Journeying in Japan: Lost & Found in Translation


Well I made it back to the states. For the past 12-ish days, I’ve been traipsing around Japan. Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Kamakura were all on the site-seeing list and it was all spectacular. I visited shrines, Buddhist temples, rode bullet trains and other public transit, walked more than 100,000 steps, ate lots of new foods and saw beautiful landscapes. I also experienced what it was like being practically incapable of communicating with people and being unable to read anything while on this journey. I’m exhausted and jet-lagged, but brimming with inspiration for my writing which means it was all worth it.

As promised, I made mental notes along the way and played my sensory game as I traveled around Japan. As I said before when I got back from my trip to Puerto Rico, I learned a lot about visualizing and showing a scene in a story from this exercise. It’s also a fun little game to play and it helps keep the memories of my trips stamped in my brain much more vividly.

The crush of people in the subway tunnels, in the streets and on the trains, like a mighty river with so many obstacles; each person rushing on their own path at every hour of the day. Not once did I see something stand still.

Lights of every color coming from every direction. The flash of neon on every street, the glow so great that not even a single star can be seen in the sky.

Signs stacked on top of signs, dozens on each street, hundreds on each block,  every one bearing a message I cannot read.

The roar of the trains as they approach the metro stations.

The thrill of reaching my bed at the end of each day because we had walked so far and done so many things.

The crisp air of the mountains and the quiet resonance of silence in the shrines.

The clean/cold taste of the water from the fountains where each person must cleanse him/herself before entering the shrine or temple. The trickle of that water over my hands and the swish of it in my mouth as I cleanse myself before entering these special places.

The thoughts that people for hundreds, even thousands, of years have made pilgrimages to the shrines, stepping where I have stepped, bowing where I bow, to ask for their own wishes and dreams to be granted.

The sound of silence, of contemplation and prayer. There is such beauty in belief, in the fervent nature of faith.

The quiet bow of respect, both a greeting and a goodbye to colleagues, friends, customers and acquaintances. (The customer is God in Japan. You will never experience such amazing friendliness or customer service anywhere.)

The willowy and impossibly tall bamboo of the Bamboo Forest. The breeze blew cold and fresh through them.

The sizzle of the grill. The crunch of seaweed paper. The al dente feel of perfectly made rice. The thrill of real sushi as it hits my tongue. Hot. Spicy. Cold. Gooey. Red bean paste. Natto. Mochi. Savory pancakes. Udon. Ramen. Gyudon. Sushi. The tastes and textures of the foods of Japan.

The open stares I received on trains, on the streets, everywhere I went with my blue eyes and naturally curly hair. This was the first time I have truly experienced being a minority and being viewed as an outsider.

The staccato sounds of Japanese and other languages all around me. The silence I felt within, being unable to comprehend what is being said, unable to add my voice to the cacophony. It is a solitary existence not knowing the words that are flowing around you.

Arigatou gozaimasu. Onegai shimasu. Oishi. Hai. The satisfaction of speaking the few words of Japanese I learned for this trip. The taste and the shape of them in my mouth as I speak these foreign sounds with no idea what the words actually look like.

A message on drinking we received from a Japanese chef: Experience and then drink with all of your sense. Taste with your tongue. Smell with your nose. Listen to the clinking of glasses and know you are among friends.

The ache and throb of my feet as we walked another step, another block, another mile. From grass to pavement. Stairs and gravel. We relied on our feet for almost every step of this journey. I haven’t felt such pain since I stopped working in the restaurant industry.

The rumble of my stomach as we take in the smells of street food and hear the calling of vendors hawking their wares.

The perfectly packaged candies and other goods, gift-wrapped expertly in dainty packages, the paper as much of a treat as the sweet within.

The burn of sake and whiskey on my throat.

If you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend visiting Japan. This trip was truly a highlight of my life.

Here are some photos from my trip too!
I just discovered the slide show feature on my blog. 🙂

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