These words from a Hilary Duff song called ‘Wake Up’ were stuck in my head for a while. So when I was looking at the world map deciding where I should plan my next solo trip, Tokyo stood out as the sole contender (London and Paris already having been covered). And on that whim, I booked my tickets and a single bed in a backpacker’s hostel (I didn’t have the courage to opt for a capsule room). That was March 2015. From then on till my flight on 11th June, I spent every single minute of my free time researching Tokyo-the language, the customs, and the rules, both obvious and unwritten. To be honest, even though it had seemed like a good idea in the beginning, I was very nervous about going to a country whose language I couldn’t even read, much less understand.
It was 24 hours of excruciating flights (you have to suffer layovers if you book flights for 33,000 INR), I was finally at Narita International Airport. I slowly began to realize that even if you don’t speak the same language, you can after all, understand another human being. I made my way to the platform for the Keisei Skyliner that would take me into Tokyo city. I lugged my bag behind me as I reached Ueno station, a major junction on the extremely complicated and well-established Tokyo Metro. Following the directions to the hotel that I had printed out from its very helpful website, I started walking slowly towards Hotel New Koyo, a modest, no-nonsense backpacker’s hostel. I was shown to my room, an 8’X5’ rectangle with a rolled-up futon in one corner. Welcome to Japan, I thought.
As it turned out, my room was everything I needed, not to mention a huge boost to my self-esteem for having paid for the entire trip by myself. Sometimes, a futon-sized room is all you can afford, but it makes you feel rich. I managed to survive the whole trip in 30,000 INR, a slap in the face of all those who had scared me that Tokyo is too expensive to travel to.
Tokyo is every bit representative of everything ‘Japanese’ – food, art, architecture, culture and people. Even though I had read about and seen pictures of all these aspects before, it was fascinating to experience it firsthand.
Possibly the most enchanting and memorable part of my trip were the interactions I had with the people there. The Japanese are so helpful, they should come up with a new adjective for themselves. Whenever I asked for help, there was someone willing to go out of their way to help me. If I was lost, people would go to the extent of escorting me to my destination because I couldn’t understand their directions. I was handed free maps and leaflets everywhere because I looked like a potential lost tourist. There was one incident when I walked into a shop asking for directions to a place, and the lady behind the counter tried to draw the map for me on a piece of paper, but she wrote all the names of the landmarks in Japanese. I shrugged, exasperated and tired, ready to give up. She saw the dejected look on my face, and made a spur-of-the-moment decision. She locked her shop, asked me to run alongside her till we reached the place I was looking for, and then she ran back to open her shop again. I have never met anyone who would do that for a stranger.
However, my favourite part of the trip was hunting and raiding a new vegan restaurant every day! I had been mocked saying a vegan would die of hunger in Tokyo, and there I was, eating my heart out.
I loved every moment there – to live and breathe in a living, breathing city like Tokyo that thrives on its alive citizens is an enlivening experience!
About Malvika Kathpal:
She is a free-spirited dreamer who loves to travel, write and eat vegan food!