Joy in Japan








I love to travel. Yeah, I know. Travel is full of hassles – long lines at airports, crowded planes, language barriers, getting lost, unfamiliar food.  But  it’s all part of the adventure.

On a recent trip to Japan – (my first time in Asia!) – I discovered joy in so many places – some expected, some unexpected.

Reflecting on the trip from the familiarity and comfort of home, here are a few of my insights:

Navigating an unfamiliar city on foot allowed me to deal with the sensory overload in a way that was manageable. My pace varied depending on the sights, sounds, smells and while I was definitely bombarded with a lot of new information, the fact that I was walking kept me feeling grounded. It also gave me the opportunity to notice a lot of small but significant differences.  I barely saw any litter in Japan which is astounding when you think about it.

The learning curve is pretty quick when you need it to be. After a day or two, the yen had lost its mystery, I could navigate the Tokyo subway system and deal with simple transactions without anxiety.

Much of the charm of a different culture comes from its rituals and traditions. The shrines I visited in Tokyo and Kyoto were beautiful and impressive, yet it was taking part in the rituals of washing the hands and rinsing  the mouth with cool water from bamboo cups before approaching the altar, ringing the bell to awaken the gods, bowing and clapping that were the magical moments and helped me feel connected to the culture.

I don’t know why, but Japan has the most beautiful trees I’ve ever seen.  They exude health and happiness.

I like trains a lot, but bullet trains are in a category of their own.  So comfortable, so clean, so efficient – such a joy to ride.

Getting lost in the Gion district of Kyoto at night with its tiny alleys, old tea houses, and twinkling lights was more fun than frustrating. So what if I couldn’t find the restaurant I was looking for after an hour of walking in circles?  The sights and adventure were way more important than the meal.

Speaking of the Gion, a brief encounter with a Geisha was the most magical moment of a magical trip.

Despite heat, humidity, and a monsoon I walked for hours and hours every day. Nothing is more valuable than comfortable shoes.

Guide books give all sorts of practical information, however, in the end, there is no way to anticipate where  joy will be found.

Here are a few of the things that made me very happy:
the gentleness and impeccable manners of the people

bowls of noodles

tiny shops in Kyoto

the lush green of rice paddies

Fushimi Inari Shrine – walking through hundreds of orange gates in the greenest woods imaginable

getting a small glimpse of the vastness of Tokyo

Japanese toilets (amazing!!!)

women wearing colorful kimonos on the streets

outdoor markets

discovering beautiful handmade washi paper

feeling energized, curious, and open to adventure

the sound of bells

gardens filled with moss, frogs, carp, and turtles
soaking naked in an onsen (outdoor bath fed by a hot spring)  and realizing how connected and alike we all are

I am so grateful to have been able to take this trip and see a different part of the world.

I would love to hear about your travels and where you found joy.

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