in Going West

It Started with Japan

I mentioned previously how my desire to write a gently fictional account came to be. The desire was to create an account. A story. Maybe a book. It was always to be a periodic and episodic thing. Not at all aligned with time since I hate time and seriously doubt how real it is. Instead the account is a series of memories. Moments. Experiences. Some of these are real. Some are mashups of what was and might have been. This leaves open your own vagabonding. No accounts settled. No verdicts assumed. I wanted to get that out of the way. As you read you will not see many mentions of time or year. I don’t deal in those. I’ll leave it to you to decide what’s real. I will also include a quote every so often I feel is particularly relatable. Today it is from Edward Abbey.

I must confess that I know nothing whatsoever about true underlying reality, never having met any.

Source: Edward Abbey

So let’s go.

I left the United States on March 1st. My last day of work after 20 years plus in IT was the day before. I would find myself on an airplane leaving San Francisco for Tokyo Japan. As I looked out the window it was as if a giant weight had been lifted. Flying to Japan. Going to find my new moments. It seemed almost counter intuitive or fictional but there I was. In the air. Flying to Narita. What was left behind were those times. Times of divorce and meaningless jobs. Now I was at 35k feet crossing the vast Pacific Ocean again.

Was I amazed? Shocked? Bewildered? Perhaps. I remember thinking,

happening! It’s fucking happening.

Tokyo would be my first adventure. I would spend almost a week walking, riding the metropolitan subway, finding places so many times before I had been. Eating, drinking. Walking miles a day. Taking photos.

Tokyo – my first city of dreams

It took hours to fly to Tokyo from San Francisco but I got in to Narita early evening and took the express train to Shinjuku Station. Not the subway station though which threw me for a moment. It was the train station. I found my way though to the subway down the block and made my way to my hotel. The room smelled of cigarettes until I just left the windows open all day long even though Tokyo in March! Cold! Each day I would start out with getting a coffee down the street at this convenience store. The walk though short took me back to Japan each morning and let me see the wonderful stores, people, and mornings Tokyo was blessed with. Cold and crisp. Jeans and jacket weather.

I still felt a little unreal or at least still had the feeling doubting it had really happened. Until I found a Starbucks coffee shop one morning with my kindle. I sat there and realized with almost a start,

I have no place to be and nothing to get done. Forever!

At that point the beginning became the beginning if that makes sense. I knew I had no home. No place where I would return at the end of the day besides my slightly smelling hotel room.

So what did I see? Tokyo is an immense city and wandering it on foot is a great adventure. There are mighty towers and small parks and side streets which always lit my mind and soul.Small noodle shops and fast food and everything else. Each day though I would start with coffee either provided by the hotel or the convenience store. I also remembered the last time I had been in Tokyo was in 2011 but I really did not stop. I just got the next bullet train to Kyoto. Those were not the good days for me. No wandering city streets in Tokyo like I so dearly loved to do then.

Now it was so different. Time had ceased to exist each day and it was one step after another. I am a walker and have been for decades. Walking Tokyo meant finding my way yet again to the small and big places I would find. I also rode the Metropolitan subway and made my way back to the Lion Beer Hall in the Ginza. A place I have been numerous times for food and beer.

Mostly this beginning was about beginnings though. Changes and rebirths perhaps of body, mind and soul. Finding I needed no pattern, no todo lists, no events to plan any longer. Now I had this immeasurable thing. Moments. I would carve up moments and place those that past into memories and experiences and do it all with a camera and writing.

Did Tokyo treat me well? Yes. From the Starbucks where I got a glimpse of the no plan, no event, no timeline, no schedule and finding a measure of acceptance and relief where before I could not believe it was happening. Perhaps this was a foundation for my years to come tramping around where I wished.

As I wandered Tokyo for my days there the gentle acceptance and desire grew. From a book on a kindle to an alley completely lost I found people. The old man taking trash out and shaking his hand at me with an English good morning. To school kids waving and walking a bit with me. Asking my name. Where I was going. Where I was from. Like a dream turned and I would gently say good morning in Japanese and they’d laugh and skip away. Them to school. Me wandering a side street.

On all of my days wandering in Tokyo, I would start down any street but soon I ended up riding the subway. I wanted to visit a few old haunts like Ginza, Akihabara, and Shinjuku. One day I spent wandering by the Imperial Palace and then the wonderful government buildings. Beautiful but cold days.

Another day I ended up at the Lion Beer Hall. A wonderful German themed beer garden with music, lots of people eating and drinking. And a buzz of conversation which seemed to clamor for a place among the music.

Wandering the streets of the Ginza took me back so many times to other days I would spend on a weekend when the street closed and everyone came out in their finest. I have a faint memory of seeing the Ginza at Christmas time a long while ago with wonderful signs wishing good holidays and the young out shopping and wishing in store windows.

Perhaps a final place had to be Akihabara where the electronics and porn shops live. Strange combination but true. Also the pachinko palaces emit a constant vibration of bells and whistles and effusive cigarette smoke. There are small stands that at one time my friend Arthur and I visited on our way to the highlight of the day which was Yodabashi Camera. So many floors of stuff. This time was no different. Entering the shop, I was amazed at just the numbers and was greeted both in Japanese and English and asked what I wanted. I told one person,

Only to dream

He laughed!

Tokyo was a dream though. Like a wonderful tapestry of sound, people, urban moments of both jungle and peace. Small parks with shrines. Old and new living on the same block. Wonderful national parks to visit.

Soon though, Tokyo would end and I would catch the Shinkansen Bullet train to a city I had never been. I was on the way to Hiroshima. At the end of times, I always ask myself after a place,

would I come back? What did I gain?

The answer for Tokyo is I would always go back. As for the gain. Nothing comes to mind. I had ceased wanting to gain. Or a milestone. I just did to do. I just was.

If you want to see all the photos from Tokyo, here’s the place to go!

Tokyo to Hiroshima – A train like a bullet

From Tokyo to Hiroshima I would go. As I rode the Shinkansen, I met a few Japanese business travelers. The bullet train is an elegant ride. I had bought all the train tickets prior to leaving the US so I felt prepared except for the huge Tokyo Station. I had to get help from a friendly attendant that walked me to the departure area. She told me I was not the first to ask for help. Even Japanese people from outside Tokyo got lost in the station. Finally though, I arrived at the departure gate and was able to watch my train arrive. Signs for all systems are in English so it was easy to be ready but the train is just beautiful! Shaped like a rocket or something. Riding in the train at speeds almost 200mph seemed surreal.

I don’t count hours but it seemed before I was ready we had reached Hiroshima. My hotel there was close to the train station so I could walk. A work colleague had told me that Hiroshima was boring so I had no real expectations. Suffice to say he was wrong like he was in many things. Hiroshima is a vibrant, fun, and sometimes funky city with its memories also of the atomic bomb being a separate part of life there. I believe the city places both in their context. So I will cover my visit writing about both.

Hiroshima fun and frolic

I left the hotel like most mornings and the cute front desk clerk wished me good morning. She was there each morning and truly made my day look better. I’ll not lie. I appreciate beautiful women. So sue me. Walking for coffee was always easy and finding both coffee and a place to sit often combined a 7/11 store and park. There the older folks like me came to see their day. I would hear numerous “ohayo” greetings and would find a spot. Others would show up. Young and old. So slowly I’d drink the morning coffee and watch Hiroshima on the rise. Far from some somber city this place had a pace of life. Whether young or old parks were there to be enjoyed.

The park is a generalized and fictional construct for me though. It’s like

every park

Just a place like all places. Grass and trees. Young voices and old. To sit and embrace every park was accepting all parks.

Serious sides of Hiroshima

I mentioned the two sides of Hiroshima. There is the shopping and eating and socializing side and then there is the somber and almost sad side. A bomb fell here once but the results while still noticeable don’t impact the social side I can see.

I watched people then enjoying life on one side and on the other silently observing. Perhaps it is a Japanese thing. The ability to sequester things. The somber part leaves one with sadness but all one does is cross the street just about and a wonderful shopping center can be found.

As I walked Hiroshima, it became every person’s city to me. The people were all people. The fantasies and dreams were all dreams. I loved the time seeing it all in Hiroshima. For days I would stay and just walk. I found and lost myself on the city streets of Hiroshima. I think where I reached the belief in a Starbucks in Tokyo, in Hiroshima I found the day to day. Just the going of it. Camera in hand. Finding and losing myself. I think it did become any city to me. And I was a citizen of any city. The parks and shopping centers and little side streets with wonderful nighttime signs shining out like they do in Japan.

Finally, thank you Hiroshima for letting me find and lose myself in your depths. You were my second city in Japan and you fulfilled me yet left me wanting more. The old gentleman on the street nodding his morning, the beautiful sights to be only estimated.

Hiroshima photo gallery can be found here. Go indulge.

There is no going back in Going West. One never returns. I’ve maintained the moment you turn your heard everything changes. I was about to change again for the last time in Japan. On to Osaka. The city that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Osaka by Shinkansen – Shorter but sweet

After my days in Hiroshima, time to go again. I boarded the Shinkansen this time for a shorter ride to Osaka. I had never been there either so with 5 or 6 days, I wanted to not see the entire city but only to see the part that opened itself to me. Streets and parks and bridges. Osaka is a city of bridges and I simply love bridges. They are all photographic statements of geometry and physics. Art and science.

The city of Osaka is huge! I would only spend about 6 days seeing it so I devised no plan at all besides to simply go wandering the city. No directions, no focus. No plan. Where Hiroshima is two cities, Osaka is just one but large and in charge. There is sometimes an industrial beauty to the city when seeing high rises standing above history and beautiful old buildings. The city always seemed to just rise up to me. Higher and higher. Stretching in all directions. To embrace Osaka is to take the idea it cannot simply be understood. It must be just taken a bit at a time. I never believed I could just take it all.

My days would start with coffee at the hotel, sometimes I’d find a bakery or a coffee shop and indulge. Most of all though I just wanted to find my little corner of this giant city and taste it, test it, find the resident. The person that epitomized the city. That young or old Japanese person that touched their city with fondness, boredom, or excitement. I saw all the emotions in the young. Osaka seems to be a city perennially at a rush to reach some place. One can move from urban scenes to quiet parks in moments and suddenly be outside the rush. Taken in to a park where the visitors sit on park benches. One man reading his daily shimbun, observing with glass filled eyes, youth dancing and moving and still greeting him with respect. His paper held stories of the day I imagined. Perhaps another world story I had opted out of.

I could move so easily around Osaka. Day or night, the city always felt safe yet thrilling to the touch. Lights and sounds and conversations. Many talking in English like the young school girls practicing.

My days blended together in Osaka. Sights and sounds. Beer and food. People and places. To remember one thing was to remember all things I saw in Osaka.

There is beauty hiding in the sprawl. Wonders around the corner. Choices made and kept to find just a measure of the city Osaka. I tried for days but in retrospect the days all became one day. One long day in one big city. While I loved visiting the city, it was not my favorite this time. But I was also bedazzled by the sights and would stop as the ladies and cherry blossoms became acquainted. Then finally I would seek and find some measure of another part of this city. Beautiful flowers and peaceful people enjoying every last moment of the days in Osaka. I found the big, the comforting, and the local.

Want some more of Osaka? I don’t blame you. Big and busy. Check out the album here.

Finale? No way

My time would end though and so my time would end in Japan. After 5 days I would leave Japan from Osaka airport. There’s no finale to this. There is going. Going West. Leaving Japan after a month or so, took me to a place where life became so much more and I would find this other expression of the Edge.

I’ve realized in this writing next is a relative term so I take liberties with time and space writing these stories. The stories follow no chronological order. We have enough of that in life so I have tried to obscure dates because when you did a thing is not so important as doing the thing.

Stay tuned.

  1. That was great… Also makes me want to go there too. I need to stop reading your blog otherwise I’ll have too many places to want to go! ; )

    Ray

  2. Damn, I feel like I was there, what a great write up, Mike. I’ve always wanted to visit Japan and I mean, like you, visit it either in one long tract of time, or in small increments. It’s the sort of country that demands you go for several months at a time, even a year, or spend several years hoping back and forth.

    At least I got a glimpse of what I know is there, through your travels. I hope you get back there again soon.

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