Tag Archives: japan

Wanderlust

I’ve been thinking a lot about traveling lately. How I miss it, and planning hypothetical trips to help motivate me and get serious about saving money. 

I was also thinking about how different travel is when you are going solo vs when you have a family. When I went to Greece, I wasn’t alone, but I didn’t know anyone initially. I went to Italy with one other person, but the friend we were going to stay with canceled on us at the last minute, so we were totally on our own finding places to stay (with very, very little funds). And then on my trip to Japan, I was completely alone with no concrete plans on where to stay. 

Those trips were 50% exhilarating and 50% terrifying. It’s kind of fun not knowing where you’re going and flying by the seat of your pants. I think the most growth and excitement comes from those times. In Rome we joked (mostly) about sleeping in a park because we couldn’t find anywhere that had a vacancy that we could afford. (Side note: my wallet was stolen a few days before the trip so I didn’t have a credit card or bank card, only about 300 Euros in cash…to last a week.)

I can’t even fathom doing that now. I mean, I still have that desire to pick a place, buy plane tickets, and figure it all out when I get there, but I don’t want to do that with a family. 

What stirred up all of these thoughts was first remembering a man who helped me in Tokyo. I was lost (I don’t have the best track record, huh?), it was snowing, and it was midnight. Once again I was surveying the area to see if there was a safe spot to set up camp, and this person, who I could not communicate with in any real way saved me.

I can remember the scene so perfectly in my mind, it was snowing pretty hard and there was a figure on top of a hill with his tripod taking photos of the blanket of white snow that covered everything. I wish I had taken a photo or could paint, so that I could remember if forever. I’ve copied my journal entry below: 

“It started snowing. Even though I hoped it would be a little bit warmer here than in the States, it was absolutely beautiful

The next part of my day was not my favorite. I was exhausted and wasn’t meeting Miriam until 10pm. It was only about 8, so I decided I’d relax on the metro for an extra stop or two to kill some time. I got off a few stops later and tried to take the same line back, but I ended up on an express instead of a local. I completely missed my stop and had to take another train back again. I stopped to get another coffee because at this point I felt like I was about to fall over any minute. I went into a burger place in the train station and the only open seat was in the smoking section. I felt more and more drained by the minute. When I finally made it to our meeting spot I was about 15 minutes late and not even sure if I was at the right metro entrance. I walked a block to the other side to see if Miriam was there but she wasn’t. I waited a little bit, unsure if I’d be able to find my way back to her place in the dark and alone.

My first thought was just to find a hotel room for the night and try to email Miriam to tell her I was okay….but there wasn’t a hotel in sight. Businesses were starting to close and I couldn’t even find anyone to point me in the direction of somewhere to stay. My phone was dead, and at this point it had been snowing for hours. (It only snowed a few inches but it had been the most snowfall they had had in a while.) I went into survival mode and started looking around for corners that I could bundle up in, in case I couldn’t walk any further. While I was walking I was recognizing the area a little bit from passing through in the morning. I decided to try to find Miriam’s place anyway. She lives in a very rural area and all the houses look the same. After finally making it to her neighborhood and walking around for what seemed like forever I started to wonder if this was an even worse idea.

It was close to midnight. It was still snowing, and I was sliding around everywhere in inches of snow…in my Vibrams. (I love these shoes but at this moment, wearing them was the worst mistake.) I saw a man with a tripod set up in the middle of the street taking photos of the snow fall. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see another living human being (I was also praying he wasn’t a psychopath). I pulled out my now soaked paper map (with no street names, just a park and a star that says “Miriam’s House”), and tried to communicate that I was lost. He spoke not one lick of English.

But this man was an angel.

He put away his camera equipment and brought me to his house. I tried to stand outside because I was soaked. My pants were wet up to my knees. I wasn’t sure if I even had feet anymore they were so cold. My hair was soaked and I had been sobbing (although I was so wet and frozen you couldn’t really tell). I’d only been in Japan for a day, but I quickly learned how important cleanliness is, especially taking off your shoes in the designated area, and wearing slippers throughout the house. I peeled off my Vibrams and again tried to stand in the shoe area, but this man and his wife gave me dry slippers and insisted I come inside. The man tried to compare a Google map to my hand drawn map, and his wife made me a cup of coffee. I gave him the phone number I had for Miriam and he called her. It turns out I was in back of her place diagonally. I honestly don’t know if I would’ve ever found it on my own. This amazingly kind man walked me to her house and made sure I got in safe. I wish I could’ve done something for him in return. He took in a complete stranger, in the middle of the night, who didn’t even speak his language. He may have saved my life.

I started to wonder if coming to Japan by myself was such a great idea after all.

(I later learned that Miriam had actually been 30 minutes late, so if I had waited a little longer I might have caught her. Also, turns out there was a Manga cafe that was 24 hours that I could’ve hung out in.)”

I don’t know what made me think of this man and his wife 7 years later. I hope they are well. I hope he eventually got his photo of the beautiful snowy landscape he was trying for. I wish I had done something at the time to show them how much their generosity meant to me. They opened their home in the middle of the night, to not only a stranger, but to a soaking wet foreigner that couldn’t communicate at all, clothed me with clean, dry slippers, fed me, gave me a hot cup of coffee, and helped me find my way home. 

Maybe there are so many scary and bad things going on in our country and the world right now that my mind needed to remind me that there are incredibly kind people out there too. 

 

Japan Day 4: Asakusa Shrine and Travel to Mishima

Today I left Miriam’s and headed to Sensoji, a Buddhist temple. I was nervous to be off on my own, but had this new found sense of courage. The temple and shrine were gorgeous. I could just sit there and think all day. I still can’t believe I’m here and doing this. The whole thing is surreal. The Asakusa shrine was the most touristy spot I’ve been to since I’ve been here, but there were mostly Asian tourists, and I can say I enjoy them much more than the Americans. Nakamise is the street leading up to the shrine filled with shops and eateries. I bought my dad a sake carafe with matching glasses, and mom a Japanese mug with longevity written in the inside. I had tofu and an Asahi for lunch outside the temple. I love that tofu is common here, like chicken is in the US. The park and shrine outside were so peaceful.

Miriam was nice enough to ask her friend John if I could stay the night at his place in Mishima. He teaches English at a school right outside of Mt. Fuji. Getting there was a bit nerve wracking because I have to take two different trains outside of Tokyo, (just went I thought I was starting to get used to the metro system), and walk a ways. I have to give Miriam credit, she is amazing with directions. She gave me perfectly accurate instructions (go down three streets, cross train tracks, turn left at the fork…etc).

I wanted to go to Mishima park to see the Shinto shrine, but I got there just as they were closing. The park was infested with cats, really friendly cats. The area is beautiful, a lot quieter than Tokyo.

I met John at his (American) friend’s Mexican restaurant. I got there early since the I didn’t make it into the shrine and had a burrito, taco, and chips with guacamole. They had good hot sauces! John got there and we talked for a while, and his friend Ryan met up with us. The four of us, including David the owner, talked for hours and hours. I learned a lot about Japanese culture (through American eyes), the school system, courting, and that iPhones aren’t very popular in Japan because there are so many characters that it’s difficult to text.

We walked home and I took a much needed hot shower.

 

Sushi

Japan Day 3: Onsen and Sushi

Sushi

 

Yesterday was a bit more excitement than I was hoping for. Today Miriam and I tried to plan a calmer day. She made sure I ate breakfast (a great host!), I had tea and a kind of rice cake. It wasn’t as good as the mochi, it was kind of plain, but not bad. She let me borrow a pair of her boots (that were a few sizes too big) because my Vibrams were frozen. Then we headed to an onsen! I was so excited. Relaxing in a hot spring sounded like the perfect thing to counter yesterday. The idea of stripping naked in front of a few dozen strangers was terrifying, but if everyone else could do it, so could I.

The initial bathing wasn’t so bad. Everyone was on little stools in their own little showering area. I could handle that. Plus the shampoo smelled great. We walked around until we found a spots to sit down. This was an amazing experience. Sure, I stood out like a sore thumb, with us being the only non-Japanese women there, but no one seemed to care. Some women kept to themselves and relaxed. Some women hung around in groups and chit chatted. I loved being a part of this culture. There were hot springs inside and outside this onsen. The outside ones were particularly beautiful with the newly fallen snow.

I could feel the heat from the water permeating through my entire body. They say that the springs have minerals that are supposed to detox your body. I don’t know if it’s true, but I could feel stress being pulled away from my bones.

After a short period of time I felt something else. Extremely light headed and dizzy. I asked Miriam if she minded if we went inside for a bit. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it that far. While walking from the outside springs to the inside of the onsen I passed out. In the middle of the doorway. Naked.

It’s happened to me twice before. I started to lose my hearing, things went black, and I tried to sit down gracefully instead of collapsing. The next thing I remember was Miriam, and a few Japanese ladies hovering over me checking to see if I was still alive. It took me a few minutes to get up. A women brought me a full size towel. (Thank God I didn’t have to walk around naked anymore.) I drank some water and fought the urge to get sick all over the place. After I didn’t feel like dying, we went downstairs to the restaurant for lunch. Eating was the last thing I wanted to do, but I knew it would help me feel better.

Miriam takes a dance class here, and while I thought it would be an awesome thing to experience, I just wasn’t feeling up to going with her today. I instead, hung around the area, and did what I do best. Went shopping. I found an awesome “All Natural” (I don’t know what that means in Japan, if it’s unregulated like it is in the US) beauty store, and bought some makeup. It was attached to a clothing store and I bought some shirts and a pair of dress socks. I adore the way the Japanese dress. Everyone looks so polished 100% of the time, where I look like a tired, sore, American homeless lady, who is carrying all of her belongings in an overstuffed back pack. Anyway, I bought the dress socks as a baby step for me being more fashionable.  Right before I met Miriam, I found a beautiful black lace dress for about $14.

We went to dinner at a little hole in the wall sushi place. This is what I’ve been waiting for this whole trip. There was bar like seating with the chef in the middle, making the sushi and placing it on a conveyor belt that went around the room. Each plate of sushi was ~$1.36, it was fresh, and it was delicious. I got a salad and several plates of sushi for about $10. They had matcha tea, and I learned it’s free in most restaurants. Why is it so expensive in the States?

After dinner we looked for a pair of sneakers for me. I ended up with a pair of Nike’s for about $50.

We got a bottle of rice wine on the way home, but it was too sweet for me.

Another day done, and I’m grateful to be alive.