Japan Part I- This is a draft I started while I was away but didn’t finish or post during that time, as I got caught up in enjoying my time there. To read Part II, go here.
It’s hard to believe we’ve only been in Japan for a little over a week, as it seems like we’ve been here much longer. The days have been packed and we’ve traveled around in Tokyo, Gifu and now are headed to Kyoto. I’ve caught up with old friends, many of which I haven’t seen or talked to in almost 10 years and in that time, while many things have changed, most of the people haven’t. In most cases, other than being older, my Japanese a little rustier and myself being only slightly more mature, not a lot has changed.
Despite having slept only about an hour within a 24 hour time period (Neither Mr. C or I sleep well on planes), from the moment we arrived in Tokyo, we hit the ground running. We immediately exchanged our money and rail passes and headed to our AirBnb to check in before heading to our dinner reservations with a friend. That night we barely made it through dinner before crashing- the moment we got back to the apartment and our heads touched the pillows, we were out. It was exhausting but made our transition to the 13-hour time difference much easier. Over the next three days we met with friends, and traveled to places like the Studio Ghibli Museum, the Printing Museum in Tokyo, all around Shinjuku and enjoyed drinks in Golden Gai (which was fairly full of tourists, but still a fun experience). My friend also found us a spot where they make fresh taiyaki, which is a sort of fish-shaped cake filled with sweet bean paste.
Sunday we headed out for the Gifu prefecture, eventually ending up in a very small area called Mino-Akasaka, where only a single train comes about once or twice an hour or in the afternoons, not at all, depending on the time. We stayed at a temple that a friend of mine owns and enjoyed the relaxing pace of the countryside. The mountains there are very tall, very quiet, and very, very old. It rained a lot while we were there so most days, they were surrounded by clouds and mist and shrouded in mystery.
We wandered around to several temples, some of which were hidden away in woods filled with tall trees and moss where the air was distinctly cooler and we felt like we were the only people for miles.
Japan is largely known for its more populated areas- especially among tourists. People often travel big cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Yokohama and Kobe and whenever I tell people I’m visiting Gifu (especially Japanese people) they always look at me and ask, “Gifu? Why Gifu?”. I always proceed to explain that I used to live there when I was an exchange student in high school where the city was selected for me and how I still have friends there etc etc, but in all honesty, I love it there too.
Sure, I certainly admit my bias to it, as I used to live there, but I genuinely enjoy that quieter area of Japan. While Mr. C loved Osaka, his favorite times that we spent on our trip were in Gifu. He enjoyed the quietness of it and the beauty of the older towns and high mountains, while still knowing that we were only a few train stops away from cities and restaurants.
When I write about or talk about Japan, there’s so much I want to say. So many things I want to note and address with cultural differences as well as similarities. Like every country, it is nuanced and has it’s pros and cons. It is a country with severe cultural pride, while simultaneously fetishizing white-ness, which can be seen in people chosen for ads, television and the general media- Japanese and foreigners alike. A country with a large aging population while suffering from staggeringly low births. It is a country that often expects perfection from its people and workers, while also holding an appreciation for wabi-wabi (an aesthetic based around appreciating transience and imperfections).
More and more these days and recent events, I find myself thinking a lot about pros and cons of different areas and countries. No place is perfect- it’s simply not possible. But I think loving a country is much like loving a person: good and bad come hand in hand and you must find what you can accept and decide what is worth it, and what is not.
While I often find myself a romantic, when it comes to traveling and I love just about every place I go, Japan holds a special place in my heart. Even though I only lived there for a short time, it largely shaped who I am today and for better or worse, it will always feel like a second home to me.
Please stay tuned to my next posts, Japan Part II.