From November 1 to November 22, 2016, I was in Japan on a solo excursion. I spent five days with a friend, five days in Kyoto, five days in Tokyo, one day trying to see Mt. Fuji, and four days in Osaka. I had a lot of ups and downs, I ate a lot of stuff I’d never eat at home, and generally had a great time.
Over the course of several parts, I’ll be recounting everything I can remember day by day. I kept a lot of brochures and knickknacks from the trip which I plan to scrapbook and share along with this series. Additionally, I’ve still yet to share my a lot of my photos (outside of my Instagram posts) with my friends so this will supplement that.
Let’s begin with a prologue.
It was May 2016. I was taking an extra semester at university to complete a minor so I could hopefully graduate into a job. (Writing this in May 2017 I’m still unemployed so HA, this didn’t help). I had somehow managed to get two summer jobs; one job was as a Teaching Assistant for an online course, the other a Front Desk Assistant at the university residences.
At the time, I was low on funds and I was wary to ask my parents for some money because I knew I had two jobs coming up.
I bring up the money because, at the end of the semester, I made a butt-load of it. It would be the most amount of money I would ever make from a summer job.
I was still in school, but a lot of my friends had graduated and left campus. I had people to hang out with, but two of my good friends had returned home. One, Allie, was working part-time to prep for graduate school. The other, Breanne, found a full-time job as a Starbucks manager. I knew we wouldn’t be seeing each other for a long time since the three of us lived in three very distant cities from one another (literally Northern, Southern, and Eastern Ontario).
I had an idea – let’s go on a graduation trip! I had the cash (for once in my life) so why not spend it on a once-in-a-lifetime trip? My thoughts were naïve. I wasn’t considering my friends’ situations. In my mind, they were getting some money and could spare time. Why not hop on a plane and go stay in some European hostels?
I got a little too into the idea and started planning. I was checking flights online, writing itineraries, and listing attractions we could visit. I was trying to figure out a route through all these European countries that stayed within a reasonable time limit.
It was didn’t work out.
Ultimately, the idea was dead by late May/early June. We three couldn’t find time that matched up, and Breanne and Allie had other more important financial responsibilities.
For a time, I thought about going to Europe by myself, but I nixed the idea pretty quickly.
Then came my mother and long story short, because she wanted to go to Europe, I went on a 26-day trip to France, Italy, and Barcelona (with my parents) as a graduation gift.
Before and during all this Europe hype, my friend Jessica was prepping for her year teaching English in Japan. I was rooting for her getting into the program and by May 2016 I’m pretty sure she was confirmed for going. Throughout the term she was studying Japanese and confirming paperwork.
When we hung out, Jessica would describe how people would be visiting her; her sister, her parents, a couple of friends, etc. After my Europe hype with friends turned graduation present, I now had a lot of disposable money and no big purchasing intentions. I, unfortunately, didn’t have any employment perspectives. I don’t know the exact day, but sometime during this spring semester I decided – I’ll go to Japan by myself.
My justification was varied:
- Firstly, I knew Japan was like the safest place to visit, so I wasn’t worried about going alone and staying in hostels.
- Second, I trusted the food. My mother always says if she went to China she would become a vegetarian. I’d probably do the same, or at the very least be hesitant. Japan, from my understanding, had recognizable food that I wouldn’t be surprised by. I knew there was a lot of fish, which was troubling for me since I really dislike any seafood, but I promised myself to try everything I could.
- Third, I am a fan of anime/manga so there would be lots of stuff I could/would buy.
- Fourth, Jessica, the nice girl that she is, would let me stay with her for a few days. I could adjust to the jetlag, she would show me around her area, and I’d have a familiar face to remember before I went head-first into culture shock.
- Lastly, it would likely be the only time I could visit Japan with no outside responsibility.
So, the plan was set. For the most part.
I kept telling friends and coworkers I’d be going on two trips after I graduated, but I didn’t start planning my Japan trip until after the Europe one. I bought the plane tickets while in France, then just managed to book hostels and whatnot when we got back in October. I somehow pulled off everything and best of all it was all within my budget.
When I saw my family over Christmas, one of my aunts asked me “Why Japan?” and I really had to think about it. Any of my friends would say it’s because I’m an anime fan, but that’s not the primary reason. I think anime stuff and Jessica played an important part (having a lifeline in a totally foreign country is reassuring), but in retrospect It was because I’m a little bias.
Japan is a polite, clean country that I have a general understanding of. It’s safe, it has easy access western food, and it’s got stuff I want to buy. I like to think of it as my baby step into touring Asia. Japan is the introduction. It’s the place I’d suggest someone take their hesitant family. It’s probably the only place my black family wouldn’t recoil at (outside of the food).
I like to think I had a wacky adventure and, in some ways, it was. Overall, however, it was pretty normal. Some funny highlights are my run-in with a spicy curry, being mistaken for someone, and taking a photo with a middle-schooler. Some low-lights was my delayed luggage, the day I biked around Kyoto and it was raining, and losing a phone-charm I bought. That last one really bummed me out.
Please stay with me through this mammoth autobiography series. It’ll likely be the most interesting experience I’ll ever have considering my career choice.