When I arrived in Tokyo in September, the idea of spending three months abroad in another country was just that – an idea. The longest I had ever been away from Canada was three weeks – and that was as a kid on a road trip pilgrimage to Walt Disney World on summer holidays.
But here I am, 98 days later (89 before Christmas, 9 after a visit back to Canada for Christmas) putting on my backpack, ready to leave, having effectively lived in Japan for the better part of three months.
I spent long enough in Tokyo to see summer melt in to autumn. The colourful leaves fell to the ground through much of my stay here, until the cold of winter brought a greyer sky and barren branches. Seeing the seasons change in a place that isn’t where you’re from is a funny thing – it’s different from Canada, yet somehow the rhythm is familiar.
Japan has taught me a lot about communication. While I still am illiterate when it comes to the Japanese language (although not entirely true – I’m your man if you ever need pleasantries uttered or something ordered at McDonald’s), I have grown my experience in the art of the language barrier interaction. It’s a mix of charades, finding common words, and generally saying yes to anything just to see what happens. As I watch other foreign visitors grapple with their own language barriers, their experience has taught me that repeating a word in English with increasing volume does not make it easier for someone to understand. A smile, patience, and the occasional confused look goes a long way to earning the sympathy of someone who has trouble with what you’re saying.
Staying in everyone’s good graces here is also a tightrope walk at times. Rules abound about no photography and no videography forced me to change how I produced content while in Japan. It was a challenge some days to get the shots I needed, and ultimately I’d feel guilty whipping out my iPhone to covertly get footage of something critical to telling my travel story. But as I continue to make my way to other destinations, I know it’s not the last time I’ll encounter such restrictions.
Being in Japan for as long as I have been has left it feeling a bit like home. Clean, comfortable, safe, friendly, warm, welcoming. I know I could get used to this.
If Japan has prepared me for anything during my trip ahead, it’s the realization that hellos are easy and goodbyes are tough. I knew this getting in to backpacking, and having gone through the cycle many times here in Japan during my visit, I can only hope it gets easier. But I know it won’t.
So, I’m not saying goodbye to Japan. Rather, it’s “thank you,” and “see you soon.” Because, I’m never more than a cheap Air Asia flight away from a place which truly feels like a second home.
Next stop : Malaysia.
Feature Image ©JNTO