When planning a holiday abroad, tourists flock to main attractions like bees to a honey pot. Even the smaller, less well-known attractions are gaining their fair share of visitors these days with the ‘off the beaten track’ section now a firm favourite in most popular guide books. But aside from these attractions, whether big or small, there is a whole other category of things for tourists to enjoy – the mundane. It may sound silly, but one of the things that I love most about visiting or living in a foreign country is experiencing the everyday, boring activities that are ever so slightly different to what you do at home. So, which of these unremarkable attractions is worth ticking off on your holiday hit list?
Japan is well-known for it’s ample collection of vending machines, selling everything from hot or cold drinks and snacks to magazines, phone charms and underwear. If you’ve lived in Japan for a while then you probably don’t even notice them anymore, but think back to when you first arrived and how you walked around town with your mouth open thinking ‘there’s another one… there’s another one…’ When I have guests visit me in Japan, I challenge them to count (or, for the dedicated… photograph) every vending machine they see in one day, but they usually give up after they’ve seen the first twenty. So for tourists visiting Japan, using vending machines whenever they get the opportunity is certainly an amusing highlight of the trip, especially with so many weird and wonderful beverages on demand, how can you not want to try them all?
Oh look – there’s a road. I shall cross it. Oh no…minute upon minute of untold boredom. How will I entertain myself? Wait, what’s that noise? The traffic lights are singing to entertain me. How jolly. But wait, am I crossing in a north-south direction or an east-west direction? Oh, how useful – the traffic lights sing a different tune depending on what direction I’m crossing in! My road crossing experience is much improved. What’s that I see? An illuminated countdown timer informing me of exactly how long I must wait before I cross. How convenient, all my road crossing needs have been utterly catered for. Literally, crossing the road in Japan – fun for the whole family.
This may seem like a weird thing to do on holiday and is more applicable to tourists who are actually visiting someone in Japan and who can recommend a good store, but all the same – visiting a supermarket is one of my favourite things to do in a foreign country. First of all, you can play a game of ‘spot the brand name’ where you see how many products from home that you recognise, except of course that your familiar pot of Nestle coffee or multi-pack of KitKat chocolates is also covered in a scrawling of unrecognisable wiggly characters. After that, there’s the ‘what the hell is that?’ game where you try to find a product that is completely unrecognisable and guess what it is – all the better if you have to taste it to find out! Supermarkets are a great place for souvenir shopping, too. Why spend thousands and thousands of yen on made-to-measure kimonos for the whole family when you can buy them wasabi flavoured chocolate, a bottle of salty watermelon flavoured Pepsi or soda flavoured crisps.
It doesn’t matter which part of Japan you visit, the smallest, most out of the way, backwater type towns will still have plenty of entertainment for visitors in the way of unusual daily experiences. Okay, it’s not enough to compile a fun-packed week long holiday schedule, but all the same, when planning a trip to Japan, remember that it doesn’t all have to be bright lights and elbowing your way through the crowds. Some of the most interesting experiences you can have abroad are the ones that most people wouldn’t even think of.