Adulting in Japan

Agh. Did I just say adulting? Incorporating popcorn verbs that were once clever into everyday language is a natural side effect of living in California. That being said, there were no better titles for this blog post, and if the shoe fits… well, you know.

I came back from the Pacific Ocean island nation about one week ago. I would tell you for how long we were there for but I’ve decided that the length of a trip is no longer relevant. Since time is subjective and arbitrary, I think it’s fair to talk about take-aways and highlights instead of limiting impressions with day counts.
During the trip, I got to finish Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, a great read coincidentally full of Japanese references. I did most of my reading when traveling from one prefecture to another which we did mostly by train, but we also took a couple of domestic flights.

Japanese trains are a marvel of efficiency. Bigger, better and stronger than any other train system I have seen. From the subway, which takes you everywhere in cities like Kyoto and Tokyo, to the bullet trains that feel more like modern aircrafts than the vintage, clunky peasant-friendly machines that I often picture. Traveling in Japan is a luxurious experience that welcomes all the Japanese and the foreign alike, the lawyers and the bookies, teenage girls wearing school uniforms and retired geishas. Trains, like almost everything else is Japan, are incredibly clean. If it took me 3 days to get over the jet-lag coming back, it took me no time to get used to the garbage-free sidewalks and the bright-green velvet fabric covering the seats of the local trains. Mmm… so smooth to the touch.

There were times when we played cards, CRIBBAGE to be exact. Cribbage is a great game for two people. It requires skill but it also doesn’t take itself too seriously. I felt that way about Chinese poker, too, when I was traveling in Serbia, but Chinese Poker is best when played with three people. My favorite game of Cribbage was the one we played during the train ride from Kyoto to Takayama. I liked it not only because I won, but also because the game was often interrupted by striking multi-colored foliage of lusty, pine-like trees. These forests are fed by milky water descending from the snowy Alps that border many traditional farming villages in the mountainous Gifu Prefecture.

Needless to say, Takayama was a highlight and not only because of the scenery but also because of the 17 course dinner that we had while we were there. It is true what they say about Japanese hospitality! And it was worth it to spend some money to wear a traditional yukata, soak in a communal bath and have a good night’s rest in a Ryokan after eating a spread that was a feast of textures, colors and delicacy.

Speaking of highlights, how ’bout Okinawa? My favorite prefecture in Japan, for now. We got to know Naha’s labyrinth-like covered market and we had the best pork belly that anybody can dream of. We also went to Aka, a very small island in the Kerama Islands with a population of about 300 people.

Aka had one corner-store, two very simple restaurants and some of the most beautiful beaches that I have ever seen. Beaches with warm water from the Pacific Ocean that is turquoise when you look at it from the white sand but perfectly clear when you snorkel in it. We got to see a moray eel that was HUGE and gets bigger every time that I tell the story, but seriously guys, it was at least 8 feet long to begin with. Kawai, the fisherwoman who co-owns the guesthouse where we stayed, said that we were very lucky.

And luck brings me back to the title of this post. What a fortune it is to be an adult. I like it a lot, actually! I like knowing that I’m being silly, I like appreciating the meal that comes from the grocery store and also the meal that is served at a fancy spot. I like being an adult that buys souvenirs for friends and family because sometimes it’s more fun to give, especially when you know that you are incredibly lucky.

Because of all the research and planning that was involved in planning this trip, something not typical for most of my travels, I had a chance to enjoy the journey even before it began. What a surprise it was to see the benefits of being organized and still be flexible and open to spontaneous opportunities. It was refreshing to do less and see more… and it was so fun to travel with someone willing to look for ice-cream in Kabukichō, Tokyo’s red light district.

So, take-aways? There are many, but I would say that none of them are as unique to me as the feeling of being an adult while traveling overseas. I’ve gone to some places before and with every journey, I’ve discovered something new about myself. In Japan, my best days ended with me being curled up in a traditional Japanese futon, falling asleep well before midnight and waking up to the rising sun, happy and with mild back pain… because maybe that’s part of it and you know? It’s fine, back pain can be easily managed with yoga.

PS: Thank you Nicholas Lacampagne for the edit and for the beautiful photos.

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