Back That Month Up | Kyoto
“But seriously, why are there no garbage cans?”
The first full day in a new city, which usually falls on a Sunday, is always super exciting. You feel energized by the newness of everything — the buildings, the apartments, and, of course, the food — and pretty much everyone is in good spirits. I remember our first full day in Kyoto being just like that…only it was ten times better.
All throughout that first day of exploring, which obviously included a trip to the Pokemon Store, we kept running into other small groups of Kaizens and everyone was just so giddy, smiling from ear to ear, excited to share what they had been up to or something awesome they found. I could not believe that we were going to spend five weeks here. It felt too good to be true.
Writing this post seven Sundays later, I can say that I was in a very different place mentally at the end of the month than when I was bopping around Kyoto on that first day.
While it will assuredly go down as one of my absolute favorite months, if not the favorite, it was also my most challenging and it’s not really even that close.
There are a lot of things that contributed to an unshakeable feeling of burnout by the end of the month — from missing both another best friend’s wedding and a most exuberant uncle’s funeral, to a messed up sleep schedule and crappy weather that affected my mood probably more than I realized, to things that no one else is to blame for besides myself — it all just kind of added up to put me in a big funk my last couple of days in Kyoto.
There were even moments when these embarrassing and guilt-inducing thoughts creeped in from what I assume is the upside down of my brain to whisper “hey, maybe the end of Remote Year will be a nice break after all…”
Where the hell did those come from!?
I’ve been living the most incredible seven months of my life and I am terrified of this being over. I don’t really think that… do I?
They tell you during RY Orientation about The Dip — a period that everyone will go through when you are in a mental rut and might even question your status with the program. I thought it made sense, but didn’t think it would apply to me.
I mean, how terrible would it be to complain about or feel anything other than gratitude and happiness during this year? We are so ridiculously lucky.
The more I thought about it though, I started to come to the realization that these nasty little thoughts have got to be normal.
How do I know this?
Because other people were going through it too!
My uber talented friend, Aashima, wrote about some of her challenges this month in a much more eloquent and succinct way than I could ever do. Her post resonated with a lot of people in the group — myself included.
In a weird way, her post actually made me feel better. Not in the sense that I compared our challenges and deemed mine to be less bad, but rather it was just nice to know that I wasn’t the only one.
I mean, it’s not exactly the go-to topic of discussion at group dinners, so it’s not always obvious who’s struggling with something at any given time.
“Hey, guys! I’m feeling like sh*t today. Now, who wants to hear me complain more!? Also, I’m fresh out of yen, can we just do credit card and Venmo?”
Uh, no thanks…and obviously the answer is yes to CC&V.
You are not a terrible, ungrateful person for not loving every single second, every single hour, every single day, every single week of this year.
I’ll be the first to admit that in a lot of ways, I’ve had it really easy on Remote Year so far. I’m pretty even keeled, so I haven’t experienced drastic highs or lows. If anything, I had been riding a six month long high.
Other people have had to deal with way more consistent and intense issues than I have, and those are only the ones I know about.
That being said, I found out this month that no one, not even the most seemingly luckiest of us, is immune to The Dip.
The trick is to recognize it, understand that it’s temporary, and then spend more time with your krew because they will help pull you out quicker than anything else and you also might be able to help pull someone else out of theirs.
I’m happy to say that despite the appearance of The Dip, I am not letting a couple of sh*tty days tarnish all of the amazingness that went on during the rest of the month.
After all, remember what I said at the beginning of this?
Month 7 is going to go down as one of my favorite months of the entire year! Japan is way more incredible than I imagined and it surpassed my expectations for so many reasons — despite the aforementioned challenges.
This was a really fun month for me in terms of the group because there were so many fresh faces around. Between some of my favorite RY Staff, RY Citizens, and everyone’s friends that visited this month, there was an influx of new blood throughout the five weeks that created a fun dynamic.
One of the RY Citizens that joined us this month was actually my blog-spiration back in the days when I was still a Premote. Lauren, who finished her RY with Ikigai a few months back, wrote my #1 favorite blog of all Remotes called Your Travel Blog Sucks. I thought her blog was so good that when I got access to RY’s Slack, I reached out to her for tips on how to start a blog because I had no idea wtf I was doing. I knew from her personality in her blogs and her writing voice that we’d be good friends, and I was write (lolz)!
The Japanese (!!!!)
One of the things that I was told about Japanese people before this month was how polite and friendly they were. I was even told that they are so polite that you don’t want to put them in a position where they will have to say no to you. My 5+ weeks in Japan did nothing to discredit these claims because the Japanese people I met, both young and old, were nothing short of incredible.
Ian and I took a taxi to Peace Memorial Park in Okinawa, which was 45 minutes away. We had a limited amount of time before we had to catch our flight, which was also 45 minutes away. When we got to the park, we realized that it would be nearly impossible to find a taxi afterwards. Using Google Translate, we asked the driver if he would wait for us while we toured the museum and then take us to the airport. He realized our predicament and obliged, confirmed by a friendly smile and nod. We trusted this guy so much that we left all of our belongings, passport included, in his taxi while we went around the park. An hour and a half later, we headed back to the parking lot to find our driver still there with all of our stuff. I would not have done that anywhere else that we have been.
Both times I went to Tokyo, the weather was pretty crap. The first time there was a monsoon and I’m 75% sure there was another one when I was there the second time, too. One night I went out by myself to get some tonkatsu because tonkatsu is life. While I was eating, it started to downpour. I left my umbrella at the hostel like a dingus, so I stood at the front door for a couple minutes as I collected the nerve to brave the storm (and probably play some Pokemon Go, let’s be honest). Just as I was about to take my first step into the probably-monsoon, my waitress came outside and said something in Japanese that I could tell meant something along the lines of “wait, don’t go yet!” She ran — like, literally ran — downstairs and came back with a nice umbrella for me and let me just take it. Although my Allbirds were still full of water from the walk back, I was full of appreciation for her…and a lot of delicious fried pork.
Not to be outdone, Japanese children proved to be just as incredible as the adults. One of the starkest differences I noticed about Japanese people was actually how I reacted in certain situations. When you’re traveling in Europe, you often hear about how good children can be as pickpockets. They come to your table, distract you under the guise of needing help, and next thing you know, your phone is nowhere to be seen. After months of this, I couldn’t help but reach for my pockets when a group of children approached Milena and I at Kyoto Station. Once I realized that they simply wanted to practice their English by asking me a few questions, I felt extremely dumb for having had that reaction. They even gave us some origami for our time. This happened multiple times throughout the month, and each experience was just as great as the last. If you are a foreigner in Hiroshima, you cannot walk 20 feet without a group of 10 kids running up to you asking where you’re from and what your favorite Japanese food is. One group of kids from Osaka literally just started hanging out with me for like, fifteen minutes.
I was so excited to get to Japan that I left Thailand early to spend a few extra days there. In my 40 days spent in Japan, I completely fell in love with its people, its food, its drastically different cities, its culture, and its convenience stores.
I hadn’t heard about Okinawa until just before I started RY. I had been reading a WWII memoir and was fascinated by the Battle of Okinawa, which ended up being the bloodiest battle of the Pacific Theater. After a quick Google search revealed that not only was there a memorial I wanted to visit, but that Okinawa was also known as the Hawaii of Japan, I knew I was going to make it happen.
I was able to get my buddy Ian to join me in deviating from Chiang Mai and we proceeded to swim with sea turtles in the clearest water I’ve ever seen, eat taco rice, and knock off just about everything else on my Okinawa to-do list — including a visit to Peace Memorial Park.
Kaizen was the first RY group to have Kyoto on an itinerary since the very first RY group. Nine groups later, RY decided to give it another shot and penciled it into our mysterious TBD month in October. All of the challenges this month brought considered, I still think having Kyoto as a home base for five weeks was the best case scenario.
While, yes, technically there had been an RY group in Kyoto before, I think that so much has changed with how RY operates nowadays that in most respects, we were a guinea pig group for the city. We had an entirely new city team, two new workspaces, and untested tracks. The only thing that could have possibly been the same would have been the accommodations, and ironically enough, they were the only thing I didn’t like about living in Kyoto.
Kyoto itself was the ideal place to call home for a month in Japan. It’s centrally located, making it easy to get your money’s worth from your JR pass without spending 84 years to get places; it’s immaculately clean, which is somehow counterintuitively made possible by the frustratingly non-existent garbage cans literally anywhere; and it strikes the perfect balance between having some of the modernity that you would expect Japan to have, but is also bursting at the seams with the old-school Japanese tradition that you’ve only seen in movies.
I was also taken aback by how calm things seemed to be throughout the city. People never seemed to be in a rush, you didn’t hear cars honking at jay-walkers because there were none, and people waited patiently in line to get on the subway after they first let people get off. All of it was amplified by the deafening quiet that seemed to permeate throughout the city — especially at night. Like, I literally don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more serene than a Japanese person calmly riding their bicycle down one of the quiet little streets by my apartment.
Kyoto was calm, it was quiet, it was immaculate, and it was wonderful.
After two weeks in Kyoto, a group of us made the arduous 20 minute Shinkansen ride to Osaka to see one of my favorite musicians, Andrew McMahon (lead singer of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin), in concert. We fortuitously ended up meeting him after the show because we accidentally showed up late and still had to finish our drinks.
Osaka is also known for its crazy Halloween parties that fill up the streets. Our going away party this month ended with most of Kaizen making the trek to Osaka for what ended up being a legendary and exhausting night. I think it’s safe to say that “Halloween 2017: Sponsored by Strong Zero” was an infamous night that will live in Kaizen lore for all of eternity.
MT. FUJI (ALLEGEDLY)
After a fun night out in Osaka, four of us hopped back on the Shinkansen and headed north towards Mt. Fuji (or so I was told) for a one night stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan — which is basically a really awesome traditional Japanese hotel. I say “allegedly” in jest, but also I kind of don’t. I have no visual proof that I was actually near Mt. Fuji because it was really rainy and foggy. Pics or it didn’t happen, amirite? (This ended up being a common theme for most Kaizens who tried to visit Mt. Fuji.)
After changing into the yukatas and 💚toe socks💚they provided us, we were served a Japanese dinner in our room while we sat on the floor. Afterwards, the dinner table was moved to the side and they lined up four “mattresses” right where we had been eating tempura not five minutes earlier. What initially looked like a questionable sleeping situation ended up being the most comfortable sleeps I’ve had on RY. Add in multiple trips to the onsens and the fanciest breakfast I’ve ever had, and you’ve got yourself an incredible, squeaky clean 18 hours.
The rain ended up ruining a lot of our plans for this leg of the trip. We didn’t see Mt. Fuji, we didn’t explore the area at all, and we didn’t go to the theme park that we basically planned this trip around. We literally could have done all of this way easier, quicker, and cheaper in Kyoto and had a similar experience. However, looking back on it now, I have absolutely zero regrets about any of it. It was an instance where I had the realization that it’s genuinely not always about where you go or what you do that is important, but it’s who you’re with that makes the most difference.
When you think about it, that’s kind of the entire draw of Remote Year, too. You could probably travel cheaper and choose where and when you travel, but that’s missing the point. You won’t have the people along for the ride that make all of it worth it.
Tokyo is the biggest (and safest) city in the world, which means you could never see enough of it in one trip. In true Miguel fashion, I did next to zero research about what to do and see, so I needed to visit twice, and even that wasn’t enough time.
It is without a doubt the weirdest (sorry, Austin) and most visually interesting city I’ve ever been in, and I absolutely loved it. Even the most blatant tourist traps, like the Monster Cafe and Robot Restaurant, were worth every penny. Walking around different neighborhoods like Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, and Akihabara was so fun because each had their own distinct feel that had you walking a little slower than normal so that you didn’t miss anything.
Oh, and it also made me want to move to Portland thanks to PDX Taproom’s insanely appealing Portland marketing video that plays on loop. We may or may not have gone there three times. Am…I in love with Portland now?
You cannot live in Kyoto, or Japan for that matter, and not visit Hiroshima. In one of our last weeks, I felt the need to step away from the group for a bit and do a mini solo trip, something I hadn’t done since July. I booked a hostel in Hiroshima where I spent one day exploring the nearby island of Miyajima, which is famous for its bold deer that will run away with any unattended bag of food and its floating Torii Gate, and one day exploring all of the historical landmarks and museums in Hiroshima.
The weather on the day I spent exploring Hiroshima was absolutely perfect, which felt kind of strange given that it was such a somber experience. In fact, the exhibits at the museum were so heavy that I wanted to leave early without seeing the last two rooms. I stayed because I felt an obligation to see everything, but damn.
The rest of the day was spent walking along the river by the A-bomb Dome, visiting the other landmarks throughout the Peace Memorial Park, and reading every single page of a fascinating binder of information about the build up to the A-bomb and after effects that was written by someone who was in utero at the time of the bombing. Apparently he sets up the binders, which are written in multiple languages, outside the A-bomb Dome every day and just talks to the tourists about his experience.
This visit was a fitting end to the little WWII tour I have been doing this year in Europe and Japan since the A-bombs that were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki effectively ushered in the end of the war. These experiences have been some of my favorites from this entire trip.
Being a Kid Again
Japan is incredible for many reasons, but one of my favorite was how it made me feel like a 12 year old kid again. All of your favorite anime shows that you watched growing up — Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, etc. — are still alive and well over there and they’re not just for the kids. For example, Pokemon is still big in Japan and it wasn’t uncommon to find yourself surrounded by a couple salarymen during a Pokemon Go raid. Walking through the Pokemon Stores in Okinawa and Kyoto honestly gave me so many feels because of how in heaven 12 year old me would have been…ok, 27 year old me loved it too. I even got some samurai training that was clearly aimed at the school children on field trips, but whatever, I’m kind of on a year long field trip.
I love weird things and Japan had an endless supply of them. I started to call these incredibly endearing quirks, which often were born from what I presume to be questionable Japanese to English translating, #japanthings. They could be found on subway ads, in stores, and printed on clothes. They were non-stop entertainment and, to no one’s surprise, they were especially prevalent in Tokyo.
The food in Japan is unfreakingreal. Yes, we all knew that the ramen and sushi would be incredible, but it was the other Japanese foods that really stole the show for me. I could eat tonkatsu, gyoza, and convenience store buns on repeat for a long time. Even the convenience store prepackaged meals were unreal. The only downside to the food situation is how carb heavy it was. Much rice. Very noodle.
If you are one of the three people who made it this far, I commend you for your patience. This month was the most jam-packed, most challenging, and most rewarding month I’ve had this year and I felt that it deserved the detail.
The beauty about moving every month is that even if you do find yourself in The Dip, you don’t have to wait too long until you move to a new city and get that first day feeling all over again.