Dreaming of Tea and Mahjong Tiles
Counting down the days until my dream trip to Japan!
When I was in 5th grade, I was a randomly assigned Japan as my topic country for a fairly involved World Geography presentation. I have been in love with the country since, and visiting the country has been near the top of my bucket list for about as long as I can remember. Well, this week I'm finally making that dream a reality. Very soon, I'll be off to Japan!
A Solo Adventure
In March of 2020, my closest four friends and I planned on visiting Japan together, a dream we have all shared since coming together in middle school. Of course, I don't need to mention what happened in March of 2020. Japan didn't fully re-open to tourists until October of last year, and unfortunately, a lot has happened within my group since then.
Tragically, one passed in a terrible accident. On a happier end of the spectrum, another was recently married. Another is expecting a child next month. And my fourth friend just bought his first house. While my heart is still broken over the loss of one of my brothers, I couldn't be happier for the rest of them, all entering new and exciting chapters of their lives.
While visiting Japan together was a dream we all shared, if these last couple of years have taught me anything, it's that life doesn't wait. I can't wait. So in January of this year, after years of saving, I made the decision to make the trip alone. It'll be a different kind of journey, but I'm still very much excited for it.
Japan is a fairly safe country, and the society is both polite and conscientious. Travel is easy, and I'll be taking with me a fair bit of Japanese and understanding of the culture. To my surprise, my parents were also pretty supportive of my solo endeavor. And thanks to both my karate and mahjong, I'll be linking up with various people I haven't met yet along the way. It's going to be an amazing trip, and you can bet I'll have a full report upon my return!
The Wanderer Approach
So what do I have planned for my two week stay in the Land of the Rising Sun? Well, if you've followed my blog for any amount of time, it probably won't surprise you: lots of tea, lots of mahjong and paying homage to my karate's roots. But otherwise, I'm leaving my schedule pretty open and flexible for impulsive adventure and fleeting fancies.
I fly into Tokyo late Saturday afternoon, though I'll actually be leaving Toronto early Friday morning (yikes!). I'll be staying in Shinjuku, and will likely just focus on eating good food and resting after such a long flight. But then Sunday morning, it's straight to the mahjong parlor!
I asked this parlor in Shinjuku if I could play there, and they replied that they look forward to seeing me!
From there, I'm not really sure what I'll do. I'll be in Tokyo for three nights, but I don't have much of an itinerary. However, I've compiled a list of places and things I'd like to do, and where they are in relation to one another: tea houses, various cultural sites and shrines, EDM clubs... oh, and did I mention? I'll be visiting during peak cherry blossom season! So, popular hanami (flower viewing) locales too!
After that, I fly to the island of Okinawa, the birthplace of karate and Isshinryu - the particular style I study. I've been invited to attend classes by one of the senseis over there, and it'll be pretty close to where our founder, Tatsuo Shimabuku, is buried. Okinawa is also known for it's beaches, hot springs and world-renowned aquarium. I'll be staying in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), and my goal is to find a tea house and mahjong parlor in every place I visit. Here? Two nights.
From Okinawa, I'll fly to Osaka, which is dubbed Japan's national kitchen. It has a bustling tourist district called Dotombori, and Osaka Castle, which is nestled in a grove of cherry blossoms. I'm here for three nights, and besides my aforementioned goal, perhaps I'll also take a day-trip to the city of Nara, which is home to hundreds of people-friendly deer!
Dotombori by Rob McCullough
The next leg of my trip is perhaps one I'm the most excited about: Kyoto. The old capital of Japan, Kyoto is rich in both history and culture. You've likely seen images of their famous pagodas, and a friend from the tea bar strongly recommends I visit the Inari Shrine at the base of Mt. Inari. I'll likely take him up on that. It's also home to the Tai An tea house, which was built in the late 1500s and is considered a national treasure!
There's just too much to do in Kyoto. Like Tokyo, I have a pretty organized wish list, so I'm just going to take it hour by hour, and we'll see what happens. I just want to be able to soak in as much culture as possible while I'm there. Then after another three nights here, it's back to Tokyo for a final three nights!
I should mention, part of my goal is to travel as lightly as possible - with just a backpack. But when I return to Tokyo? All bets are off. I'm buying two suitcases when I'm back, and filling it with as many snacks, tea, souvenirs, and anime/manga merch as possible! The focus of my entire trip is culture, but here it'll be a different focus: nerd shit. Pardon.
Akihabara is the anime mecha of Japan, and I plan on spending at least an entire day here. It's the end of my trip, so I'll know exactly what money I have left to spend too haha. I'll be staying near the Tokyo Tower this time around, so Roppongi with its lively night life will be close at hand too.
Akihabara by Sebastian Kurpiel
Going to Japan with my friends would have been amazing. But by myself, I plan on making the adventure just as amazing. After all, the bright side is pretty obvious: it's going to completely be my trip. Where I want to eat, where I want to go, even when I want to wake up in the morning... I don't have to compromise with anyone. I love them to death, but my vegan diet is just one of many examples of where our interests differ. And when our life paths finally align and we can all visit together? Well, they'll just have a more seasoned tour guide ready and available.
If you're interested in what I'm up to while abroad, I might remember to post photos to my Twitter. Regardless, I'll certainly have quite the blog post ready when I return. I can hardly contain myself! As always, thanks for reading. Wish me luck, I'll report back in early April - hopefully with troves of tea and tales of mahjong victory!
Until next time.