It’s been well and truly over six months since I returned home from my ventures overseas to my first country other than home (Australia), and plenty of people have asked, “How was it?”
Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun, ramen, asahi & Mt. Fuji, was a good introduction to the soon growing addiction that they call ‘The Travel Bug’. People are friendly, regardless of the language that is spoken, the landscapes were beautiful and majority of the hotel rooms were compact. The food was fast, hot, delicious, and like the alcohol, very easily available at a drop of a hat & cheap to purchase.
Tokyo, the largest and the capital city of Japan, has the population of 13.35 Million (1 May 2014) people. Australia, the world’s largest island & smallest continent, has the population of 23.13 Million (2013) people.
... So, how was it?
It was very black and white, two extremes at either end of the spectrums. When it was good, it was great, but when it was bad, it was really bad. You’re probably thinking, Japan… what could possibly go wrong there? It wasn’t really what happened externally, but what was going on internally. When I was at Melbourne Airport with 3 of my friends, ready to set out on an adventure, I couldn’t wait to get out of Melbourne. I really couldn’t wait, I was thinking that I would like it so much that I would never come back. Prior to leaving for Japan, it was all I could talk about, friends kept saying, “seeing other countries will make you see how much you really appreciate Melbourne and what we have”. I didn’t think that was even possible, excuse my ignorance on that one.
Leading all the way up to being on the plane getting ready to take off, had been a very surreal feeling. Even well into my first few days of the trip, it hadn’t hit me that I was in a completely different country. I wasn’t quite nervous, I wasn’t quite excited, didn’t know what I was feeling or what this mix of emotion was! Even writing this, I still can’t quite describe what I was feeling or even put my finger on what it was, but it was certainly nothing I have really experienced before.
It wasn’t until the 3rd day of the trip, I woke up one morning in my hotel room in Shinjuku, Tokyo with what could have been one of the worse hangovers I’ve ever experienced in a very long time, that I felt such high anxiety and, with what I can easily recognize now as, homesickness. The cheap strongzero and asahi cans from FamilyMart mixed with the $4 pack of cigarettes that I bought seemed to have played a very big creep up on me. I literally broke down into tears wishing I was back home.
I can’t really describe what this homesickness was and how it came about. Guess seeing almost every second person commuting on their bikes made me miss my bike at the time (Carmen, my hot pink Electra cruiser) and long rides in the warm sun. And, from that other factors started to come into play. Like the realization that I was all over of sudden being in a completely different country and being so far away from home. It hit pretty hard, and out of all the things I did (and inexpertly) and all I could think of was to message my mum and those back home. It was strange, very strange. Not even sure if it was the realization that Tokyo is an even more intense city than Melbourne & Sydney put together, then on steroids with the population very close to the size of all over Australia in one city. Maybe it was a mixture of all these things and the copious amount of alcohol still swimming in my blood. Whatever it was, it was strange… and unexpected.
In amongst the cocktail of emotions and an intense mental clash, I gained much more than a headache. An insight which I didn’t see before. Through the anxiety I suffered and the few times I contemplated changing my flight to come back earlier, I found myself talking through those hard times. It was a message that mum had sent me on my last night in Shinjuku that made me think that it’s better to change things rather than throw away an opportunity that I may never get again. She said, “if you feel inclined you can always change your flight to come home earlier” to which (and most impressively) I quickly replied… “I would regret the fuck out of doing that if I was to get home earlier”. So, after much thought I cancelled my hotel in Yokohama to book a room in Gotemba to spend 4 days near Mt. Fuji and get a grip of reality.
That morning I woke up, did my daily routine of shower, change and pack my suitcase to check out of my hotel room. In between, checking out of my room and catching a bullet train down to Gotemba, I settled in a chain café for an espresso and plan my way around this confusing but wonderful city of Shinjuku. I was excited to set off on a journey of my very own and realize I’m more capable of being independent enough to create my own journey and make my own choices. I honestly couldn’t wait.
I had finished my coffee, said a very simple goodbye and “Arigato” to the people who were waiting on my table. I set off through the Sydney like streets of Shinjuku to find my way to probably one of the biggest train stations I’ve ever had (and might I add, strangely delightful) experienced getting lost in. After locating the ticket booth to buy my bullet train ticket, the Romance Car, express to Gotemba, it was time to meet my next adventure’s platform.
“…This area is a favorite of Japanese and foreign tourists, and during the ride, you will see some of the very best Japanese scenery. The panorama of Katase-Enoshima that overlooks the Pacific Ocean, the seasonally changing countryside and mountains, and on clear days, the majestic Mt. Fuji.” - www.odakyu.jp/english/romancecar/
Still feeling uneasy about my hangover from a couple of mornings before, I sat at my designated seat staring out the window into the last sight of this busy surrounding for at least 5 days. Within about 45mins to an hour and seeing motion blurs of the remaining bits of Tokyo and surrounding cities, the Romancecar was now zipping through rural Japan through the surrounding mountain valleys and green scenery. Breathes of fresh air and eagerness to get a glimpse of Mt. Fuji, “…is that it? … oh, wait, IS THAT IT? No…” beautiful surroundings nonetheless.
Upon arriving at Gotemba train station, there was great excitement of what experiences will be had in this town. But, nothing compared to being taken away by the awe of the majestic Mount Fuji right there in front of me, it really was beautiful sight. I was very lucky to have been able to see it and be in awe of Mother Nature herself, as the weather in Gotemba was quite wet and cloudy after that day.
Very shortly after arriving and being amazed, I was in hunt for some food before I hunt for my hotel room. To get a brief feel of the area, I walked around to find somewhere to settle and have a feed. Most of the places I walked passed on the main strip, where closed or not even established yet. Walking along I felt like the place was a bit of a ghost town with a few bars to drink at and Mt Fuji. A quiet & run down country town where I wasn’t to know what to expect. After doing a couple of laps on the main street, it was decided that I would make a drop into a small little eatery on a corner that just opened for lunch. I will just say this now, I became addicted to vegetarian gyozas while I was in Japan, had it with almost every meal. Yum yum!!! To continue on, I had what would be my fifth ramen ever and a serving of gyozas (I’m pretty sure I had 2 servings that day). As small this place was, there was a real authentic Japanese feel with business men on their lunch break slurping their steaming ramen. It was cute and warm, there was no complaining.
For a last minute decision in my hotel room of Shinjuku the night before, I certainly did pay the price for picking the cheapest hotel (the only disappointment of my trip). As I arrived, the staff were heaps friendly but unfortunately didn’t make up for the state of the rapidly aging hotel. The smell of stale smoke throughout the entire hotel and the feel of a red light hotel with tacky wallpaper… just added to the charm and feel of the town (I mean this in a positive way too), I only needed to just adjust to the feel which didn’t take too long. First day wasn’t too bad, not much time after arriving and settling into my room I ask the reception for some ideas of what happens in this town. The gentleman points out there is a tourist centre up the road in the main area. Getting to see the sunset behind Mount Fuji on my first night from my hotel window, however did bless me in a wonderful way.
After speaking to the gentleman at the reception and collecting some tourist pamphlets about Gotemba, I made my short journey to the main street of the town and to the tourist centre. At the tourist centre, I met a lovely woman, Chiaki, who was very willing to help with suggestions and happy to have met a new person. Chatting to her for a little while now, I was starting to feel a little more comfortable and was beginning to get an idea of what to expect from this town.
Before heading back to my hotel room and taking advantage of the dry weather, I took off on a little wonder around locally to get my bearings together. Looking around at the quiet country town, I saw rusty tin and abstract landscapes, to which were a different contrast from what Tokyo was, really clean and pristine landscapes. I hung out on a carpark rooftop while watching the view of Mount Fuji over the town, with the clouds slowly closing over the view. Gotemba was very windy.
Making my way back to my hotel room I begin to wonder what is in store for this town in regards to dinner while noticing the rusty looking nightclubs on the main strip. After getting back and dropping off some of my things, I decided to head back down that main strip to see what I can find shortly after watching the sun set behind Fuji. Walking around in what seemed like a little bit of a ghost town it was hard to find something that really stood out, without seafood in it. The occasional group of guys would walk past and notice another foreigner. Wasn’t until I saw a sliding door with the big words “FREE WIFI” written on it where I decided I take refuge from the cold wind, and as my phone reception wasn’t the greatest down there it was handy to use so I can get in touch with those back home. Eventually I got through that door, minutes after they opened I sat a stool in a tiny bar big enough to fit 7 people. (For those from Melbourne) This bar had a feel of E55, where there was recycled materials making up the atmosphere in a very creative way, using old Jackie Chan movie posters and menu covers, serving craft beers and cheap wood-fired pizzas. It made me feel more at home, and as it was pretty quiet that night I went in, it was good to catch up on some social media updates, have a feed, an exchange of greetings with the lady behind the bar and a tasty pale ale.
... To be continued …