Oh Japan, how I adore you. I mean, where else in the world can you find a graceful kimono clad woman with pearl chopsticks in her hair, sitting next to a man carelessly reading hardcore hentai on an extremely packed commuter train?
I knew from the moment the hostess graciously unlocked the doors at Narita Airport; it hit me – Asia! The humidity literally hit me in the face and about 1 million smells filled the air – i heard horns blearing and tonal language and fast chatter, i saw very serious men in very serious uniforms, and already I felt a little bit more sweaty, uncomfortable, nervous and excited than i did about two minutes before. I took a deep breath…and gave a happy sigh. Feels like coming home.
So as im riding this 400 km per hour bullet train up to the central highlands of Japan, i begin to dwell on something: the more i fall in love with Japan, the more I feel as though I am cheating on the other love of my life – Vietnam – only with her older, slightly more gracious and definitely more hygienic older sister.
Since leaving Vietnam I haven’t found myself in such a state of intense travel euphoria – everything is once again unfamiliar – everything is bright and curious and foreign. I have that ‘new born baby opening its eyes for the first-time’ feeling again.
I haven’t felt that since travelling in Vietnam a few years ago, I was starting to feel slightly uneasy that I would never be able to experience it again. It feels so damned good to be back! Although, I am finding that this time, my ignorance doesn’t scare me as much as it should. In fact, I’m starting to feel as if my ignorance and i are best friends. So much of the world turns its nose up at ignorant people – but i have come to firmly believe that the moment we stop being ignorant is the moment we stop feeling the need to explore, and that’s just no fun at all.
Japan is Hypermodern, crazy and eclectic – the 20-somethings of Shinjuku must keep the false eyelash economy afloat – as well as somehow being gracious, traditional and majestic. It holds its head extremely high, as if it saying ‘yes, I do know I’m fabulous…take a photo, it will last longer.’ – but it does more than have a right to do so, it is wonderful.
And I’m sure that Japan wouldn’t like me saying this, but i have a sneaking suspicion that one of the reasons i can feel myself falling head over heels for this place is that- for all its gloss and grace – traditional and trustworthy Asia still shines through.
I find this happening at completely random intervals – only ever so slightly sharing a glimpse of itself; a tooting horn, the insistent need to save money and trade, the wise looking rye smile of the elderly Japanese man sitting next to me on this train, the chaotic-ridiculous and totally lovable local shops and markets, and the way that everything moves so fast whilst remaining so poised – let’s be honest, these are the reasons i loved flirting with Asia in the first place.
So now add to that: subway systems that remind you to have a nice day, toilets that say thankyou for sitting on them, loyal and contagiously friendly locals, 27 floor department stores being considered ‘small’, incredible fresh made-in-an-instant-but-tasting-like-a-lifetime food, arrogant and majestic steamy mountain with curious rivers, and giggling school girls on every corner and its obvious to see why I’m beginning to feel like Japan and I are meant for each other – hmmm, I wonder how I can get around the iron clad zero immigration laws?
Okay, so i know the term ‘breathtaking’ is pretty much void in terms of evoking any reasonable sense of reaction from a reader, but just pretend for a moment that pop culture has not overused it and apply it to this train journey between Nagoya and Takayama: Wow!
I love it that I am ecstatically looking out the window at the towering, crisp mountains with their hidden temples and the huge valleys and rivers under this train line (think Indiana Jones bridge crossings) that the Japanese commuters around us are texting on their phones, reading on their ipads and giggling with friends. Oh to live in a city where this landscape is a normal commute!
So now I’m sitting on top of one of these mountains in a tiny Japanese town and, oh man, that car spaces in Japan crack me up! They are literally half the size of the ones we have back home in Aus, looking at a parking lots here reminds me of playing matchbox cars when i was five!
Anyway, If you can’t stomach the hippy-ish, new world-ish and floaty sentiments of the next few paragraphs i totally understand and please feel free to click off now; The more i travel, the more the world makes me realise how much I do not want to stay at home! It is from his tiny town at the base of the Japanese alps that I feel confident in the concrete feeling that I will never live my life working full time only to go to Bali for one week every two years. No! I don’t want to come back from one of those weeks with presents for my friends labelled ‘My friend went to London and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.’
I don’t want to be safe and un-challenged. I don’t want to always go to the same restaurant on Monday nights and have Shania Twain play at my wedding – well not yet, anyway. I want to travel until the day I die. I want to continue to work hard, of course, but whilst I will always endeavour to work in something I enjoy, it will be a means to an end for me, it will be the fuel for my dream. Late nights working are so worth it from this side of the fence/mountain. Of course I know that things in my life will change, and I’m almost positive that in ten years I will look back on this book and think ‘you arrogant and ignorant little woman!’ but hey, like I said – ignorance!
So, i have learnt from this experience, apart from the fact that California rolls in Australia are quite frankly, an abomination, is that I want to travel the world until I have sat atop hundreds of mountains, freezing our butts off, with only a cheap and compulsory facebook photo, and our memories to show for it.
I am so damned lucky. Right here, right now, life is chaotic and uncomfortable and so damned wonderful that the world is sparkling. I’ve only had six days in Japan, only six days back on the travel drug, but it’s a good thing because I really needed my next hit. I can’t believe in two days we will be waiting for the inevitably delayed light home. But don’t you worry Japan, I’m nowhere near done with you yet. See you soon my darling!