Those who know me would know that I have always had a fascination with Japan, and that it has always been on my bucket list of places that I wish to see. So when Dennis mentioned that he had changed his plans and was adding Japan to his list of countries that he was going to explore I couldn’t resist but take the leap and join him there. And so, I booked my flight and two months later I found myself, yet again, boarding an Emirates flight to Dubai, this time bound for Narita Airport.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Japan. I’ve seen so many photo’s and I’ve been wanting to visit this place for as long as I can remember – and as we know the problem with that is that usually end up fabricating a fantasy idea of a city in our minds.
The first thing that hit me as I walked through the airport, trying to find my way around was this overwhelming sense of order, and the polite nature of the people who I met. This eagerness to help and a tolerance for others – aka me, who does not speak one word of Japanese, generally has a questionable sense of direction and as per usual, has too much luggage for one person.
I travel a fair share and I’ve yet to experience anything like this – especially in countries where the language barrier is as big as in Japan. Needless to say I ended up finding my way and I was soon on the Skyliner bound for The Knot in Shinjuku where we would stay for our first week in Tokyo.
The more time I spent walking around the streets of Tokyo the more overwhelmed I became. There’s so much distractions. So many lights, people, sounds. Music spills out from the stores and the restaurants, men and woman stand with poster boards loudly promoting the latest sale or special that they have to offer. Lights flash from signs hanging overhead and the smells of various foods fill the air. Everywhere you look something catches the corner of your eye, only to be replaced by something else a second later. You get swept up in the magic of it all. Arcades appear every couple of blocks, louring people in with the sounds of coins falling like waterfalls and music that deafens the worries from the day.
You feel like you’re riding on this wave of energy, the current of Tokyo, and when you look at your watch it’s close to midnight, but the sky is alight and the streets are buzzing, and you can’t help but wonder what world have you found yourself in?
But after a couple of days my body and mind adjusted to the beat of the city and the allure of its energy fades ever so slightly, and I started to see something else, faintly underneath the surface of it all. A look on passing faces, the mannerisms of people you pass by. The presence of isolation behind the eyes of so many. I felt it so much stronger here that I have ever felt it elsewhere. Perhaps it was easier for me to identify because it’s something that I can easily relate to, but all of a sudden I couldn’t help but see it. I couldn’t stop myself from being overcome and feeling so deeply. The nature of the people stood out to me, that regardless of this sub-surface happiness struggle it’s a nation of people who are so incredibly kind. That they are so incredibly willing to help and aid with a smile, when so many may be facing hardships within. It made me wonder about how strong a person needs to be to be able to keep face in a society where life is so demanding. Both economically and culturally.
We left for Kyoto, where we would end up spending 7 nights. It was raining when the bullet train pulled into the station, the air was so fresh I just breathed it in with rain softly falling on my face.
During the short walk to our hotel I already felt like I could breathe. Kyoto has a slowness to its energy. A calm that whispers to you to take you time, that it’s okay. Yes, some parts of the city is unmistakably tourist flooded, but other sections almost takes you back to a simpler time. One where nothing is done without purpose or without care. It became ever more prevalent to me that this country has so many layers. Each one more beautiful than the next, but each slightly more complex. So much so that I highly doubt I would ever truly be able to understand the complexity of all the moving parts that churn beneath the surface. Let alone the fraction of what I glimpsed on the surface.
My trip to Japan has left me with so much respect for the country and the incredible beautiful people who live within its boarders. When I think back to Japan now, after I have had a couple of days for my mind to catch up, I think of the chef who went out of his way and left his restaurant in the pouring rain to ask the neighbouring restaurant’s chef if they might have a broth that I would be able to eat.
I think of the countless smiles and awkward laughter as I typed something into Google Translate, always to be helped and pointed in the right direction with such patience that constantly left me in awe. I think of the countryside rolling on by while we traveled back and forth between Tokyo and Kyoto and how life is such an immensely complex thing, yet deep down our fears, struggles, happiness and love transcends the boundaries of culture and country.
Getting down to the more travel information side of things.
Where we stayed:
Where to eat and drink in Tokyo:
There are some stock standard go-to’s that many people will tell you to go to, one being Ichiran Ramen.
I would highly recommend going to Shin Udon (The wait is long but it’s 100% worth it)
Bar Ben Fiddich is an experience that is not to be missed. There’s no menu, you merely explain when you enjoy drinking and they create something for you.
Rit Bar is great if you enjoy beautiful live music while sitting around a piano enjoying a cocktail.
Bill’s Japan is wonderful if you feel like some beautiful Ausie coffee and eggs on toast – they are famous for their ricotta pancakes so don’t miss it!
Where to eat and drink in Kyoto:
Do yourself a solid and have the burnt miso ramen at Kyoto Gogyo – it’s incredible and the staff are wonderful. We went back twice.
Weekenders Coffee is great for your cup of joe.
For delicious croissants and salads (which I desperately needed after a while) don’t miss Franze & Evans
All in all Japan has caught my heart. It was an incredible experience, and I look forward to going back.
For more snippets from the trip head over to my Instagram and checkout my Japan story highlights.