I asked her to be my girlfriend before I left for Japan to be robbed and die.
Every time I go overseas I imagine something bad will happen. It makes me do wild things. In 2017 I was getting over a bad breakup. A trip to Japan was supposed to take my mind off things. In the middle of a rose garden I asked a woman I’d been dating to be my replacement girlfriend. The next part is a little weird.
I then had my ex-girlfriend agree to guide me on a walk across Japan. It was a deeply selfish move in hindsight. She wrote me a travel guide and was on call via mobile phone in case I got lost in Japan.
The birthplace of the Sony Walkman I’d worshipped as a kid was to be my home for a few weeks. Japan is an unsuspecting country. You arrive and think there isn’t much to do. As you spend more time in Japan you realize it’s the simplicity and tranquility of each city that is its secret.
Japan looks like boredom at first. That’s your drunk, dopamine-addicted mind talking.
As you wander through the clean streets you see your life in a different way. Japan is the perfect cocktail experience to sip on after your romantic life gets ripped into a million pieces because of your own selfishness.
Craig Mod wrote about his own walk across Japan. There were some similarities to my walk. But there were many unusual aspects of his walk that opened my eyes, and they can do the same for you.
A Peaceful Society Is Underrated
When Craig was asked by a 70-year-old Japanese man what his favorite thing about Japan was he mentioned healthcare, no guns, and safety.
While in Japan, you don’t know why you love it. It takes time to pinpoint its magic. A year before my Japan trip I was in America. I did a walk down to the Ferry Building in San Fran and saw a local with a small desk set up. I walked over to take a look and saw a reality TV star’s face on some badges. The merchandise was being offered due to an election. Before I could think any further, a 50-something lady screamed at me, “get out of here you bum!”
I was a tourist. I was curious. And that curiosity made me look stupid in front of a crowd of onlookers. It was a moment I would never forget — being randomly abused by a local for looking at a political badge and saying nothing. After the encounter, I went to a hip startup office to meet an Aussie friend.
He told me about how he had an accident and had to pay $50,000 in medical bills because of it. The thought of getting sick meant potential bankruptcy to him. In the evening I took a walk around the Mission District. There was crime, drugs and people doing shady things. I just didn’t feel safe.
When I contrast this experience to Craigs it really does remind me why I love Japan. You always feel safe in Japan. Strangers don’t abuse you. In fact, many local Japanese people delighted me with small surprises. They would hold the door open. Or give me a small gift. Or allow me to sample sushi without expecting a dollar from me. Or ensure a taxi knew where to take me.
There is something to be said for feeling safe and having access to healthcare when you get sick.
A Cosmic Feeling of Hope Will Give You Tingles Down Your Spine
“What I saw around me were people who were taken care of — by their families, communities, government — a feeling which, in turn, made me feel hopeful in the biggest, most cosmic way of being hopeful,” says Craig.
Hope is a powerful drug. When there is no hope, you feel helpless. Japanese people have a mantra: to take care of each other. When your elderly parents get old you don’t stick them in a retirement home. You take care of them.
Walking through Japan and seeing people take care of each other is an odd feeling. In San Fran, I saw desperate homeless people in places like the Tenderloin crying for help. The locals just ignored them and kept walking like the screams were coming from a movie they were watching on their phone with their over-sized world-canceling headphones.
Australia, where I live, isn’t much better. Homeless people are cast away into alleys and abandoned buildings like the forgotten generation. Mental illness destroys their lives and keeps them in ruins.
I didn’t see a single homeless person in Japan. I wish I’d asked why. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough. Or maybe their society didn’t understand homelessness. Japan isn’t perfect, but it does feel different.
When people have hope they can make it through tough times. They seem to instill hope in others without even trying to.
Experience the Gift of a Toilet Throne
“Now I will give you a present. Go to the toilet.” I balked. What kind of present was this?
I obeyed. I opened one door and then another, and a pure white light emerged from the tiny bathroom. I entered, and looked up. The ceiling was an improbable 25 feet above me with a glass ceiling. Sunlight flooded the room. The sink was black marble. And in the middle of the otherwise whitewashed space was a simple, beige toilet. It was the most ridiculously and gloriously presented toilet I had ever seen. Imperial. It was an imperial toilet.
I wanted to share that serendipity. Look! A man who is almost 70 and has run a cafe almost every day since 1984 has built a toilet for the simple purpose of bedazzling his customers!
What Craig describes on his walk across Japan happened to me. One afternoon I walked a long way to a cafe down a quiet suburban street. It was right on the corner of a diamond-shaped intersection. Even with a google map it was hard to find. I think that was the point.
I walked in and found myself not in a cafe, but a Buddhist temple. The food was laid out like an imperial buffet from ancient royal times. Like the belly bursting westerner I was, I devoured as much food as I could. The food was all you can eat and the price was a steal. I took dish after dish to my tiny table by the window that backed onto an alley with no traffic. Once all the food was stored in my stomach, I signaled one of the staff for the bathroom.
I wasn’t expecting much. The building wasn’t in great order and wouldn’t wow a Hollywood interior designer. The waiter took me out back to the bathroom. His face gave away his intrigue. I walked into the bathroom and was pleasantly surprised.
I sat my ungroomed, unshaven ass on that clean white throne.
The room was tidy. Someone had scrubbed the floors with a toothbrush, it looked like. There were interesting illustrations hanging on the wall. The bathroom was inviting. You could do your business and forget the world.
Everyday things take on a new meaning when you stop taking them for granted for a few seconds. Japan is a reminder of the everyday things you use, abuse, and overindulge on for no good reason.
True Disconnection Is a Reset Button for Your Life
Craig Mod completed a walk across Japan that took weeks. The road he took was called “Nakasendo,” meaning “inner mountain route.” It is referred to as a historical long walk. As Craig did the walk he imagined what people from generations long ago saw on that walk.
Walking as though you’re following the steps of a person who was born hundreds of years before you, subtly changes your thinking.
The most interesting part of Craig’s walk was his relationship with technology. He made the bold decision to block news and social media apps from his phone, so he wouldn’t be tempted to use it as a “teleportation machine,” but instead, a “context machine. Craig used Wikipedia, Google Maps (to find cafes) and Japanese blogs to guide him — all for context.
The goal of Craig’s walk wasn’t to be stimulated by tourism and a rainbow-colored screen of delight. His goal was total boredom. Technology took him away from boredom, and Craig needed the boredom to win back the meaning of his walk and those who had done it as many as 400 hundred years ago.
The elimination of news and social media from his walk across Japan allowed him to interact with real humans. The spoken hellos were better than the likes. “To be ‘bored’ is to be free of distraction,” says Craig.
Aim for Habit Breakage Regularly
I went to Japan to break my habit of bad romance with the opposite sex. It took me three years to understand that’s what I was doing.
A walk across Japan is like looking in the mirror at your future self. You can have a conversation with yourself while walking the same steps as people who didn’t have the privileges you had, and had to work hard without the option of online passive income or stocks to boost their ego.
Here’s how Craig describes it: ‘The walk is just physically rigorous enough, and the disconnection just extreme enough, to create a flywheel of habit breakage.”
Your life changes in unexpected ways when you break all of your habits.
Don’t let a cataclysmic event occur before you decide to teleport yourself away from your phone and onto an ancient walk with interesting bathrooms made to delight customers more than the food you’ve just eaten.