After almost three months of sweltering heat, suffocating smog, humans on humans, motorbikes, rooster crows, and the all-around chaos that is Southeast Asia, I flew to Japan for some (relative) peace and quiet to end my travels. Initially, I was planning to stop in Japan on my way home to break up the painfully long travel day(s) from Southeast Asia back to the US. In the end, Japan proved to be a perfect transition back into “real life.” Strange things made me very happy about being in Japan. The crisp spring breeze, for one. Wearing jeans. Drinking water out of the tap. Not worrying about food poisoning. Interacting with very nice, helpful people. Cleanliness, in general. Of course, there were things that bothered me too. Like the thing where Japanese people are unbelievably orderly and obedient and will yell at you if you don’t follow suit — a stark contrast to Southeast Asia’s relative chaotic streets where no rules apply.
I arrived in Japan late at night, and was greeted by Jordan and AJ at our cozy little Airbnb in Shinjuku. They, along with Mark, who would meet us the following day, decided to join me for this part of my trip a couple months back. Having travel companions who were also good friends was a big relief after being on the road for so long. We had one week, and spent most of our time laughing and eating (so much eating) and being both confused and amazed by Japanese traditions and people in general. It was a lovely week (despite me being exhausted and road-weary the entire time). Photos, and some words, are below.
I’ll start by noting that AJ runs a ramen restaurant in Omaha called Ugly Duck. He’s both a great chef and human who’s knowledgable about food — particularly Japanese food. His joining us in Japan was part R&D for his restaurant, which meant we ate some really, really good food while we were there. In Tokyo, we started each day at a lovely coffee shop near our Airbnb before heading out to eat and explore (but mostly eat). We enjoyed some incredible ramen in a tiny little shop, the freshest sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market, and tons of delicious street food between temple hopping, shopping, and walking, walking, walking.
Lake Yamanaka (Mt. Fuji)
We stayed at Lake Yamanaka mostly for its stunning views of Mt. Fuji, which we all really wanted to see. After two days, we ended up leaving Lake Yamanaka with some love-hate feelings. Day one was good. We caught a glimpse of Mt. Fuji when we arrived, shortly before it became covered with clouds for the duration of our stay. That night we had what was one of our favorite meals at a tiny local restaurant that had so much character and charm and (not to mention) delectable food. Day two was not so good. We tried really hard to rent bikes, but were turned down because of possible rain (which did come). We succumbed to the rain and tried to go to a spa as before realizing our tattooed bodies would never make it past the front desk, since tattoos are strictly prohibited at Japanese spas. In the end, we spent the rest of our time wandering aimlessly around Lake Yamanaka and laughing at our consistent misfortunes. When it came time to catch the train to Kyoto, we weren’t too upset.
Kyoto is magical and beautiful, and it was the place I was most looking forward to on our trip. We spent a lot of time temple hopping in Kyoto (at Fushimi Inari-taisha, Ninna-ji, and Tō-ji), got off the beaten path hiking in a beautiful bamboo forest, and spent time in Gion, Kyoto’s Geisha district. On our final day, we made the half day trip to Nara on our way to Osaka. Nara was surprisingly wonderful. Hanging out with (mostly) docile deer and running around a great big park was a nice break from the city.
The big end. Osaka was an amazing city. Food and culture and Japan’s energy all came into play in Osaka, and we had a really great couple of days there. The highlight: our way-too-expensive-but-totally-worth-it sushi meal on our last night in Japan. The four of us nearly had this little sushi restaurant to ourselves, and tried so much amazing fish and saki. It’s certainly the best meal I’ve ever had.
The following day, we woke up bright and early to make our way back to Omaha after one hell of an adventure. After three months, I could hardly believe I was going home. I could also hardly contain my excitement about going home. I cried and cried when I finally saw the Missouri River and Omaha’s skyline amidst that big, beautiful Nebraska sky from my tiny airplane window. I had left Omaha the same way – nearly sobbing as my flight took off for Houston. The man next to me hardly knew how to handle it. I was beside myself. I was scared. I was vulnerable. Now, here I was after three months of doing it – traveling all by myself, feeling stronger and better, and crying both from the joys of seeing my home and from the sadness that it was all over.
I looked around at the other people on the plane and wondered where they’d come from. Our plane came from Denver. Some were on a business trip, maybe. Or a camping trip. Maybe some were coming from California or from Florida. Maybe some were ending their long journey from overseas, like me. Maybe, even, someone was coming home after many months of being away. I imagine no one had any idea about where I had just come from. I’m sure the man next to me was unsure about the sad, smelly girl smiling and crying and staring out the window at home.
Everything about my three months away was perfect — it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself — but man, I missed my people. Hugging Alex and my mom and my family was the damn best. Being cozy in my own apartment, cooking again, hanging out with nice dogs that don’t have fleas, knowing what’s going on around me, revisiting my neighborhood bars and shops — all things that I truly missed and loved getting to experience again when I returned home. It’s funny, I don’t think my wanderlust will ever be satiated by traveling more. If anything, I’ve learned that the more I travel, the more I want travel; the more places I go, the more places I add to my list. But one thing that’s always held true is that traveling certainly makes you appreciate home, and it’s always nice to go back to the open arms of people who love and know you.
I’ve got so much love for Asia, and so much appreciation for the privilege to travel. Until next time.