An Awakening in Japan
Off to Japan with three of my favorite women.
I didn't love Japan because of it's busy streets and endless shopping. I didn't love Tokyo because it's the largest city in the world with good food on every corner, pretty lights that glisten in the night air, and some of the most well-dressed individuals I've ever seen. I didn't love Japan.
I felt something in Japan beyond love. I felt connected to Japan. I had an awakening in Japan. I saw a piece of my heritage I had yet to see, and all of the sudden so many things about my life made more sense. I was fortunate enough to experience it with my grandmother, mother, and aunt. Three generations of women trekked 27 hours to uncover their roots and to take the woman we owe all of it to - my grandmother - back for her final visit to her homeland.
My grandmother is 84, and like most elderly Japanese women, still has tons of energy and life to live. We visited my 94 year old great aunt while we were there as well. She walked slowly, but still seemed lively and happy - she seemed herself. I hadn't seen her since I was a child, and although I always remember her being old, she didn't look as though she aged the 20 something years she had.
We kicked off our trip in Okinawa (an Island that belongs to Japan) which is known to have the highest proportion of centenarians on the planet. They practice something called 'hara hachi bu', a term they say before beginning to eat, meaning to only eat until you are 80% full. What a concept! I practiced it my entire time in Japan and realized how very little it takes to actually feel satiated and to respect that feeling. I believe this has something to do with their long life expectancy, as does the Blue Zone Solution which you can learn more about.
We went to Okinawa for the Uchinanchu Festival which takes place every five years. It's a three day party where people from Okinawa who have moved away return to celebrate their prideful heritage, but also represent and teach others about where they live currently. It was a fun experience, I got to walk in a parade down the main street of the city, although I felt a bit of a fraud since my grandmother is actually from Tokyo, but her Okinawan friends invited her along as they have in years past. I later learned this may have been the final year this festival takes place, what an honor to say I was able to attend one.
Let the hustle and bustle begin.
After four fairly relaxing days in Okinawa we took the two hour plane ride back to the big island of Japan into the city of Osaka. Flying into Osaka was a terrifying experience considering all you see out of the windows are buildings upon buildings as you inch closer and closer to the ground with no sight of a landing strip. My heart may have actually stopped beating for a moment, thinking 'this is it... the pilot must be mad,' before safely landing. We didn't spend a ton of time actually in Osaka because each day there was spent leaving the city. We did however get to be there the night of Halloween which was a spectacle unlike anything I've ever seen! The masses of people dressed as everything you could ever imagine left me wide eyed and exhausted. Walking even a short distance turned into a frightful game of, 'will I ever make it out of here?'
Our first day trip was to Nara, the lovely city of friendly deer that will bow to you in a request for food. It's also home of Tōdai - ji, the worlds largest bronze statue of Buddha. I'm not a very religious person, but this temple brought me to tears. I have never seen something so beautifully powerful in all of my life and all of my travels. We took a ridiculously long train ride to Kanazawa at my grandmother's request, we spent less time in the city than we did traveling to it, but her dying wish was to go, so we did. Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, was another day trip. It's home to real life Geisha's, temples upon temples, and imperial palaces. Fushimi Inari - Taisha are the orange gates you've surely seen on Instagram that sit at the base of the mountain Inari. You can hike through their endless glory, something I will always remember as a favorite thing I've experienced.
Tokyo, the largest city in the world!
Then, we were off to Tokyo. I was actually really nervous about going because it is the largest populated city in the world. My aunt told me they used to have sticks they'd push people onto the subways with to pack everyone in. Oh, okay. The thought of maneuvering my human sized luggage around the masses of people crippled any positive thoughts I could have. But, it wasn't so bad after all. I recommend arriving before or after a rush hour, but even still you'll get by. I needed to take a lesson in packing lighter anyway - I learned that lesson on this trip. And for the record, they no longer use sticks to pack people on the trains anymore.
Tokyo is brilliant. It's similar to Vegas in the sense that it's always lively and there's bright, glimmering lights and noise in the busy downtown area's. There are a few downtown's which you can easily get to by their massive subway system. We stayed in Ikebukuru, a district my grandmother resided in before fleeing into the mountains due to the war. During our stay here I learned as a young girl she fled the morning before the fire squad bombed and completely destroyed her home. She lost everything and everyone except for her immediate family. I love my grandmother dearly, but she has a coldness to her - now I understand why. To survive something like that must turn off some emotions in you in order to continue living. My mother and I wouldn't be here if she hadn't fled that morning, and that's an interesting feeling to experience.
Anyway, endless shopping is around every corner. You may want to dress the part in Tokyo, all of the people there certainly do. I've never seen so many interesting styles, so many bangs, and so many beautifully, graceful women. Many girls are dressed with an inspiration to be doll like. I noticed many high heels with exposed frilly socks they folded down, often the color matching their purses. Lot's of pea coats and blouses with high waisted skirts that ended past their knee's. And for some reason there were so many over sized sweaters tucked into high waisted blue jeans. It sounds hideous and surely on me it would be, but they worked it - I mean that. Harajuku is known for it's insane fashion sense - you know, the one Gwen Stefani exploited years ago. It's an area of young people dressed in literally whatever they please. I truly admire their brave fashion sense and their ability to pull it off.
Parts of the trip were hard - like with any travel experience. My grandmother walked slowly so she wasn't able to experience a few of the day trips with us. She happily caught up on her Japanese television though. That woman loves t.v. It was a beautiful trip. It awoke certain area's within my soul I didn't know existed. It's important to learn about your heritage, and it's important to celebrate it. It's important to be proud of your roots and to experience them first hand. It's equally important to celebrate other people's heritage and experience them first hand, too. That's what travel is for me, a big celebration of different cultures, different humans, and all the amazing things we've done as a race. Travel is without a doubt allowing me to become a better human who respects everyone. You should try it out sometime! Cheers.
Upcoming Travel:// San Diego to visit a bestie and celebrate the new year!