My fascination with Japan began over an early 90's summer; when my older brother returned home from a tour as an F-18 pilot and C-130 engineer for the United States Navy.
After three steps in the front door, he set two rucksacks on the floor before hugging my mother hello. One rucksack had attached to it a white rectangular tag, bearing a cherry red orb at its center.
Settled in for a week, eventually he called me to his room and pulled various cloth bundles from the mystery bag from days before. He unrolled the first, and dozens of VHS boxes bearing the word 'MACROSS' spilled from it. Another he unrolled the next with more finesse, pulling back the last layer to reveal a black katana, cobalt wakizashi, and a plethora of shurikens I of course was eternally banned from touching.
By that summer's end, the culture of Japan had inflexibly rooted itself in my mind as a place to experience in person.
Fast forward through two decades, and what started as a simple and shared American fascination with all things ninja in the 90's morphed to more pressing contemplation. More important to me was the concept of quietude; living among others peacefully, quietly, efficiently and cleanly. I had many questions about Japan that I hoped would be answered in our 12 days in the East.
-Where did the seemingly parallel relationship found in my culture as an African American come from?
-How do we exist as both poets and warriors in an age where it seems as if we're unsure of if either should exist?
-What connects our cultures in regards to our daily routines, and opposite that, what makes it feel so enigmatic to be in Japan?
Before we went to Japan in the Fall of 2017, I did my best not to hype my mind up on all the stories of mystery and intrigue built up by years of what I've seen through a handful of mediums. Fortunately, it surpassed all the dreams and hype I could have ever mustered.
Two weeks isn't enough to solve all of ones internal mysteries in the Land of the Rising Sun, but let me walk you through its ancient light from my perspective... and before I get ahead of myself, let's talk about getting there in the first place….oh and if you’re a fan of music, I built a playlist that helped organize everything I saw in my mind. This paper is named after the song ‘Kids See Ghosts’ because of the collaboration between the G.O.O.D. Music family, and artist Takashi Murakami for the album of the same name’s cover art. Visually and lyrically, the song mirrored many of my own thoughts that seemed as inquisitive as Kid Cudi’s verse.
I built a playlist of songs that I listened to while trekking through the country, and should you make your way there, you’ll likely be inspired to do the same. It feels like walking through endless movie scenes, so why not score it?
|Getting to Japan|
The checklist for traveling to Japan is short, but critical if travelling from the United States. Tickets are likely upward of $900 unless you come across a solid deal on sites like Scott's Cheap Flights.
You've probably heard about the efficient and fast trains of Japan, but not about how to get tickets to said greatness. Japan's rail systems are owned by several companies, with the most crucial to your trip (assuming Tokyo isn't your only stop) being Japan Railways Group. It works with just about all lines in Japan, with a handful of exceptions. You can purchase a pass for the lines that Japan Railways Group operates on called a JR Pass that will grant unlimited usage of the railways, including the Shinkansen 700 bullet train in-between major cities.
Most importantly, you must buy your JR Pass BEFORE you get to Japan, so give yourself at least a month to order and receive yours by mail. There are several sites to purchase one, and we went with the 7 Day pass you can find here.
The pass timer starts after you use it the first time, so if you plan on being in Tokyo for a few days before making you way to say, Kyoto, wait until the train to Kyoto to activate your JR Pass. It will be cheaper in the long run to simply pay the normal fare while in Tokyo to get around, and save your pass for the long, expensive major city to major city rides.
The first of three legs of travel in Japan took place in Tokyo, with the Tobu Hotel serving as our base of operations in the city. Yoyogi Park is a few minutes away on foot, with fabled Shibuya crossing not far away either to lead to the city’s sprawling train system.
After strolling through the streets of Shibuya and eventually figuring out the rail system maps, we headed North East to Ueno. Home to Ueno Zoo, Onshi Park, and the Tokyo National Museum; you’ll easily be able to spend a half a day at least exploring. Many visitors come here in the Spring due to the high amount of Cherry blossoms that bloom here every year.
The second leg of our adventure would be aboard a Shinkansen 700 bullet train to Kyoto. Japan’s old capitol, its a beautiful blend of modern life and ancient wisdom along every street. Riding in it felt like birds gliding along a riverbank. The cone of the train is shaped like a birds beak (in fact, its based on many animals) to cut through the air more efficiently.
The final leg of the trip took place in the hills of Takayama, a city known for its woodwork and year round beauty. Many locals retreat here for ski season. We hopped on a smaller train once back in Nagoya to enjoy the winding canyons and gorgeous small towns.
Over a year later and we still talk about the experience of Japan for the first time. It didn’t need to be anything magic, only itself. It can be as busy as New York while also quiet as a Kansas country road in near perfect transition. The dedication to detail and hospitality was felt and respected in just about every person we met.
I still don’t think I got all of my answers solved, but I at least opened a new gateway of inspiration for the days ahead, with many great places to return and ponder in.