When I was a child, my parents gave me a small porcelain statue of a geisha. It belonged to my father’s mother who passed away before I could form a memory of her. The statue was all white with pale blue and pink markings. The geisha knelt with a small drum beside her as if she were about to play it. Her hair curved high above her head in a beautiful sweep and a small dab of color formed tiny heart shaped lips on her face. That one impression of a beautiful culture so different than my own, planted a seed in my child’s heart, growing a love for all things Japanese. A large poster of a winter scene in Edo by the famous printmaker Hiroshige hung in my office at work. My bedroom once was filled with Japanese items and dark wooden furniture, I delight in shopping for sweets at Asian markets and my cat’s name is Geisha. Needless to say, a visit to Japan has been long overdue.
There have been moments where I’ve had a longing for home, having taken so much of the world in and felt like flying back to Michigan early. Yet that child’s voice in me sent impressions of Japan fluttering to the present, reminding me of a long standing dream to visit one day.
Japan has been everything I imagined and more. If it hasn’t been on your wishlist for travel, I highly recommend looking into it. It is a country others can learn from. It’s especially great for solo travelers. It’s safe, clean and easy to get around. Out of all my travels, the Japanese public transportation has been the best. They are punctual down to the second when it comes to riding the trains and there’s the added bonus of a musical jingle played whenever one was about to arrive. Japan ranks in the top ten as one of the safest countries in the world. Crime levels are low, very few Japanese own guns and there are few deaths related to them. One year, there were only two gun related deaths in the whole country!
The Japanese are helpful, polite and honest. They are so honest I was chased down after leaving a restaurant and not waiting for my two cents change. Two cents! People often tried to practice their English with me and went out of their way to be nice and help. I remember sitting at a theater in a whole row of Japanese women who struck up a conversation with me. They were dressed beautifully and belonged to a kimono club. I could tell they were trying hard to communicate and be nice to the young solo female traveler next to them. When they heard of my year long journey, one of them took a small golden charm off her purse and gave it to me for good luck. It’s small things like this that happen every day when traveling in this country that make it so enjoyable. I loved how they took such joy in celebrating the seasons. Women would wear kimonos with whatever flower was currently in bloom and people everywhere were having picnics under the Sakura trees.
“In the city fields
Strangers are like friends”
― Kobayashi Issa,
On top of the nice people, the country is beautiful. The cities are fun and easy to explore though at times the lack of English signs can be a challenge. One thing I really liked was that I felt like I was somewhere really different, yet without all the struggles a foreign place can sometimes pose. I had no fear of someone stealing from me, didn’t get sick from the food and walked around in the evenings with ease. I also loved that while there were touristic areas, they didn’t push things on me. I didn’t get the sense like I have so many other places that they were just out for my money. Also, even in the crowded areas, people were still courteous and gave me space. If I was taking a photo, they would stop in their tracks and wait until I was finished to walk by. Japanese people are so patient. If you’re waiting for a train, everyone waits in line and doesn’t push ahead. At traffic lights, pedestrians all stand patiently until the walk sign is lit up, even if there are no cars in sight for the entire time. One time, I couldn’t read the menu in a restaurant and the waitress stood and read every item and gave a description to me. There I go again, talking about the people.
I was constantly amused by the quirky and the cute in Japan as well. There were so many times I just had to stop and take things in, baffled by the strange curiosities I beheld. I was constantly smiling at the odd and fun things I saw on my walks.
As my time winds down here, I feel a little bit of sorrow at the end of my journey in this captivating country. It has been a very joyful time for me here. I’ve experienced some really special moments while exploring Japan. I will always remember the beauty and brilliance of the spring concert in Kyoto. Watching the Geisha dance in their colorful kimonos brought so much joy that tears welled up in my eyes. I immersed myself in Japanese culture any time I could and even became a Maiko for an afternoon. The transformation was a fun peek into an ancient culture. Climbing through the tunnel of red torii gates to a mountain top was another highlight. I put one foot in front of the other in a type of meditative walk. The forest light filtered through the repeating arches and put me in a very calm state of mind. Visiting the endless temples and gardens under the blanket of pink cherry blossoms in bloom was like being in a painting brought to life.
Yes, my departure is bittersweet. I also have the sense of the end my trip around the world looming in front of me. Soon, I will be confronted with starting up my new photography business and trying to make ends meet by being an artist on my own. I’ll have to curb my craving for travel and actually work for a while. It will be under my own terms though and an exciting new venture. I will welcome spending time with my friends and family. I’ve also missed my two cats. I eagerly await cuddling up with them in my bed. My glorious and magnificently comfortable bed! I want to burrow under my fluffy duvet and swish my legs around in my jersey cotton sheets in celebration of the small things I’ve missed. Then when I’ve had my fill of that, I will cook and bake in my kitchen ’til my hearts content. The scent of homemade cookies will fill the air and the windows will let in the first hint of a Michigan summer. It will be good to be back, yet it has been wonderful to satisfy my inner child’s curiosity in Japan and it is a great closing to my world travels.