After dreaming and contemplating for about 2 years, I recently made my first international solo trip and explored a bit of Japan for about a fortnight. During this unique and adventurous experience, I had the chance to meet and interact with some people of and in Japan. Here are a few memorable ones in no particular order:
Was just an acquaintance from junior batch in college. We did not interact much back then, but got to know that he is actually a very cool person. Adventurous, free-spirited, independent, kind, patient, friendly, thoughtful and open-minded person. Got a lot of help in understanding some aspects of Tokyo life and an eye-opening impromptu photography training session! Literally my savior while I was there. Tokyo wouldn’t have been as fun without him. Luckily my other junior friend and her friend happened to join us around the same time as well and it was fun!
The girl from Brazil:
She was the first solo traveler I met on this trip and actually gave me a good feeling about dispelling my inner fears as I was about to start the adventure. We met in the lobby of the first hostel I stayed at in Tokyo while we both were waiting to be checked in. She was a beautiful young woman and seemed similar to me – a friendly, but reserved person. We chatted about her experiences in different cities around Japan as she was about to leave the next day to explore Singapore. The next day we both joined a complimentary tour organized by our cool hostel folks to visit a neighborhood fish market. It was a good 20 minute walk after a brief train ride through small and twisting neighborhoods of a Tokyo suburb to reach the weekend fish market. It seemed to be special even amongst the locals as they were flocking to the counter to grab a pamphlet that perhaps indicated what was special that day. We followed the order though of course we understood not a single word of the Japanese information. Our guides kind of disappeared while we were busy gaping at the huge fish being expertly handled by the fishermen, and after strolling around the market we both wanted to get back to the station, but had no clue of which route we took to get there in the first place. We eventually joined others in the group and figured out how to get back to the station back through the confusing network of streets. We parted ways at the station, but it was a pleasant experience to meet her. (And before you wonder, my memory is sporadic and selective…I forgot most of the names :P)
Cheerful lady from Sweden
I met her in a hostel in Osaka while I was unwinding in the common hostel room after a tiring day. She was a 40 something year old woman. She was having her dinner while chatting with the two Australian guys and I joined their table. Though she struggled to find the right English words, she was very expressive and cheerful. She spoke of Sweden, their winters, the ice blanket, the summers, their peculiar food and even “vegemite” that she plans to leave as a legacy to her daughter. Even with the difficulty with language, she had great sense of humor. She was professionally a sculptor/ crafts-person who made various artifacts from reindeer horns, wood, etc. She was there helping a collaboration with Hankyu store to help them train and prepare for the Nordic Christmas market they were to host soon. She was a warm and friendly personality.
Two Australians who loved popcorn and monkeys
These young guys looked like they were college students. The first time I saw them was in the common room of the hostel I stayed at in Osaka. One of them was sitting there with a huge bag of popcorn while the other was planning the route for the next day. We acknowledged each other, but did not initiate any conversation. I was tired from the day’s activities and was rather concentrating on the cheesecake in front of me while watching a cheesy Bollywood movie. I got to know a bit about them the next day when we had a good conversation at the table. They were young and adventurous souls with an inclination to get a taste of a variety of things in life. No pun intended, but one of them has actually tasted the famous coffee from Indonesia that is made from the feces of a monkey after it chews on the coffee beans! They both loved popcorn and did not delay in bringing out a huge bag again from God knows where, but they were divided on Vegemite. They expressed frustration over not being able to get unsweet or minimally processed bread in Japan which kind of made me note that the people in the other part of the world actually crave and savor unsweet and brown rye bread. I was surprised to know that they traveled in some remote villages of northern India whose names I didn’t recognize and enjoyed the unregulated weed and company of partying village folks who apparently welcomed them. They were both intending to start college next year and were applying to schools. By the way, one of them loved monkeys and was excited to plan for Arashiyama the following day. He wanted to spend a whole day with them if he could while the other guy did not seem too excited with that idea.
A relaxed Japanese man in his 60’s
I met this man in the coolest accommodation I stayed in during my Japan trip – the 150 year old traditional Japanese guesthouse I booked through Airbnb. He seemed to be a regular elderly Japanese man whom you wouldn’t expect to understand much English, but I was surprised to realize later that he spoke English quite well. He seemed to be relaxed and enjoying every ritual of a normal day. The little time in mornings that I spent there, I saw him watching news in the morning, sipping on tea while gazing at the plants, making good breakfast in the kitchen, etc. If it were not for the host mentioning that he was a guest too, I would have mistaken him to be living there. Later in the evening when I got to chat with him, I came to know that he is actually an enthusiastic traveler who has been traveling around Japan for about a month and was going to travel for another month. He is a retired owner of an electrical appliance shop from Tokyo. He made it his hobby to go around exploring Japan and the world. His plan was to travel inside Japan for 2 months in fall and 2 months in spring every year and 1 international trip annually. His next international destination was Taiwan for the following year summer. He was actually an enthusiastic explorer who liked to spend a considerable 4-5 days in each small or big city and explore various things the place offered. When I shared my homemade spicy Indian snacks with him, he mentioned that he tasted them in Srilanka and they were best suited with beer! We shared information enthusiastically as we were each heading to a destination that the other covered already. I really wonder how much savings he has to enjoy this kind of freedom and how he handles the responsibilities of family, etc. I hope when I get older, I will still have such energy and zeal for whatever I am passionate about then.
A friendly girl from England:
I met her in the common area of a cozy hostel in Kyoto. I was actually tired and homesick at this point in travel and wanted some comfort and familiarity of home. So I took a day off from traveling and spent it in the hostel…I slept in, did laundry, got some basic ingredients and cooked myself a delicious spread of French toast, banana and coffee. And spent the afternoon watching a nice movie. It was around then when I got to meet her. She had the typical British accent and expressed her longing to have a nice homemade breakfast herself. We chatted a bit about the places she was going to explore that day. In the evening, after I was back from a nice stroll, I caught up with her in the common room. She has traveled quite a bit and liked solitary travel. She was now on a trip to 3 different countries before returning to home for Christmas. She appeared to be a friendly but strong and independent woman. Something she said really made me think more later: “At home I can’t wait to travel and explore other places planning the next adventure, but then during these trips, I crave about all the things back in the home country and after a while can’t wait to go back home. I am reminded of small comforts and things back home that we take for granted in everyday life. It is when I am traveling other places, I realize and appreciate those.”
A kind Japanese lady:
She was the first Japanese person who helped me even without my asking for it & I will not forget this kindness. I was in Kita Senju station trying to change the train just 2 hours after landing in Tokyo to reach my hostel. I was a bit lost and trying to recollect the directions given by the visitor information center people and the Tokyo metro map while hauling around my huge suitcase. I did not know how to calculate or take the ticket to my destination from the automatic ticketing machines and I was trying to read the train map. It was then a housewife like lady perhaps in her late 30′ s approached me and though she spoke no English at all, she was trying to ask me where I want to go. I said the name of the station, and we both searched it in the map. She then showed me how to put the coins into the machine, the correct denominations and the ticket retrieval. She then proceeded to show me in the map where she was going, how she calculated the charge, and her ticket. It was a very thoughtful lesson! She also showed me how to put the ticket into the gate and the elevators. It was such kindness even when I didn’t explicitly ask for and even when there was a language barrier. _/\_