It is the 6th of March 2019 and I wake up inside a dark aircraft, overflying some remote region of Eastern Siberia with an unpronounceable name, after one of those restless sleeps you can only have when you're in a long haul flight. It has been a 4h drug-induced nap, and yet my body is still rebelling against me due to the jet lag. Although it is midnight inside me, in the Land of the Rising Sun the sun has risen long ago.
I cannot help being all excited and fidgety, like a kid in the morn of Christmas silently wishing for their parents to get up so they can get hold of the presents underneath the fir tree. In my case, what I wish for is for the plane to descend and allow me to catch my first glimpse of Japan.
Oh, Japan: a land that I have idolised when I was a kid and a teenager. I grew up merrily watching the adventures of Doraemon, Dragon Ball and Dr Slump. I learnt to dream with Final Fantasy and other Japanese RPGs as well as with the inspiring and beautiful animations of Studio Ghibli. I was moved to tears during the disaster of Fukushima on 11/03/2011 when, in spite of the ruin and desolation of the great earthquake and the even mightier tsunami, Japanese society organised in admirable, orderly fashion and the elderly stepped forward to carry out critical tasks after the nuclear disaster, willingly taking the radiation risk, for the benefit of all the Japanese. I was thus determined to get to know Japan better, so much that during my teenage years I self-studied some Japanese which fortunately I retained throughout the years. This proved to be life-saving during some of my adventures!
My trip is going to be 3.5 weeks long, and with a 3-week JR Pass in my pocket for about £400 I am going to travel to and fro around the main island of the country, Honshu (本州), approximately 3,500 km of journey as shown in the crazy itinerary below:
For me, in a way, visiting Japan was the final chapter of a very turbulent novel.
I meant to come last September with a couple of friends, just when the suffocating heat starts to fade away and country begins to display the mesmerising hues of autumn. It was a sought-after, joyous escape after months of heavy personal turmoil upon the realisation that my goals, values and ideas in life were crumbling and I felt totally lost for the first time. Despite the low mood and anxiety that came with this fundamental uncertainty, I made a bold move: I quit a stable and comfortable job after 3 years, because I increasingly felt I had to be passionate about what I do to be happy and be the best version of myself. Although the position was relatively satisfying, it wasn't fulfilling for me and I didn't feel complete, so I decided it was time for a change. Roundabout the same time, however, my health started to deteriorate rapidly, and I had to undergo some serious surgery that would be life-changing and allowed me to mature and see things from a different perspective.
The emotional roller-coaster before and after the operation is worthy of a blog on its own, but for the purpose of this one, it meant that Japan had to wait. I amended all the bookings to take one person away from the reservations and I managed to get Air France to sympathise with my situation and reschedule my flight for much later, in March 2019, when the airfares were at the same level and I would for certain be recovered if everything went well.
In hindsight, I couldn't help to think that the universe wanted me to visit Japan when the sakura blossoms, and to do it on my own, something I had never done before, a challenge from which to come out stronger and more confident than ever.
And as I am engrossed in these thoughts I feel a sudden bump that can only indicate that our plane has landed at Narita Airport, in Tokyo, so the adventure begins!