13 Lessons From 13 Days Alone in Tokyo
Let’s state some facts right off the bat:
This is the trip I wanted to do for my entire life. I’ve never ever travelled on my own or left the continent before. I know very little Japanese. This was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
The first thing I noticed was how much I had mystified the idea of Tokyo. All we see of Japan in the media are weird things, some people would call it the WTF capital of the world but it all seemed to me as the opposite. Neither there were flying cars or bizarre scenes of people with big lumps on their faces as a fashion statement. I know this all sounds somewhat patronizing but that’s all what we‘ve been fed in our news feeds about this culturally rich and mesmerizing country.
Here is to you all, friends and soon to be friends, the most important things I learned from taking a leap of faith, buying a cheap ticket and staying in a $20 hostel for two weeks in one of the most intriguing places on Earth.
Embrace The Unexpected.
I don’t know what happened to my camera or my flash card but it turns out that most of my photos turned out glitched and were ‘ruined’. I could be furious about it because this was the trip I was looking forward to for my entire life, very literally, but instead I feel at ease. I see this as a gift of some sort, as if a higher entity was meant to make these images different, unlike regular tourist photos, these have a subtle ghostly quality to them now, I am grateful for it and I can only hope that I am able to continue living my life under this philosophy in many other areas, to stop getting mad at things when they don’t go as we want them to. Very often these sudden changes bring out the opportunity to look at the world differently. To experiment. It breaks you free from the burden of expectations, if only for a moment.
Not Everything Comes Down To Being Pragmatic.
In design as well as in life we can’t keep things always being just good enough for their use. If that was the case, that wonderful piece of the landscape would have never ocurred. In the same fashion, I try to make the most out of every day and every hour but sometimes to the damaging degree of forbidding myself from taking a break, meditating, simply being chill. Being so pragmatic takes a toll on us all at times. I am the kind of person that always seems too busy, but I don’t know myself if it is always on the right things. So this is my message to you, take a motherfuckin break, human. We are still not made physically or mentally to live like robots, it’s totally cool to not do at times.
You Have Something In Common With Every Single Human on Earth.
What would a trio of Icelandic guys that have travelled all over the world have in common with a Mexican girl living in Canada travelling on her own for the first time? No matter where you are or where you came from, there is something that you share with the person right next to you or on the other side of the Ecuador. I saw these three guys walking down the Shibuya crossing and I acknowledged them with a smile, because in this big city with such scattered and few foreigners, they didn’t have to be latino to be similar. We were all heavily foreign looking and that was mainly what we had in common, and that was more than enough. They asked me to take their photo in the famous crossing and after that, went for lunch, danced to a street musicians song, enjoyed some talk in the park while looking at some teenagers (or forty years old, with asian genes you never know) bboying and went to an Izakaya at night. They were amazing and I was so glad that we spent that day together, it reminded me that there is always a connection and I often fail to see it or care to see it on a daily basis, with all the wonderful beings around me, within the city I spend the most time in.
Life is Happening Everyday.
I know how this statement looks. But we oversee this way too often. Life is not only happening during a vacation, after work or on the weekends, it’s happening everyday and the amount of time we have in this world is precious to an extreme degree. We lie to ourselves believing that the most valuable currency is money, when it is actually time. Life only happens once, as far as we know, and sometimes I tend to forget that each of these days are a miracle and feeling ungratefully entitled to it is forgetting that other people are leaving this world at every second that pass by.
Reality Is What You Dream Of.
This entire idea came from my inexplicable desire to go to Japan but it was this year only that I knew I had to make it happen. I didn’t knew how I was ever going to accomplish that but I put it down on paper first and at some point a buggy airline system gave me the sweetest deal on a trip that I thought I was utterly unable to afford at this point of my life. I was awfully wrong. I had spent more on a Macbook, an iPhone and a Cintiq (that I had barely used) than on my plain tickets and accommodations in Japan. I spent a total of $1000 CAD on my dream travel main expenses, only then realizing how many experiences I might have missed due putting my money towards material things instead of life changing quests.
This made something else really clear to me, if you want it, write it down, do whatever you can to make it happen and take the opportunities when they present in front of you, because sometimes they do. But it all starts with knowing what you want and letting the universe know about it.
You Are Worth The Best Story Ever Told
You know that feeling of wanting to write a song when you’re sad or a poem when you’re happy but ultimately you end up telling yourself these situations aren’t really such a big deal and there is no good reason to make such fuzz about it? that story that you didn’t wrote when you suffered a heartbreak, the time you didn’t spend towards putting down words on paper to reflect the pain you were going through or wrote a post about that cause you feel really passionate about, because meh, that’s life and shit happens and it’s-not-worth-it.
Guess what? I didn’t guessed this long ago, actually. But this is what masterpieces are made of, this is what the most breath-taking pieces of music were built upon, life, the good parts, the shitty ones, the all-of-them. We have been told that our stories don’t matter, so well fuck that and the people who said it, our experiences aren’t any less important than anyone else and we have not only the right but also the moral obligation to honour our life by immortalizing and glorify it at times if necessary.
Happiness Is Somewhere in Between You and The Others
I went to Disneyland for a single day and many cultural aspects unfolded in front of my eyes during my 5 hours of walking around a park that I felt too old to be in already. Everything happens in groups. Groups of friends were almost all the time wearing matching clothes. Through the entire park. That is so rare to see in the Western that I can count the ones I’ve seen my whole life with one hand. Individuality isn’t a factor there, you are being part of a group and you need to show you belong. While Japan might be a place in which you are part of a group (and thus you have to honour this privilege) before you are even one self-thinking independent being, in North America we find it hard to belong and with the increasing use of technology we are losing our ability to exist in a communal state with others. These are both different sides to loneliness and there is no easy guide to achieve the sweet spot of having both but it’s worth to keep on trying by balancing both concepts until we get it right.
Stepping Away from Your Everyday Life Is Key
Lone traveling helped me reflect on things that are specially difficult to contemplate in the midst of my daily life, doing my work, paying the bills, volunteering, while taking in the roles of co-worker, girlfriend, daughter, big sister, friend, meeting up everyone’s expectations. When there is nowhere you really need to go or do, that’s when you are the most capable to reflect on who you are and where you’ve been. It sounds dead simple but it gives you the ability to stop and think. It is difficult to look at your life from a distance, like an spectator, if you’re right in the middle of the play, and I swear it is vital to do this.
Some Things Won’t Change No Matter Where You Are.
I expected many surprises and culture shock moments over there. I was a bit disappointed to not find many differences between the place in which I live in (Vancouver, Canada) and Tokyo. I was really expecting to see absurd looking characters on the streets of Harajuku or at least some crazy futuristic artifact other than toilet seats, but none of that was accurate. I felt shameful over stereotyping this culture for so many years, thinking that going to Japan would be just like stepping into a whole new world, but instead I found a place full of humans intrinsically the same, aiming for lols and connection.
Cats were specially the same. I have to admit I thought that Cat Cafe cats would be some new japanese breed of ultra friendly furry friends that would love to hang around people and be the most social creatures on Earth. But no. They didn’t give a shit about anything, just like the cats in Mexico, just like the cats in Canada. I don’t think I was able to pet a single one, because well, they were being cats and that means they still don’t like you, filthy human.
Reach Out to The People You Admire and You Might Find Yourself Partying with Them.
You might be surprised of the outcome. Before even planning my trip to Japan I had contacted one of the founders of Behance Japan. I thought it was an amazing project and wanted to know more of how it all started. Once the trip was for sure I asked to meet up and he agreed. We had a great convo over coffee and then he invited me to this underground party with insanely talented creatives living and travelling in Tokyo. But it had all really started months ago, when I messaged someone doing great things, who I have never met before, on the hope that maybe, just maybe, he might reply back.
Be Cautious, Not Afraid (aka It’s OK to Talk To Strangers, Kid).
One seemingly wasted day walking through Harajuku I got approached by the two girls in the middle of the last photo. They are hair stylists and they asked me to model for them at some point during my trip, I said yes, I was stoked about the sole idea of a photoshoot in Tokyo and better yet being able to hang out with nice locals in such an original way. Later on the week a thought came into my mind. I was alone in this city, no one to care about me if something happened to me, why on Earth had I agreed to do this?! what if they take me somewhere out of the city? I’m from Mexico, I should have known better than agreeing to meet with absolute strangers. What if they’re dangerous or trying to scam me because they know I’m traveling solo? I decide to give them the benefit of the doubt and looked them up, gave my host and my boyfriend back in Canada their information and ended up going.
After all of that, this day was my utmost favourite part of the trip and I could have missed it entirely because of fear. Susan, Tomoyasu, Mori and Maami were all genuinely the sweetest people that gave me incredible insight on what it was really like to live in Tokyo, I managed to quiet down my fear-based reactions and accomplished a profoundly interesting experience I will never forget. To be fair, I also skipped some invitations that seemed sketchy, so I’m in no way saying that you should be blindly fearless, but do your research and follow your gut feeling over fear at times.
My favourite part of the day was when Susan, originally from Latinoamerica but living in Tokyo for 8 years now, confessed the lovely truth about the people in the country of the rising sun -they’re like kids- she said while holding the bridge in that second photo because her mentor, on the other side, had called her to do so. I can’t help but to smile every time I remember that spontaneous quirky movie-like scene.
Material Things Matter Very Little When You Are Living Fully.
I dropped my iPhone in the bathtub and ruined it, lost my favourite coat and backpack, wasted money buying unnecessary tickets on the subway because I got lost several times. It didn’t matter. I felt nothing from it. I wasn’t even upset. It was more like an ‘oh well, it will be an interesting challenge to go around without mobile phone now’ and that was the extent of it. I couldn’t believe it myself, I wasn’t able to spend a single set of 3 hours without my phone ever since I bought it and there I was not giving a shit about it not working. I picture that happening in a different circumstance and I would have been mad as hell but being on the other side of the world, enjoying a hot humid day in Tokyo, that wasn’t a big deal. In fact, I realize it should never be, no matter what. Luxury items aren’t necessary, as much as commercials have forced us to believe, as long as I have enough to live and enjoy life, as long as I’m able to fulfill my projects and dreams, material objects are at the bottom of my list.
The Offline World is Quite An Interesting Place To Be.
This is a dreaded statement for many. No one wants to go to that coffeeshop without wi-fi. I couldn’t stand going out to the corner without my phone in hand. Even worse, I’ve taken it to the washroom (don’t judge me, I know you’ve done it TOO), where a mobile phone has literally no reason to be in your hands while you’re at it. Being ‘connected’ has gone from a cool thing to do to an extreme addiction. And who would know? being without it for the first time felt mainly like a relief. While I saw my phone screen colours fading away from existence I thought in a split of a second ‘it could actually be kind of nice if it didn’t worked anymore’. There, I was polarized between this thing in which I had spent so much money on and the subtle feeling of freedom that comes with being unreachable, but most importantly, it meant that my face wouldn’t be glued to a screen during the entire day, for once.
I still went on without a phone for two weeks and I’ve had multiple serendipitous bursts of ideas on those hours in which I didn’t had a mobile phone in hand and an endless stream of scrollable pages with catchy content to look at mindlessly.
Try it. Leave your phone at home for a day. Tell that writer you admire that his/her work has inspired you deeply. Do something that scares you at first. Tell me how it went.