I feel grateful for this trip. I feel grateful for the few people I met that left an impression on my heart and taught me more about human nature, not even in a “wanderlust” kind of way, but just in an everyday magic sort of way. I appreciated the normalcy of the different countries I visited, the things that were so regular to the people but so strange and exciting to me. There were little details to me that made me feel I was a completely new person, a child, discovering round edges on soft plastic things. Tokyo was a fantasy dream that hid secret messages, latent emotions, and felt like a puzzle that I could never quite properly figure out.
I consider myself now a seasoned photographer and writer but had only been photographing for a few months before I went overseas to Japan. Prior to the trip, I was feeling anxious, vulnerable and excited about being in a different country completely on my own (sentiments which I’m sure have been echoed a thousand times by people in the same position.) It was an interesting sort of time – I had won a writing scholarship to live and study in China for a month, and I used the rest of that money to go to Japan directly after. I was very lucky. I had applied very randomly and haphazardly and was shocked when I got the email of approval.
I had only been out of my first major relationship for a few months prior to my travels and took it as a lifeline, an opportunity to throw myself a curve ball and get through the trauma I experienced by focusing completely on myself and my aspirations. A few friends were living in Japan and had a spare room, and another friend from Melbourne was visiting around the same time, so it only made sense. I felt like I had to do what my grandmother would call the “done thing” and let myself accept an opportunity for once.
I imagined Tokyo as a blade runner-esque metropolis that loomed forever in the distance, hosting all sorts of new technologies and behaviours I’d never encountered in my life.
My romanticised visions of Japan from high school had never stopped lingering. I would soon find out that they were quite astute and lived up to these expectations but that there was lots more I wouldn’t have expected, waiting to be discovered. Some of these ideas were quite stereotypical: I imagined Tokyo as a blade runner-esque metropolis that loomed forever in the distance, hosting all sorts of new technologies and behaviours I’d never encountered in my life. In a way, some of these impressions are true. Japan feels so distinctly different to the rest of the world and when it does take elements of other cultures into it’s heart, those ideas are translated in new and exciting ways. The creativity and sense of purpose and design was second to none. Yet it was also exceedingly humble. The biggest parts of Tokyo were nowhere near as expansive or maximalist as Singapore or Hong Kong, for example. They were more efficient. There was more to see, smell and touch in a smaller vicinity. But I think I appreciated that.
It was so amazing going to Harajuku after wanting to go there my whole life – I think I spent about 6 hours in total in ragtag, a sort of secondhand, curated designer clothing store. I recommend it to people often while still acknowledging how it could be dangerous. I highly recommend putting time into exploring the little shops around Harajuku. Shinjuku, as well as Shibuya, were places I gravitated back to, because of the unique energy there and plenty of places I could look for cheap 34mm and instax film. The train system made me very nostalgic for the one in Sydney, which I had only used a few times in my visits there, and the etiquette was so formal and interesting to me in comparison to what I’m used to with Australia. I was living in Adelaide when I travelled to Japan. Navigating through the many shopping centres in Tokyo there filled me with a childlike joy that would be impossible to replicate anywhere else.
My heart bulged out of my chest at the many things I saw, the incredible design, the amazing plant life, the tiny intricacies I noticed everywhere I went which were completely unique to Tokyo, and the kindness of the people. In comparison to my experience travelling in China – where I was almost always in a group and felt sheltered despite my independence – the language barrier was less of an issue and I had a different sort of freedom.
I was made conscious of a country that works very hard to construct a facade built from efficiency, entertainment and innovation, but can’t cover up the creepy undercurrents of corruption. I felt constantly stimulated. What you’ve heard about the lights of Tokyo are probably true. There are so many, and they never stop, the neon burning itself onto my eyelids after days at a time in a city centre. It began to feel quite overwhelming, as much as I tried to keep up with everything and stay engaged in the present.
I went to Disneyland on my own, cried, then spent 8 hours feeling like I was living my wildest dreams.
I found myself crashing often and needing days upon end to recover from the vibrancy and energy of the city and disturbing persistent nature of the shopping assistants. I went to Disneyland on my own, cried, then spent 8 hours feeling like I was living my wildest dreams. I was living on some sort of eternal emotional rollercoaster. The artificiality of the whole place managed to feel real after a good 45 minutes, and that’s totally ok. I think I’m pretty big on the idea of having fantasies as long as you can recognise them for what they are: projections that we’ve created from feelings, thoughts and ideas that might not be totally rooted in authenticity. Nostalgia too can be an unreliable narrator.
I found a lot of strange parallels to Australia in Japan that I feel aren’t often emphasised. In some ways people are incredibly accommodating but in other ways the surface impression is very deceiving. Overall, it left me with a great desire to return, but also a more nuanced view of what Tokyo was. I am deeply aware of its flaws.
The unfamiliar makes practice gratitude in both focussing on things we might not have seen and nostalgia, something that we all need to incorporate in our lives to get the most out of them.
The intensity of Tokyo is amazing. I went from being excited and euphoric 90% of the time I was there, to suddenly having an anxiety attack on packed Tokyo public transport on the way back to my friend’s place. When you’re in a place like that, though, you can take the good with the bad and accept it as part of experience. The unfamiliar makes practice gratitude in both focussing on things we might not have seen and nostalgia, something that we all need to incorporate in our lives to get the most out of them. I say this from a psychological standpoint and a general one too. Travel is a privilege that gives us access to these insights. I hope I can remember this and keep it with me in my everyday life. I can push myself to see things the way they truly are, good and bad, and simply appreciate what is there.