Currency Yen (JPY)
Airport Narita International
Time difference from Los Angeles +16 hours
Japan was never high on my list of places to visit.. for some odd reason unknown to me. The country became priority when I stumbled upon Matt Goulding's Rice, Noodle, Fish, a food culture narrative set across different regions of Japan. Before I knew it, I had a flight confirmation from LAX - NRT in my mailbox.
In Japan, you’re forced out of your comfort zone. As if the language barrier wasn’t enough, you’re thrown into a sea of overwhelming cultural etiquettes and mannerisms. Yet, the confusion and chaos thrilled me. I was lost in every way possible, like a millennial thrown into the 80s with no iPhone in hand, but how much I didn’t know made each thing a discovery, albeit a handful of “I fucked up” moments here and there. From accidentally putting on a chef’s indoor slippers at a Michelin-star restaurant to mistaking green tea powder for wasabi, I have no shame in admitting that I made a fool of myself on several occasions. All in all, these gaijin moments followed by what seemed like never-ending gomen nasais (sorry in Japanese) made the small accomplishments that much more glorious. The moments I successfully used a meal ticket machine and properly unwrapped tuna mayo onigiri from the convenience store wonder that is Lawson? I felt like a champion.
I don’t think I’ll ever fully truly understand Japan - not in this lifetime at least - but the cultural abyss is what makes the place so damn interesting. I was enticed by the blocks of izakayas, small eateries crammed into every floor of every building and wedged into each nook and cranny of walkable alleyways. The choices were endless as were the perfectly molded plastic models of soba, ramen and tempura displayed, almost seductively, behind glass windows.
The sheer density was overly saturating to the senses - I observed as crowds of salary men in tailored suits and unassuming masked faces blended into an organized chaotic flow weaving through the streets and strained my eyes to reach beyond the maze of buildings illuminated by layers upon layers of flashing neon lights. I was confused at how vending machines outnumbered trash bins yet not a single piece of litter was to be found, at how an unassuming ten-seater ramen shop could forever change my perspective of tsukemen in fifteen minutes, at how a city so loud and vibrant could be so uncomfortably quiet underground, and at how one glance at school children in matching bucket hats and leather backpacks could make my heart burst from the abundance of cuteness.