First off, allow me to give you some context on my relationship to Japan. I was introduced to the country and culture from a young age, mostly by my mother who was -- and still is -- an avid Japan lover. She's always been fond of Japanese arts and crafts, and has always related to the culture's relationship to the natural realm. As a young child growing up in France, I was also exposed to Studio Ghibli's films early on -- they were even released in local theaters! Needless to say I fell in love right then and there, watching "My Neighbor Totoro" by day and dreaming about finding a furry friend in the forrest by night. As a few years went by, I also started getting into manga and anime culture, as many French kids do, or at least did (back in my day, if I can even say that without sounding ridiculous): reading Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, Love Hina etc., I started to get more and more familiar to the culture, and to form a sort of identification to it, or at least some parts of it.
Fast forward to a few years later, in 2009, when my father, always interested in traveling the world, took me to Japan for the very first time: Tokyo, Kyoto, the Izu peninsula, and Hakone. I fell in love all over again -- the beautiful and seemingly freely-growing nature, the urban landscapes, Tokyo's craziness, Otaku culture, the kitsch, the meticulous Japanese way of doing any and everything, onsens, zen gardens, Shinto and Buddhist temples... All of it.
Once you fall in love with something, the desire to exhaust that thing entirely and explore all of its corners and details is difficult to suppress. That is why I've come back to Japan a few times since then: with my father and brother on separate occasions, and finally alone, in 2017. That trip being my first real solo journey, at a time when I desperately needed it, was life-changing. I traveled through a lot of mainland Japan and even south to Okinawa (Tokyo, Enoshima, Kamakura, Hakone, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Himeiji, Nara, Osaka, Tottori, Okayama, Naha and Tokashiki island in Okinawa...), wandered around some beautiful nature, met wonderful people, discovered parts of myself, as well as aspects of Japan and its culture I hadn't previously seen. I could go on about that trip forever, which I won't do on here, because it is now 2018, and here I am again, in Tokyo.
Having had the experience I had here last year, I couldn't not come back when the time came to pick a destination for my next voyage. I was already using Tokyo as my home-base then, as a way to keep some familiarity amongst all the places I was discovering that were entirely new to me.
This time around, my friend came along for the trip, and as it was her very first time in the country, I thought it necessary to show her around the booming city of Tokyo, but also the more traditional Kyoto, and much quieter Mt. Fuji area (the five lakes), as well as Hakone to finish off. Though I did some more discovering myself in my ten days with her, what I enjoyed most about the trip was to be able to experience Japan for the first time again, through her eyes. And, to finally address the title of this post, to feel a little bit more like a local than a tourist -- don't get me wrong, I still very much feel like a tourist here, especially when traveling around with my 15 kg backpack and Japan Rail Pass that only foreigners can use -- nevertheless, I had this calming sense of knowing my way around, and being able to give her quite a bit of information on the places we were in or going to, which was highly satisfying.
As I plan to write about Kyoto and the five lakes in other posts in this section, let me just skip ahead to the meat of this post: feeling like more of a local in Tokyo.
As soon as I first came to this city, I was overcome by the sense that I could feel at home here. This doesn't happen to me everywhere I go, quite far from it actually. It happened in NYC, where I did actually move to eventually, and it happened in Tokyo. I guess you could say I'm a big-city kind of girl. As I zig-zag through hordes of people in the Tokyo subway stations, walk through Yoyogi Park's beautiful forrest, or navigate the tiny streets of Omotesando, I feel a strong sense of belonging, which is quite strange, seeing as I really don't belong here in some way. Still, as we go out partying in Shibuya, sing like idiots at karaoké dressed as power rangers, or as I walk around my usual neighborhood of Kagurazaka (a French neighborhood, funnily enough) to go grocery shopping, I truly do feel like a "local". A local tourist is perhaps more accurate, or local expat, but a local nonetheless.
My trip last year was indeed a solo trip in almost every aspect: though I met some people, I spent the majority of the trip alone, voluntarily so. This time around, as I'm starting to feel even more comfortable in this city, and working on a multimedia project for itchysilk, I have been a lot more social, feeling the desire to meet people -- locals and expats all the same -- and interact more closely with the culture. There is obviously so much depth I have not reached yet, but I am starting to get an idea of what youth culture is like in this city (and country), and have gotten a good grasp on the do's and don't's of Japanese culture more generally. So much so that I've decided to move here on a work-holiday visa some time next year.
The one thing that is still putting the brakes on my discovery and understanding of this place is the language barrier. Last year, I almost appreciated it, despite the struggles it caused, as it allowed me to have an entirely and almost solely visual experience. I was constantly in observation mode, looking at everything more closely and taking it all in, and it felt all the more poetic and meaningful without any understanding of the language. This time around, after having learned some basics in Japanese (like sentence structure and some key phrases and vocabulary), I am frustrated by it more than anything, as I can only understand and express very little, leaving me gasping for meaning and understanding in pretty much any interaction I have. I am getting better though, and gradually more comfortable, and have even been told by Japanese people that my Japanese was really good! This is all very exciting. Until next time...
Disclaimer: I am very aware of how discombobulated this post is, and that I am all over the place. Hopefully anyone reading this will be able to tell how excited and fascinated I am by this place and its people, and might therefore understand that there is too much to say for me to tackle it in one post. I see this first post as an introduction, and duly promise that I will be uploading much more organized and topic-specific posts in the future. I'll also be writing diary entries for itchysilk as well as feature articles, which I'll be linking on here once they're finished, so as to avoid repetition.
Stay tuned for more of my Japanese adventures!