At Home in Japan

Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2011 - 1 Comment
Keg on a bike
Shinjuku on a Rainy Night

Japan is by far one of my favorite places in the world. The recent tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster forced the cancellation of a motorcycle trip I’d signed up for in southern Japan earlier this year.  Since then, I’ve thought greatly about  the tremendous generosity and hospitality of the Japanese people I experienced on my visits there and what an incredible toll these disasters have taken on them.

From the first time I stepped foot in Narita airport I’ve been intoxicated by Japan. My first trip took me from the endless energy of Tokyo to the classic temples of Nikko back to the neon lights and giant TV’s of Tokyo to back alley bars in the Dotombori area of Osaka. Side trips to Himeji Castle and The Giant Buddha and bowing deer of Nara and then a bicycle tour of Kyoto. I made it as far south as Hiroshima where I slept on a futon on the floor of a friend’s traditional Japanese house. I even managed to squeeze in a trip to Miyojima Island, where I hiked to the top of a mountain in hopes of seeing the famous monkeys. Alas, I didn’t see any monkeys. It was a two week whirlwind that left me beguiled, inspired and wanting more. Since then, I’ve been back 5 more times. Even spending almost 6 weeks in Tokyo in the Fall of ’09.

Kichijoji near Inokashira Park
Kichijoji Yakitori Spot next to Inokashira Park

I’ve always loved Tokyo. Heck, I’ve written about it four times already (here, here, here and here). If you want to go to an amazing country with a amazing culinary history, rich cultural traditions and adoration for modernity and innovation, Japan is the place.

Another Tokyo Street Scene
Another Tokyo Street Scene

I’ve found Japan to be a land of contradictions. The influence of zen buddhism colliding and commingling with an intense consumerist culture. Tradition and technology both vying for attention. Neon lights, giant tv’s and small temples and shrines everywhere. Part of what keeps me coming back is this magical combination of these seeming opposites.

Going to Japan is always an experience in feeling like the “other”. What I mean is, there is no way for me to blend in. I am obviously, instantly, different. Unlike going to Europe, where I basically look like the general populace except I don’t speak the language, Japan provides an opportunity to feel what it’s like to not belong. To be an outsider, an observer. The language does not have any latin or germanic roots I can relate to and decipher. The kanji (and katakana and hiragana) look beautiful and impenetrable. Yes, I’ve learned a bit of Japanese by listening to Pimsleur, reading phrases in a phrasebook and interacting as much as possible with Japanese speakers, but I don’t read Japanese at all. I find it fascinating to be forced to get by with limited language skills and zero reading skills.

Although, I could never be accepted as Japanese and would always be viewed as an outsider, I still feel strangely at home in this land. I imagine I could easily spend the rest of my life living here, in a country roughly the size of the state I grew up in (California).

Coffee choices at Seven & I Holdings (7-11)
Coffee Choices at 7-11
Massive Yodobashi Camera Store
Yodobashi Camera Shinjuku
Tokyo Street Scene
Tokyo Night

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  1. Hey Algis,

    Cool shot man! bringing me back to the old Shinjuku -dig it. You’re trip to Lithuania sounds cool – take some great shots!


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Hi, I’m Algis


I have an insatiable wanderlust which takes me to some crazy places where I try strange foods, pretend I'm a local and talk with elephants. Keep reading...

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