Living Big in Japan
I've been struggling to put my trip to Japan (Oct. 8-Oct. 16, 2016) into words. I know the longer I go without writing about, the more I will begin to forget and lose about the trip. For my entire writing career, I've found it difficult to write when I want to, and I constantly feel like I'm letting myself (and now my writing partner) down, because I can't seem to get it together to get things in on time. Like the procrastinator that I am, my mind tells me that tomorrow everything will get done, because tomorrow will be a good day where I'm excited to write, but tomorrow turns into today and the cycle repeats. I've had to force myself to sit down at my table, put on human clothes, pour myself a cool glass of tea and just start.
When my dad said he wanted to go to Japan and asked if I wanted to go with him, I honestly wasn't too excited. Japan was far. Japan seemed overwhelming. I wasn't into manga, anime or zen, and we have good Japanese food in Toronto, so why take a 13 hour flight to get it made "authentically?" However, I hadn't been on vacation in over 3 and a half years and I was in dire need of a break from work and life. This was an adventure, and I needed an adventure so I said yes, half-heartedly. What a brat.
As the trip drew closer, I started to feel nervous. We were going to Tokyo, the most populous city ON THE PLANET. I get panic attacks in slightly crowded malls, how was I going to handle this? We were also going to a place where the national language could not be further from English. Despite being assured by my dad that everyone there would speak English (uh... no... they don't. As well they shouldn't.), I was sure everything would be lost in translation. Would we be respectful enough? What if we got lost? What if I didn't like it there?
After a restless flight where my knee seized up multiple times and I slept for all of 20 seconds, we arrived at Narita airport. I braced myself for the crowds that were sure to envelop us when we emerged from the plane. Instead it was... quiet? There was no one there. Okay, okay, when we get out, we'll be swarmed by people and we'll lose each other in the sea of locals and drift away... except that didn't happen either. We boarded our train, then subway, and got to the neighbourhood where our first AirBnB was located, all without incident. Yes, there were people, but everyone kept to themselves. Everyone gave everyone space and no one was squashed or thrown violently into a train (yes... we heard that people do this. In no way, shape or form is this true).
We got a bit lost getting to our AirBnB from the subway station and asked some locals for help. Immediately, anyone we asked whipped out a phone to Google our situation. No one looked at us like we were weird, or stupid, and all tried to help. We made it to our little home and headed straight out again (despite our immense fatigue) in search of food. We turned one corner and found ourselves at a pizzeria. As sacrilegious as it felt to have our first real Japanese meal in Japan be Italian, we were too zonked to try anywhere else so we settled ourselves in there. I had probably the best pizza I've ever had there.
I'm not going to detail the rest of the trip as minutely, but to suffice it to say, I have two big regrets. One is that I wish I hadn't been so prepared. And two, I wish I had been more prepared. I was so sure I knew what the scene was going to be, and I couldn't have been more wrong. I readied myself for chaos and I found nothing of the sort. I wish I had been more prepared in the sense of learning Japanese phrases (we felt like real assholes making everyone we came across struggle with us in English), reading some manga and watching some anime, and learning more about shrine etiquette. The stories in my head were only that, stories. The reality was so much more than I could have ever anticipated.
I haven't been able to stop thinking about my trip, now a week on. I'm constantly dreaming about it, I wake up in the middle of the night, not knowing where I am, thinking I'm still in Osaka, ready to go on another 13 hour walk through the city, I put on Apple Music J-Pop playlists to carry me through rough patches of the day, I flip through my Japanese version of Spark Joy by Marie Kondo, not understanding a word but enjoying the knowledge that one day I may learn the language, I think about kneeling in front of a statue of Buddha and for the first time in a long time, understanding a sense of religiosity and peace, I miss sleeping on Tatami mats and the smell of the bamboo, I long for toilets with bidets, I yearn for a transit system THAT WORKS, I relish the memory of walking through book store after book store, feeling one step removed, but feeling so excited to be there, I miss the food, GOD THE FOOD, probably the best food I've ever eaten anywhere, and the people, so lovely, so helpful, so considerate to two foolish tourists wandering around in puffy Uniqlo vests, trying to understand a country and its culture in 8 days.
It was a trip of a lifetime. I can't quite grasp how much it affected me. I didn't expect it. Never could I have imagined I needed this adventure as much as I did. I feel like I only just scratched the surface of a completely new universe and I'm clinging by my fingertips, 13 hours in the past, to stay in it.