients.
So far, I’ve made katsudon (pork cutlet rice bowl), oyakodon (chicken and egg rice bowl), and currently teaching myself how to make gyudon (beef and rice bowl).
So far, a lot of the dishes I’ve mentioned are rice-based, but I hope to learn more recipes for more dishes if I get the chance.
Most of the ingredients for these recipes are for sale at the Asian groceries stores in the city like H-Mart and the Galleria Supermarket. Instant noodles are also a staple in Japanese convenience stores, so instant ramen is also an option for me.
A lot of Japanese restaurants are still open during this time for takeout, so I try to buy from these places if I get the chance to.
I’ve always been a huge fan of anime. Even when I was in Japan, instead of staying out later than usual I would opt to stay in my hotel room and watch a couple episodes of animes I watch before bed.
I think the pandemic serves as a good way for people to get into these shows, as a lot of them are just as entertaining as western tv series.
Netflix has a bunch of binge-worthy classics like Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist, as well as some great movies like A Silent Voice.
Aside from anime, there are some great live-action shows available to watch like Japanese Style Originator and Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, which are perfect shows to watch if you want to learn and immerse yourself in Japanese culture.
Video games are a great way to pass the time, and when I went to Akihabara during my trip, I saw how much Japan loves their video games.
During the pandemic, I’ve been able to play some great games that originated in Japan.
Recently, I played the remake for Final Fantasy VII, which has a lot of similarities to popular anime when it comes to the story and over the top characters.
I’ve also been playing Persona 5: Royal, one of the most popular JRPGs available. The game’s setting is in Tokyo, so it’s been fun for me to play in a virtual version of the prefecture I was supposed to visit again this year.
Experiencing different cultures while at home
I believe that my experiences with all things related to Japan will continue to be a good time as this pandemic continues, but I hope to try out making food or watching content from other places around the world as well.
With the lack of travel for the foreseeable future, I think this would act as a good prequel to when I eventually travel once again.
There are so many options for what countries I try to immerse myself in while I’m at home, and in an oddly good way, the lockdown has given me the opportunity to do so.
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