My Fat Ass Backpack and other Japan Highlights
Since my return from Japan, I’ve been asked many times what some of the highlights were. The man with the silver capped teeth in Nara is definitely one of the first Japan highlights that come to mind. There are so many more, though! In my ten days and nine nights, I observed Japanese culture at every turn, on every train, every bus, and every exchange. I interacted with non-English speaking people at every opportunity, once using Google Translate to express my wish to be able to communicate better.
I quickly questioned Google’s ability to accurately translate my English to the appropriate Japanese interpretation. Much to my delight, my new friend at the Italian restaurant in Kyoto understood the gist. In speaking with he and his coworker, I briefly learned about their backgrounds, what they enjoyed doing in their pastime.
It really wasn’t any different than what the average American enjoys doing – fishing and singing karaoke! It’s these similarities that create a less divided world and fill my soul with the kind of joy I believe adults often crave. It’s the unbiased joy of innocence.
Boarding with a Broken Heart
I came to the realization that my longing for solo travel wasn’t voluntary. Yes, I always had a desire to travel, but the night I boarded a plane for Tokyo, I realized it was actually born from a broken heart. Sobering to say the least, I called my best friend an hour before she was to pick me up and take me to the airport, sobbing.
For quite a long time, I’ve taken care of myself. I moved away from home at the age of eighteen, fresh out of high school. I’ve enjoyed solo movie going and solo dining much to many people’s surprise over the years. But it wasn’t until my last relationship ended that this fire ignited in my soul. This fire urged me to go see all the things and meet all the people. I wasn’t running away or trying to prove anything to anyone. My intuition was telling me to go, the wanderlust was strong for lack of a better expression.
Tears of Gratitude
Loss can be motivating, even encouraging. As I stood in front of Todai-ji Temple, the largest wooden building in the world, in Nara, Japan, I wept. I wept tears of grief and sadness, but I also wept tears of gratitude. I made it. I was standing in front of this magnificent, ancient building amongst other curious travelers and I had my health. I’m still alive! My mother would be so proud of me, I thought to myself, as the tears rolled down my cheeks and the aroma of incense wafted through the early, crisp morning air.
Even though my heart carries many holes and a multitude of scars, it was full that morning. It was full of immense love and appreciation, even for those who have inflicted the wounds that caused some of those scars. I am shaped by the experiences. I wouldn’t be the woman I am so proud of today if it weren’t for the battles I fought to get here.
Wiping away the tears, I gathered my composure before proceeding to the temple entry where I stood before the largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan. Inside this temple, there is a pillar with an opening at the bottom, which is said to be Buddha’s nostril. Legend has it that if one is able to crawl through the opening, then he/she will achieve a degree of enlightenment in the next life. When I was there, a group of schoolchildren, clad in uniform attire were standing in line, profusely giggling as they assisted one another in their efforts to crawl through the “Buddha’s nostril.”
The Bee’s, er, Buddhist’s Knees
As I exited the building a Japanese couple were taking photos of one another in front of a Buddhist statue. This particular statue is known for its healing properties. If one is having knee problems, he/she must touch the knee of this figure and his/her knee will be healed or if one is having ankle issues and so forth. With hand gestures, I offered to take a photo of both of them in front of the statue. Traveling solo kind of behooves one to be the photographer in tourist situations. On most occasions, I happily offered before being asked. If only I’d known my knee would give out on me a day later, I would have touched the knee of this statue myself!
Japan Highlights include Solo Female Safety
The following is a highlight that I can already expect a lot of flack for. And honestly, even I realize it was dumb and certainly a risk. Nonetheless, I performed somewhat of a social experiment my second day in Tokyo.
I was in the sister restaurant of an establishment here in Los Angeles, having my first meal of the day. Vegan rancheros on point! I had already walked eight miles, I was running low on energy, and so was my phone. I had it plugged into the wall next to my table and my purse was in a cute little basket next to my chair. It’s something you’ll see all over the restaurants in Japan – baskets for your bags, purses, what have you.
From what I’d been told and observed in my first twenty-four hours, the Japanese are extremely responsible, trustworthy people. It’s one of the safest countries in the world, especially in terms of being a solo female traveler like myself.
Social Experiments Gone Right in a Foreign Country
I needed to use the restroom after the Americano and grapefruit juice I had downed and I didn’t want to unplug my phone or bring my purse. Leaving it all at the table in the crowded restaurant, I was 99.9% certain that it would be just fine. It was, but I would never do something like this anywhere in America. My passport was in my purse, after all! I did this once more whilst at a wine bar my last night in Japan because, well, my experiment proved the stories right. The Japanese are the trustworthiest human beings on the planet.
In conclusion, I thought I’d share a humorous highlight from the journal I kept while traveling Japan. On October 28th, while I was sitting in the restaurant mentioned above, I wrote,
“I’m so incredibly sore from lugging that fat ass backpack everywhere.”
Someone recently told me that I have “a way with words.” I wonder how they’d feel about this journal entry of mine. I must have truly been lacking energy when I can’t think of a better way to describe my only luggage. Perhaps my “fat ass backpack” and low energy level were what prompted me to perform risky social experiments. This “experiment” very well could have stranded me in a foreign country!