There's so much I can write about my trip to Japan that just attempting to start this post has been too daunting to make its way into my schedule since I left. Now that I've been out of the country for a week, though, I realize that putting it off any longer might mean that it gets lost in the shuffle. Can't let that happen, can I?
For the fourth or fifth time now, Elliot has let me stay in his awesome apartment in Shibuya. At this point I've actually lived in his apartment for over two months in 2011 alone. Despite doing what I can to be a good guest, I know it's a bit of an imposition to have someone stay with you for such a long time, so a huge thank you is due to Elliot. I'm incredibly fortunate to have somewhere to stay in Tokyo, but far more fortunate that it's at the home of a friend whose company I enjoy, even after so many weeks.
Also due a public thank you is my friend Toby, who, amongst many other things, organized some amazing trips that I would have never been able to pull off solo. He's leaving Japan in the Spring, and I'm a bit sad to know that trips to Japan after he leaves won't quite be the same.
There are a lot of other people who deserve thanks and made my trip better, but this isn't an Emmy's speech, so I'll keep it to the two who are a consistent bright spot on my trips to Japan.
Camping in Chiba
For years now, Toby has been telling me about a place to camp in Chiba. Every time I come to Japan we agree that we should make a trip there, but I always leave before we've actually managed to set it up. Not this time-- on week one (of six), we took a look at our calendars and picked a date.
Before I knew it, Toby and I were at Shinagawa station, scouring the food stalls for healthy food, bickering about whether or not I brought enough water. His girlfriend-in-everything-but-title, Satoko, also joined us.
Through the alchemy of Japanese public transportation, and careful planning from Toby and Satoko, we managed to catch our two bus transfers to arrive at the foot of the mountain. Our hike up was beautiful and just rigorous enough to feel productive, without actually leaving us exhausted. Along the way we stopped to take pictures of cartoon-sized mushrooms and the giant spiders that create webs at foreigner-face-level.
I've done an uncharacteristically high amount of hiking in Japan, and it's never been less than stunning. This hike was no exception to the typical scenery of pencil-straight cedar trees stretching to the sky, views of faded blue-green mountains, and meticulously maintained trails. At the top of the mountain we were rewarded with a giant stone face with a passageway blasted through the middle.
Through the passageway and to the right, we arrived at a some-hundred year old temple perched on the cliff. Inside the temple were three older Japanese men, cooking food over a small gas burner. In a display of typical Japanese hospitality, they cooked up some pork for us, and gave us drinks and other snacks. We spoke with them in Japanese (with widely varying degrees of comprehension, me on the lower end of that scale), traded stories, and praised each other's countries. And then they smelled Toby's shoes. None of us understand why that happened, but it was a deliberate and fairly lengthy process.
When the men left, we built up a campfire under the small stone overhand adjoining the temple, and prepared a feast. Toby and Satoko, in their first of many displays of over-preparation during my trip, brought pounds of meat, fresh vegetables, tea, and all sorts of other stuff. I brought s'mores, because I'm American, and that's what we do. A small consolation to the imbalance of contribution was that neither of them had had s'mores before.
After a reasonably good night's sleep on the hard wooden floors of the temple, doors open to the woods, we woke up and broke camp. Just as we finished, a couple in their seventies comes through. As the man offers us precious beverages (no, I didn't bring enough water), the woman cuts up an Asian pear for us. We talk about our plans, and they offer to give us a ride to the bus station after we descend. We politely decline, saying that we'll probably take our time on the descent and don't want to keep them waiting.
We head off before them, but they quickly catch up and pass us.
"This is slow!" they reply.
We take our time going down, enjoying the scenery at first, and later crossing a poisonous snake and thereafter walking extremely deliberately to avoid any other snakes that might be hiding. When we reach the bottom, the old couple is waiting.
Despite our polite refusal, they have been waiting for half an hour to give us a ride. In fact, since we mentioned that we wanted to go to an onsen (Japanese public bath house), they've researched it and are prepared to drive us to the best one in the area. We humbly accept.
Before we have a chance to soak in the dark brown seaweed-infused water of the baths, we receive one last parting blow of Japanese hospitality. The woman rips the trash bag out of my hand, insisting that she'll sort the recyclables from the trash and take care of it herself.
To make up for not posting last week, I'm going to post several Japan related posts this week.
Photo was taken on the camping trip. More photos of the trip are at Flickr.
Big thanks to @AhmadFadliKC for showing me around Kuala Lumpur on me way over to Bangkok! Leaving Thailand tomorrow, and then off to Berlin!
While you are on an extended trip, where do you park your RV? Or maybe I missed something, do you still live in an RV?
Great post, I always enjoy reading you're well written stories. I also want to know what the bracelet and especially the watch you wear is.
Tynan, why don't you figure out a way to ship the R.V. to Japan for an extended time....that would be awesome!!!
It would be nice to read your post about Thailand. I always wonder when people say they love Bangkok because as a Thai who live in Bangkok I don't find Bangkok a very nice place compare to other province.
Great post, Tynan! I've never been to Japan myself, but it's one of the countries in the world I most look forward to visiting.
Btw, I know they say that we're all living in the future, but 2012 is next year anyway. :)
I land in Narita Airport, Japan, pull two thousand Yen out of the ATM, and get on the train for Tokyo. From memory I walk down familiar streets until I get to the New Zealand Embassy in northern Shibuya, where my friend Elliot lives. I haven't seen him in almost two years, and have only emailed a few times since then, but it's as if I never left. We joke around, walk to dinner, and make plans for the weekend.
The next day I pop my Japanese SIM card into my phone and call my friend Toby to let him know that I'm around. He tells me about a party he's throwing in Yoyogi park, so a couple other friends and I join him.
Nothing about these individual scenes is particularly noteworthy. That's the point. In various places around the world I have enough good friends that I can have a pretty normal life there while visiting.
In high school I was given the opportunity to leave the country, twice, on school trips. One of my friends was always unable to go, not because they couldn't afford it, but because her parents didn't "believe that kids should leave the country at such a young age." While I respect their right to their opinion, I completely disagree. I think the best time to travel is while you're young.
As I said in my first post, I left the country for the first time when I was in the third grade. I went to Mexico. Many people think that when we are children we are too young to appreciate other countries or famous landmarks, or too young to remember the trip when we get older. I remember that trip vividly. It changed my life.
We stayed south of Cancun. I remember driving through rural neighborhoods and seeing the poorest people I'd ever seen. I remember we had a maid and a cook, who lived in a house with their kids which was connected to our rental house. I remember speaking no Spanish whatsoever and communicating with the kids, who didn't know how to swim. I remember playing with the kids in the shallow end of the pool and I remember that the language barrier meant nothing. I remember drinking powdered milk. I remember playing with dogs who lived in the neighborhood but didn't really belong to anyone. I remember climbing an ancient Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza. I remember hiding in a roped off temple at Chichen Itza with twenty other tourists because the lightning storm was so close and I remember watching stranded tourists at the top of the pyramid. I remember the heat, I remember building sandcastles on the beach. I remember there were hermit crabs everywhere. I remember eating scones for breakfast every morning. I remember the cook coming over to cut the tail off of the scorpion for us, and then he picked it up and carried it outside. I remember Coca-Cola was everywhere, and I never liked it until I tried it in Mexico (that real sugar makes a difference!). I remember driving down dirt roads. I remember we drank Fiji bottled water because we couldn't drink the water in Mexico in case it made us sick. I remember playing the Pokémon Sapphire edition, and I remember teaching the cook's kids how to play. I remember the smell distinctly. I remember hanging up our swimsuits to dry, and how it was so humid that they were still damp the next day. I remember the cook made us Mexican pizza, and his wife taught us how to make real tortillas. I remember not liking Mexican food until I went there. I remember journaling in a Hello Kitty notebook. I remember kayaking in the ocean with my friend and I remember her stepping on a sea urchin, which went through her shoe and she had to go to the hospital. I remember the water in the ocean was as warm as bathwater. I remember my mom went with the cook to drop the kids off at school, and I remember her telling me about the poverty. I remember seeing the poverty for myself, and being so thankful for what I had. I remember laying out on the beach beneath the stars and watching the lightning storm that was taking place across the ocean. I remember tourists wearing sombreros at the airport and I remember we had a layover in LA, and the hotel we stayed at smelled like green beans. I remember loving it. I was only eight, but don't you dare tell me I was too young.
Since then I 've seen the countryside of Japan, eaten massive amounts of crepes in Paris, France, touched the Mediterranean Sea and travelled Spain on crutches, and sat on the steps of parliament in Victoria, Canada. Each one incredibly unique. I could write pages on every single trip. I did wait until high school to leave the country again, but I don't think I appreciated these trips more simply because I was older. I appreciated each and every trip equally. I don't think that we need to wait until after high school to travel. In fact, I think it's incredibly important to experience other cultures while we're young. I so firmly believe in this that one day I hope to start a non-profit program which takes young students outside of the United States and shows them how to experience the world.
Mexico changed my life because I very quickly became aware of people outside of my situation. I appreciated what I had more. I gained a much greater understanding of the world, and it gave me an entirely new perspective of the world. You don't know something until you've seen it or experienced it. These trips killed stereotypes for me. I've learned to travel without cultural expectations. I've learned that rural areas can be just as cool as tourist locations. We can say we feel compassion towards those who are starving in Mexico or Africa, or that we understand there is poverty in India. But how can we know? Experiencing other cultures, breaking the language barrier, that is how it's done. When we're young we haven't quite formed as many judgments or expectations. We don't know what to expect, and we are more open to accepting these other countries. I have a greater understanding of the world because of these trips, a greater appreciation for my own country, a deeper love for those across the world, a sense of pride in my country, a passion for travelling, an acceptance of other cultures... It's important to break down stereotypes while we're young. It's important to understand others while we're young. I'm only eighteen now, but I'm not too young to travel. I'm going to study abroad. I have travel plans in the future. Many travel plans in the future. I don't plan on ever stopping.