Look. I just don't think I have the writing prowess to accurately capture the sheer experience of Japan for you all. I would like to, I really would. But man, there is just so much that is... indescribable.
I think I've settled on giving you small glimpses into experiences and feelings I had while I was there in some attempt to give you a window into what it was like. So, I hope this kind of works. If not, I'm sorry.
-Flying on my own, exhilarating feeling of being truly free and alone, fragile, vulnerable, independent and like I've actually attained the feeling I longed for all those times I felt like packing it all in and just disappearing from the life I had. This is me, doing that shit for the next week.
-Landing in the completely foreign world of Japan, the language is completely different, feeling like I wish they were just speaking Chinese cause at least I understand some of that, realising how weird it is that I understand some Chinese now
-This feeling of floating through life like a bobber on the surface of a pond cause there's no meaning to assign to the things that would hold you here, in this place, in this moment. You can't read the signs, understand the announcements, figure out what the food on the menu in the picture is, what the street names are, what direction is up, down, or all around. All you can do is hope that you read enough about this place to get around, that the transit map you have is accurate and that the vague route you've charted for yourself on what seems like literally hundreds of subway lines is going to get you to the strange place with the different name that sounds like nothing you have a context for.
-Being ok, making it there, and feeling accomplished as fuck.
-Arriving in Shibuya, finding the crossing and feeling like there is this pulsing, throbbing, life coming up from the pavement through your shoes and into your blood
-People everywhere, lights flashing, music blaring, stores everywhere, red light, white light, a beautiful hustle, the world standing still while everyone waits for a light to change and then, suddenly, the explosion of hundreds of bodies throbbing out and across this intersection that looks like daylight from the neon beaming down on it
-Feeling like the other stuff I've done in Asia were the water wings to prepare me for Japan. Crossing the street with oncoming motos in Vietnam, listening to a million words in languages I don't know how to speak, zebra crossings, the subway lines in Hong Kong, China, Singapore, London, Malaysia, Toronto all coming together for this: the apotheosis of subway lines
-Constantly being struck by the sheer graciousness of the Japanese. People bowing to me, saying thank you in the politest ways, taking such good customer care of me that I feel like a queen, literally running in heels to pick up a computer printout for my Shinkansen ticket. Wanting not to compare these people to the people I've encountered in Singapore and China, but not being able to help feeling so damn impressed with the people of Japan
-Being awkward and unable to speak the language, feeling ashamed of myself daily for my intrusion and ignorance
-Walking through Harajuku, blaring music, insane colours then turning a corner into Meiji shrine and finding a peaceful, beautiful forest, with streams and trees and animals and birds and a beautiful, almost silent shrine that transcends religion
-Strolling through the gardens of the Imperial palace after finding my way through the concrete jungle to get there, being weirded out by the juxtaposition of the buildings in the background rising up above the beautiful, landscaped perfection of a Japanese garden, then falling in love with the possibilities of Tokyo
-Looking up and seeing layer after layer of humanity, highways, train tracks, office buildings, pedestrian walkways, elevators rising through the floors, signs peering out through the cracks and thinking how many layers of humanity you could find in Tokyo would fill a lifetime
-Shinkansen, going super fast, looking out at the beauty of the countryside, struck by how green everything is. Announcement: "No smoking will be allowed on this train...except for in the following cars:...." being fascinated with the culture of smoking here, there are designated smoking areas and you don't see anyone walking around and smoking out on the street, but smoking is allowed in almost every restaurant, hotel lobby and even on the train to Kyoto
-Kyoto, is almost too beautiful a place to describe for you
-When I got there, I felt depressed and lost because I didn't have a lonely plant book for it. Then I went to the tourism information and the world opened up for me. Funny how information is so essential to the enjoyment of a place for me
-Taking the bus everywhere, seeing temple, shrine, temple, shrine, bam bam bam bam, feeling like my eyes aren't enough to take in the beauty, the greenery, the fineness and grace and elegance involved in every leaf, bit of moss, carefully curving branch involved in these beautiful places
-Walking through Gion for hours, the strange dichotomy inside of not wanting to be a gawking white person looking at a culture through a glass pane, not wanting to feel like the Maiko who walked by me was an animal in the zoo for me to observe, but still having the uncontrollable fascination. Struggling with the feeling of being some sort of sanctimonious hipster prick for making judgments like that on people who are tourists when I am one myself, realising that this whole thing was stupid to be thinking about and probably the result of being alone with no one to talk to for days on days and days.
-Sushi and Japanese curry and beautiful light Japanese beers and loving sitting in restaurants and reading books and enjoying food and being completely on my own, selfish schedule that decides when and where and how I do things and not having to wait for anyone else to finish at a place, or having the feeling that I have to stay for long enough to seem to other people like I've truly appreciated a place
-Slaking my thirst for beauty like some sort of dazed drunkard, rushing from temple to temple and not taking more than half an hour at each because that's as long as I wanted to take, thanks
-Everything is beautiful. Even when its ugly. Feeling like I will break down and cry at the splendor of nature.
-Going into a hot spring and being naked with all of these Japanese ladies, feeling super out of place and trying not to look too much at the naked ladies, but needing to so that I know what the hell the protocol here is, cause the Lonely Planet said some stuff, but I still don't want to do some heinous, offensive, white people thing that will ruin the peace and tranquility of this strange naked people place. Feeling very pink.
I don't know. Maybe that's too much. Maybe it's not enough. I guess it sums up some of it.
And, I have lots and lots of pictures, here they are:
Saturday, September 1, 2012
My first night in Japan was good. I landed at Narita and managed to find the train station. I took a very futuristic train straight to Shibuya which is the area I am staying in. I walked out of the train station and came to terms with the fact that there was no way I could hope of navigating my way to my hotel from there so I accepted fate and hailed a cab. Thus began the Gong show I will call Talking to Japanese (In English). People are really patient and sweet and they talk to me in Japanese and I talk in English and we both giggle and mime our way through. I feel like an ignorant Westerner, which I am, but at least I kind of know my Asia, so I feel much more prepared for Tokyo at night than I would have a year ago.
Found the hotel, it is very cute. It`s a little boutique hotel and my room is adorable and tiny. The toilet has a permanently heated seat and an automatic flusher and all sorts of bidet functions I dont want to explore for fear of the fact that one of them I think is some sort of enema. I just hope I dont hit the wrong button in a stupour one night and get more than Id bargained for.
I went out exploring Shibuya and it took me a while to find Shibuya crossing, but when I did, holy pants. Its the place you always see int he movies of Japan, with the insane flashing lights and videos blaring commercials and thousands of people crossing the street. It is beautiful and crazy and everything I had hoped it would be.
Some young guy took my hand while I was crossing the street and told me I was very beautiful and that he loved me. I laughed and laughed and showed him pictures of Ben on my phone. I used my translator to say that he doesnt know me so he cant possibly love me but he insisted that I smell good and I am a genius. I think these are some of the only English words he knew. I laughed and laughed and then wandered away while he was on the phone.
I had an awesome Shiatsu massage that was the perfect thing for just having got off a 7 hour plane ride and went home to bed. It is raining a lot here right now so I`m trying to think what to do with myself. I want to see some sumo and the Imperial Palace and do some shopping. Harajuku is supposed to be awesome on Sunday nights so I think I am going to head there tonight. I dont know why Sunday night but I`ll let you know and get back to you.
Essentially, I feel like the other places I`ve travelled in Asia have prepared me in slow steps for Japan. My friend Kelli said that she has felt like Japan is real Asia, like dark, totally different, inaccessible Asia and she`s right in a way. But I think that it all comes together to make sense here.
Coming here on my own in some ways is more scary than it was to go to Singapore because Singaporeans speak English and there was someone there on the other side to meet me. That being said, its one of the most exciting things Ive ever done and Im so glad I have. This is certainly one of those things I will have in my heart, a memory that will last until my inevitable strokes wipe them out.
More to come, also, I would like you all to notice that I have sorted out this Japanese keyboard and that there are no kanji characters at all. I am a goddess of sorting stuff out.