Coming from somewhat of a corporate background, I feel an abiding cause for a mission statement. I had always wanted to go to Japan. I was captivated years ago by the lure of the mysterious lantern-lit sidestreets of Kyoto, and the ethereal weirdness of Tokyo. I’d taken a class in college about Japanese culture, and was fascinated by the deep rooted traditions and the way they danced with the highly advanced technology. The peacefulness of the Japanese Zen gardens versus the gory brutality of anime.
I was never able to talk someone into visiting Japan with me. Being brought up in a combination Italian/Jewish-American family, it never occurred to me to go it alone. Honestly. The first question I always get when visiting my grandmother is whether I have a boyfriend or not. So the idea I was brought up on was that first you find a partner, next step is to get married and THEN you finally get to start living your life.
I think this is something in pop culture that is starting to really change with help from people like Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, etc. and I’m super thankful for that. The stigma is being broken that independent women doing things on their own don’t have to be thought of as cat lady spinsters. They are making a cognizant choice to experience life and its adventures as they so choose, for a variety of reasons. Not just as a victim of circumstance. Personally for me and at this time in my life, I just wanted to go to Japan. By myself.
I made a decision to stop waiting around for the perfect conditions and go to the place that I’d been dreaming of and buying picture postcards of for years now. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when one rainy Tuesday night, after a workday that left me paralyzed on my couch in pajamas next to a bottle of cheap red wine, I finally bought my plane ticket to Tokyo on a whim. I cried happy tears afterwards because I was so excited. (I promise it wasn’t the wine!) I felt like I was finally living MY life. I felt like I was breaking through some sort of barrier that had me tethered to the past. In many ways I was. What I’ve found out as a result is that more recently a lot of people are having moments just like these.
Because I booked my trip about 2 months before I actually went, when I started telling people about it, people started inflicting their own doubts on me. Even in New York City – as progressive of places as they come. Wasn’t I scared? How was I going to get around there? Was I visiting someone I knew? Was I secretly rendez-vousing with a gentleman? I couldn’t really be going just because I wanted to, could I? WAS I GOING TO GO OUT TO EAT BY MYSELF???? That was the question I got the most from friends, family and coworkers.
Now let me share a little background here: I worked at a travel company, so I was already traveling quite frequently by myself along with a lot of my coworkers who had asked me this very question. But I noticed there was a difference (in their minds at least) between having no choice but to eat alone while traveling for business, and then actually choosing to eat alone. According to them when you’re in a city alone for work, it’s more than acceptable to dine alone. But being in another country alone by choice and then therefore also dining alone by choice was a different story. Logistically speaking, there was literally no physical difference, but they were bringing their own stigmas to the table. The symbolic table I was eating at by myself in Japan.
Disclaimer: To any of my friends/family/former coworkers reading this post, please know that I definitely understand you had the best intentions, were mostly concerned for my safety and I really am appreciative of that. I mean it. There were just as many if not more people who had been extremely supportive of my anticipated journey, but it’s always the negative feedback that we seem to remember, huh? ;-)
Although I’ll admit that the negativity did start to get to me. Thanks to my parents, I’d been well traveled since age 5 and had been to 4 continents by the time I was in high school. But I’d never done an entire vacation completely by myself, let alone in a city where movies had been made about the difficulty in translating. I started to question and doubt my choices. This might have been a good thing (to a certain extent) because it was a catalyst for me to do some research and plan out some important elements of my trip. i.e. how much a taxi would cost from the airport to my hotel, that Japan was a mostly cash based society, the neighborhoods that were unsafe in Tokyo (VERY few for those of you wondering). Once I read more and more, I came back to my rationality and my inner guide had reassured me I was making the right choice. I lived in New York for God’s sakes. If I could survive my daily commute on the subway with a stranger’s dreadlocks touching my face, I was confident I’d be ok.
My soul was yearning to be in the land of the rising sun, and I don’t think I could have ignored it anymore anyhow. I do feel mighty awful for those that ignore these same feelings everyday, because I know how hard it can be. That sometimes you can actually feel pain inside when you’re not leading the life or making the choices that you know deep down are right for you.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that my trip to Japan was my most amazing, lifechanging and fulfilling journey of my life to date. I now consider myself blessed that no one ever wanted to go with me in the first place. I’m so unbelievably blissful that I got past the anxiety and fear of the unknown to be able to have this experience, and that’s something I’d like to try and inspire in others. Inspire is a pretty smug word, so let me change that to relate instead. I’d like to relate my tale because frankly I think it’s pretty relatable. I’ve been in the awful job that gives you a drinking problem. I’ve questioned my own decisions to the point of insanity. Once again, I’VE RIDDEN THE SUBWAY WITH A STRANGER’S DREADLOCKS TOUCHING MY FACE FOR 45 MINUTES. But I’m finally at a place where I can trust myself and really know what’s best for me, better than anyone else would be able to tell me.
This can be attributed to a number of things, but my fated trip to Japan was definitely a big part of it. Looking back now, I fully believe that I was meant to travel there alone. I don’t believe the experience would have been as deep if I was there with a friend or family member. The most important discoveries about myself have come whilst traveling. There are more and more stories like mine that are coming out lately. There’s a movement happening. And it’s beautiful.