It has been one year, to this very day, that I left on my, first ever, trip to Tokyo. The fact that I’m marking the date should tell you at least one thing. In my little world, the personal experience that I call my life, that trip to Tokyo was a big deal.
Don’t worry, this won’t be an ambush. You know, the horrible moment when you are talking with someone and they take out their cell phone and start showing you photos of their trip to wherever. All 3,413 of them. Each accompanied by a long, rambling, story that they find hilarious that you don’t see the humor in. I promise. That’s not the point of this.
I went alone. I flew on Singapore Airlines (which was awesome) and stayed at “The Godzilla Hotel”, in Shinjuku. I spent two weeks there and didn’t take any trips to any other part of Japan. Tokyo was more than enough for me. I walked, a lot. I rode the subways, a lot. I got lost. A lot.
It was great. A fantastic time. But the question I’m really asking myself is “was it life changing?” That’s what people who travel a lot always say. It changes who you are and how you look at the world. Blah. Blah. Blah. But the thing is, I think, maybe, in this particular case, it was. Just not in the way you are thinking.
It’s not like I went to some poor, remote, village, where I witnessed ancient tribal rituals never before open to outsiders. I didn’t help save people after a disaster flooded their town. I didn’t do anything even close to that type of traveling.
I went to Tokyo. A major, international, city, visited by tourists from all over the world. In fact, part of the reason I finally went is that a number of my friends had been there, often more than once, and couldn’t stop talking about how great the place was. So, I wasn’t exactly trailblazing.
I think I understand, at least part of, why they all like Tokyo so much. As different as Tokyo was from Los Angeles, where I live. As much of an outsider as I was. As much as I was ill equipped to understand the place. And as much as I was probably unaware of many things going on all around me. I felt at home there. Like I belonged.
Let me be clear, I am not saying that I was some sort of expert on Japanese culture that fit right in. Far from it. Not anywhere near. I was still the inept tourist. I was still a stupid foreigner. The stranger in a very strange and complex land.
But for all of Tokyo’s many, many, differences in culture and customs, it was still, in many ways like being in Los Angeles, New York, London or any other major urban center in the world. The subways, more or less, work the same way. The city operates and functions, logistically, the same way. The night and day rhythms of daily life even feel very much the same. In short, same crap with a different language and some weird writing.
For all the language barriers and cultural variations, the big cities of the world are connected. They are connected by many of the same global corporations and financial institutions. They are connected by much of the same art. They are connected by many of the same values. Which almost makes me want to say something warm and fuzzy like “traveling reminds us of our common human experience and the fact that we are all far more alike than different from one another.” But I’m about to take that warm, fuzzy, message and spin it into to a somewhat disturbing, follow-up, question.
Do I feel more at home in a place like Tokyo than I do in a small town in Michigan? Or, for that matter, do I feel more at home in Tokyo than I do in the suburbs of Los Angeles, just an hour away from me? The answer is, probably, yes.
I’ve been to a lot of those small towns and suburbs. In fact, I was raised in couple of them. But maybe I need to go back. This time, instead of being filled with rage and disgust at the superficial differences that I see between my life and theirs, I need to think of it like Tokyo.
I need to find the differences and embrace them, knowing that it’s all just part of the tradition and culture. Reminding myself that the differences are just superficial. Reminding myself that there is far, far, more in common between us than differences. Maybe, if we all did that, our government could, actually, function again.
But I doubt that’s gonna happen. Not realistically. Maybe the political and cultural divide in this country has finally pushed me over the edge and I’m done trying to understand “them.” That would be such a sad, pathetic, thing. I keep tell myself that I’m still trying. That I’m still listening to the other side. But maybe that’s all just empty words. I really don’t know anymore.
But this I do know. I’m definitely not spending my next vacation in a small town in Michigan. Tokyo is still calling. The differences. The nuances. The exploration and embracing of a different culture. It’s breathtaking. It’s thrilling. It’s life changing. I’m all for it.