Destination: Tokyo, Japan
Name: Riikka Lagerberg
Riikka recommends staying at least one night in a traditional onsen ryokan. Wear a yukata (pictured) like everyone else, enjoy hot baths and top class Japanese cuisine and sleep on a futon mattress laid on a tatami floor. Relaxation guaranteed!
Meet Finnish translator Riikka, who enjoys the everyday adventures of Tokyo, Japan.
Tokyo never ceases to surprise
Tokyo never ceases to surprise: The ultra-modern and the traditional, the beautiful and the ugly, the super busy, lively & crowded and the tranquil & serene manage to live side by side in this city. It never gets boring as long as you’re equipped with an open mind.
For a tourist, this is a very safe destination where you don’t need to spend all your energies guarding your wallet (from others than yourself!).
Japan is a country full of many written and unwritten rules and there are countless books for sale abroad about the do’s and don’ts in Japan. We will come back to this in the next issue of ”TOKYO part 2” by offering you a more detailed guide of some of the basic “rules” you must bear in mind when visiting Tokyo or Japan in general.
Overall, I’d recommend you to explore and enjoy all the different contrasts the city offers. They can be seen/felt/tasted/heard everywhere so the following are just a few examples:
- Visit Meiji Jingu shrine and the surrounding woodlands for their serene beauty and for understanding the importance of Shinto religion for the Japanese culture and frame of mind.
- Continue to the neighbouring Takeshita Street to see the craziest youth fashions on Earth.
- Take a walk around the skyscraper district in Shinjuku.
- Enjoy the old-world charm in the Yanaka area.
- Peek inside the world’s largest fish auction market in Tsukiji, but watch out for the speeding forklifts and splashes of water everywhere! It can be rather chaotic.
A 5-year-old boy and his proud father at Meiji Shrine during a shichi-go-san festival, a rite of passage for all 3, 5, and 7-year-old kids.
Kichijouji area is also recommendable – it almost never appears in guidebooks but tops the rankings over best places to live in Japan year after year. You can easily spend a whole day in the area simply looking around the vast selection of shops (many of them selling typical Japanese things, perfect for souvenirs), enjoying a romantic tour in a swan-shaped pedal boat in Inokashira Park and visiting the anime lovers’ dream destination, the Ghibli Museum.
In general, Tokyo is exciting – so just being there is an adventure in itself.
Experience the essence of Tokyo
When visiting Tokyo, you’ll almost certainly want to experience the essence of the city in the most authentic way – that is the background for my recommendations.
Japanese festivals or events
Try attending a matsuri (festival) or event of some sort. From small kids to centenarians, the Japanese really love their festivals and there are bigger or smaller ones going on every weekend – so you’ll never have to miss out. Information about the events can be found, for example, in Time Out Tokyo magazine and website or by asking your hotel staff.
A winter trip might give you a chance to experience a city filled with kimono-clad youths, as 20-year-olds celebrate their coming-of-age day on the second Monday in January.
During the summer, most shinto shrines hold a festival where interesting sights include a portable shrine, a mikoshi, being carried around in the neighbourhoods, accompanied by loud ”wasshoi” cries.
Find the secrets behind the highest life expectancy in the world
Get up early, head to a park, schoolyard or other open space and participate in the almost 90-year-old tradition of radio taiso – a brief 10-minute gymnastics session broadcasted every morning on the radio and over many loudspeakers around the city. Join the crowds at 6.30am and you might find one of the secrets behind the highest life expectancy in the world!
Get intoxicated by beauty
If you’re here in the beginning of April you can easily spend a whole week enjoying the cherry blossoms and therewith not just become intoxicated with all the sake, but also by the breathtaking beauty and unbeatable atmosphere anywhere in the city. It’s absolutely stunning.
To make the most of it, head for Yoyogi park, Meguro river, Shinjuku Gyoen Park or Aoyama cemetery – the picnics under the cherry trees take place EVERYWHERE.
The last cherry blossom picnics are truly magical because even the slightest wind makes the petals fall on you like pink and white rain.
Turn on the TV
How many recommend you to turn on the TV when travelling? Often it’s the other way around: Enjoy the country and don’t spend time watching the telly. However, I really recommend you to switch on the TV at some point and find a channel showing a so-called ”variety show”. It can be great fun even if you don’t understand a single word of Japanese! And I can guarantee you won’t want to skip the commercials!
Eating with eyes
Check out any of the huge department stores in Tokyo, especially the basement floor for amazing delicacies – the food is so beautiful you might forget it’s meant to be eaten!
Like sports? Then watch real-time sumo wrestling, a very prestigious sport that dates back 2,000 years. A two-week sumo tournament takes place in Tokyo three times every year – January, May and September.
Highest ranking sumo wrestlers in the entrance ceremony, all wearing their personal, decorated aprons.
Want a night on the town à la japonais? Then karaoke needs to be on the top of your list. Simply team up with at least one friend and head for one of the bigger stations where the karaoke establishments typically cluster. And don’t be scared – you get to sing in a private booth rather than in front of strangers. Book your party for at least a few hours, because time flies like there’s no tomorrow once you’re clutching that mike. And since there’ll invariably be an intercom for ordering food and drinks, you might really not want to leave. Ever.
Kabuki or Noh
If you are culture-oriented, go and see a kabuki or noh play. These classical forms of Japanese music drama date back several centuries and offer a strong expression in the form of costumes, stage decor and masks. For some, it might be a bit weird and for children either boring or scary.
Check this out to see if it’s something you might like to explore or not.
Where to eat?
If you love great food, you will like Tokyo even more!
The best local food?
When in Tokyo you have to test an izakaya. It’s a type of restaurant where you order lots of small dishes to share and wash them down with a local beer while having a jolly time with your friends. The food is mostly good, but it’s the atmosphere that’s the main attraction here. Izakayas can be found everywhere and are mostly very reasonably priced.
The best gourmet experience?
The Japanese love their tofu and although it’s a daily staple, it can also be a real gourmet experience. Try, for example, Ume no hana in Ginza where you can sample a menu with over 10 courses highlighting all the different ways tofu and other soy products can be prepared. The interior of the restaurant is sublime, too!
If you’re interested in Michelin restaurants and high class gourmet food, in Tokyo you’ll find the highest concentration of them in the world.
My special tips
Fans of the movie Lost in Translation might enjoy tasting Suntory whisky at the Park Hyatt bar while gazing at the view over the city from the 52nd floor. Make it pre-dinner drinks before 8pm and you won’t need to pay the cover charge! Later you can head to Karaoke-kan in Shibuya and rent the same karaoke room in which Bob and Charlotte were singing to their heart’s content.
You can’t beat a nice drink and this view from the 52nd floor.
If you’re here around Christmas or New Year you can grab the rare chance to see the Emperor himself. The emperor’s birthday on December 23rd and the New Year’s celebrations on January 2nd are the only occasions when the public are allowed to enter the imperial palace grounds. People wave Japanese flags at the imperial family and they wave their hands back and that’s it. Weird and fascinating at the same time. You should note, though, that during the first days of the New Year, Tokyo is more or less a ghost town: most shops are closed due to the main holiday of the year and the city-dwellers have travelled to their hometowns to spend time with their family.
Riikka and the Finnish language
How many years’ experience do you have as a translator?
What to keep in mind when working with your specific language as a target language?
If you don’t pay attention, a Finnish translation easily ends up sounding translated. The word order often needs to be changed and direct translations swapped with more idiomatic words. After writing the first draft, I prefer reading my translations out loud while thinking “would I really say it like this in Finnish”.
What is the best thing about working as a translator?
Well, as a freelance translator the best things are the freedom, location independence, flexible schedule and home office. Besides Japan, being a freelancer has already made it possible for me to base my office in Denmark, Florida and Australia!
What motivates you?
Being able to play with the Finnish language - it’s so beautiful and I enjoy using it creatively!
This article’s photo credits: Riikka Lagerberg
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