Arriving in Japan
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So, why Japan? My first foray out of Europe and I decide to take a fourteen hour plane ride with one stopover to the capital city of Tokyo, just for one week. I don't know anyone in Japan, and before I booked my trip I doubt I could have precisely located Tokyo on the map. I like manga, but wouldn't say I was the ultimate fan, and my Nintendo interests are limited to a slight obsession with Zelda at the age of thirteen.
To be honest, I think the reason I chose Japan was the sheer foreignness of the far away island. To me it conjured images of revolving sushi bars, business men on bikes, and temples nestled into misty mountain ranges. This place seemed to symbolise the peek of Zen like spirituality, contrasted to the technological advances that Tokyo is famous for. There's a huge lure in being able to combine both unfamiliar aspects into one trip.
I’d already decided to take the trip alone. I’m not sure why. Maybe a combination of proving something to myself and equally proving something to everyone around me. I could do it, and I would do it. Who knows why people pack up for a few weeks at a time, eagerly board a plane and immerse themselves in a new culture for a brief period, only to return with a rucksack full of ‘genuine’ articles and native souvenirs that are likely to be broken by the time you get back through customs. Is it to tell ourselves we’ve seen a bit more of the world? That we’ve been effected by it positively? Like we’re racking up some unconscious total that means that, when we do die, we can feel a bit easier knowing we’ve experienced some of the unknown? Maybe partly so we can share our experiences with other people and try to define ourselves somehow with the understanding we’ve gained.
I think it’s partly for the sense of excitement we feel when first stepping into that foreign country or unfamiliar landscape. Being an explorer all over again, only with a hotel booking safely stuffed into your back pocket. Everyone wants adventure, but planned adventure.
So for me it was ‘bye bye’ mundane normality for a week, and ‘hello’ new experience. Whether or not I learnt anything about myself or the world while I was there remains to be seen.
Skip forward past the booking of a £590 plane fare, hostel confusion resulting in hastily organised lodging the night before, one shiny new travel book on Tokyo, a 9am flight departure from Heathrow, several plane movies, a lot of turbulence, and here I was. About 7am Tokyo time Thursday, sometime evening on Wednesday UK time, and complete confusion according my body clock. The perfume I sprayed onto my scarf at duty free has long since faded, and the cabin pressure is making me groggy. On the whole the flight hasn’t been bad. I am sitting between a middle aged German guy who seems quite content to read his book and doze, and an elderly Japanese gentleman in the window seat to my left. In the twelve hours since we’ve been aboard, we’ve attempted several times to make conversation, resulting in quite a lot of useful information on how exactly I should attempt to get to my hostel. Kanji characters are scribbled all over my notebook and arrows adorn the metro map. Last time I went to the bathroom, I took a quick look out of the window and saw a carpet of clouds rolling away in all directions like snow covered fields. It’s weird to think that, somewhere far below, people are conducting their normal lives in a place that, to me, is simply a holiday destination.