The land of the rising sun. Where the future meets tradition. Japan. Over the break of Winter 2017, I had the great pleasure of traveling there solo. Right off the bat, I did not know a lick of Japanese. My only exposure of “Japanese culture” I had was of food, Japanese characters on hoodies, and typically anime. So what should I expect in Japan? Cool little trinkets? Sushi spots on every corner? In the end, I didn’t think too much of it. I was just excited to fly out to Japan, but I was also afraid. As an extrovert who’s quite shy, I knew that I would have some rough times being alone in a foreign country.
Upon arrival in Tokyo, I was welcomed with a very complex map of the subway lines. I was always told by friends who have visited Japan, and netizens that commuting via subway was so easy an intuitive. I began to believe that they were wrong, and they're all liars. Luckily! I had internet access and google maps saved the day (and my trip)! Also had to FaceTime my friend Christine back at home to give me a rundown on the subway systems LOL. So if you're traveling to Japan for the first time, you'll need Google maps and Christine. Yes, Day 1 might’ve been difficult to navigate the subway lines, but as time went on, it really was not difficult at all.
In the two weeks of my stay in Japan, I’ve only stayed within Tokyo. I visited the hotspots, such as Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara, Harajuku, Asakusa… Everywhere I went, crowds of locals and foreigners flooded the streets. Everywhere I looked, there were fashionable people. From young teens, to a more seasoned age group, these people were decked out in designer clothes, brands, but kept their own individualistic style. It was inspiring. As a photographer, I had gone around the towns to take photographs of the interesting fashion trends I saw on the streets.
In my first few days, the loneliness began to hit me. I had no one to talk to, and my friends back at home were all sleeping because of the totally different time zones. Like I mentioned before, I’m an extrovert. Without anyone to spend time with for a long while, I would wake up early morning, and head back to my hostel at sundown which would be around 5pm. I’d sleep early, and start over. Though I did have a great time exploring the cities by myself, I still longed to have someone to be with.
I looked up language exchange meet ups on the web, and attended one for myself. And it was a great night! This would be my first real time interacting and getting to know some locals in Tokyo. With the quality conversations, I was able to get more of the feel and environment of this great city and its people.
Then my first weekend in Japan came along. My friend Emilia had also taken a visit to Tokyo from Osaka. She’s taking a gap year from school, and spending it with her family in Japan. With her around, it was so refreshing to see a familiar face in a foreign country! I got to experience Tokyo differently in which I had someone to explore with! Meeting new people came natural too. Being with someone so social and outgoing, breaking the ice with other strangers was so easy for me.
Emilia was only in Tokyo for that weekend, but ever since then, her push for me to put myself out there, and to be less timid was my first step to opening so many doors, and creating friendships with strangers in Japan.
Throughout my trip since that weekend, I went out of my way to be intentional and conversational with some new people. In doing so, I managed to make some new friends in my hostel, make new friends at a bar, and even just someone on the street. I managed to exchange contacts, and hangout with them later during my trip! In being upfront, I was also able to just approach some other photographer, and ask to collaborate sometime in the week. Through this, I got the opportunity to work with local talent and models to photograph.
Getting out of my comfort zone in a foreign country has taught me so much about culture and myself. Going into a country knowing no one, and coming out with friendships, bonds, and memories that will stay with me for a lifetime, I can say that even though two weeks didn’t feel long enough, I’m so glad and blessed that I was able to enjoy it to the fullest. I fully encourage anyone to take any opportunity to travel anywhere, even if it’s by themselves. When I stopped having the mentality of “I’ll wait until I have the time and money to travel,” I opened so many doors I’d never thought I would stumble across. I made a plan for myself. I told myself I would go during this time, and then I made it happen. I worked for it. And you can too.