Soma-San backpacking in Japan – Part 3: Arriving to Japan – the first experiences

In the previous part, we learnt about how Soma prepared for his 2 months long journey in Japan. We learnt about the criteria he used for planning his itinerary, what types of costs emerged, and how he prepared himself for the challenges he had to face under extreme conditions. In this part, Soma is talking about what it felt like arriving to Japan, and how he spent his first few days. 

Kakehashi: How was your trip to Japan and what it felt like to put your feet on Japanese soil the first time?
Soma: My flight left during the morning hours (before noon) thus I did not have to get up at dawn. But the I was working the day before, so I was tired. My parents drove me to the airport, where after a brief quick saying goodbye and the “son, you must be out of your mind to undertake such thing”, I hurried to the transit area.
I flew to Warsaw by LOT (the Polish National Airline) which took approximately 1.5 hours, and where I had to change flights as there is no direct flight to Japan. I had 3 hours to prepare for the 9 hours long flight to Tokyo, and I recorded my first few videos. Needless to say, it was very strange to video myself and it can be seen and heard in the videos. I was not too unaffected, I had to get used to the camera….
Sitting in the economy cabin for 9 hours was not a wellness experience, so I anguished very much. Especially that I cannot sleep while sitting. I watched 2-3 films to let time pass, however I had the opportunity to see the most spectacular sunrise on the horizon from above 10,000 meters while flying over Russia
After I arrived, I quickly passed through customs and had my passport stamped, and I left Narita airport right away. I took the train to Tokyo, so I could travel further, to my first destination, Nikko. As it was a new country and a new milieu, plus I was tired too, I planned my first domestic trip by train and not by hitchhiking.

Tokyo for the first sight

I had to change trains in Asakusa, and as I had 2 hours spare time, I did some wondering around in the neighbourhood. I visited and viewed the Senso-Ji Temple from the outside. This was the very first site that I visited and viewed, and I returned here after 59 days. Therefore, after 59 days it was very emotional, uplifting, and nostalgic to stand at the exact same place and to realize that this spot was the beginning and end of my journey. (I arrived here on July 7 and left to the airport from here on September 3.) This is where I felt the first time, that I arrived to where I longed to be for many years. But the total euphoria did not  overcome me yet. Maybe because I was tired, I do not know, but I was unable to feel the significance of what was happening to me.

Kakehashi: When and how did you become aware of the fact that you “arrived” spiritually too? 
Soma: Everyone has expectations towards anyone or anything, let it be a cell phone or a skiing trip. This trip was a little bit more special for me as I planned it for many years. I imagined several times, what it will be like in reality? It is something like a Christmas gift, we wait for it for a long time, and when we do not get what we expected then you will feel sad. Nobody likes to be disappointed, therefore I tried to let myself go with the flow and do not set too high expectations.
During the first couple of days of the first week, I kept telling myself “Hey, finally you made it here, to Japan!” But I must admit that I was unable to really comprehend it. Then I forgot to worry about it. Two months passed and I came home. I was walking with a friend of mine in September in Pest, and he was asking about my adventures in Japan. And he asked a very important question: “So, was it like you imagined it?” And that was when I realized that after I let the worry go away in Japan, from that very moment that two months were a real flow experience for me!
So, I have to say that I needed some time, like a week or so, by when I forgot to be Hungarian, to be a college student, to be a coach. From that moment on, I flew with the wind, and ran with the river. I laughed together with Japanese people, I prayed together with them in their sanctuaries, and travelled together. 

Kakehashi: What kind of feelings did you have during the first few days? In what way was new and unfamiliar the Japanese atmosphere, the people, and the culture? 
Soma: I can only repeat myself: there was nothing to be surprised of, after reading and learning, and getting acquainted to for many years. Of course, they look at you differently, different from the way people look at you in Hungary. They drive on the other side of the road. There is no litter on the streets (or rather, there is but compared to Hungary, it is minimal). People do not smoke on the streets. Everyone is patient and polite. And there are huge, long ques – especially at lunch time –  in front of any cookshops. The Japanese pedestrian crossing has a unique, typical sound which I already knew from the anime. When they open the doors of the 3 main konbini, it has its characteristic sound (konbini is a small shop which is open 24/7.) They commute with cars which we play at the dodgem in the amusement parks. It rains a lot, and it is as humid as in the steam room. Everything is where it must be, precisely. Everything is placed in concrete, even the concrete is in concrete. The country is full of mountains. If something is not a mountain, then it is either a river or rice land or a city.
This is Japan. The country of similarities and opposites. Where a Buddhist temple is being built right next to the 300 meters tall Tokyo Tower. Modern and authentic at the same time. This is the country, where a 40-year-old salaryman goes to work wearing a suit, and in the evening he is sipping on an asahi dry wearing a cosplay costume. Is there any other culture which is more Kaffkaian? Is there any other country like Japan? I love it! 

Kakehashi: What were your first experiences? Your first night, hitchhiking, sightseeing? 
Soma: Well, we interrupted at the time, when I arrived in Tokyo, and took the train to Nikko. It was late afternoon when I started, so I knew that I will not have too much time for strolling and gazing.
Then jetlag hit in. I was struck with all the exhaustion of the 16-hour long trip like I was competing for the gold medal in the finals of the Olympic Games. That would have not been a problem if I had not had to change trains between Tokyo and Nikko. But I fell asleep and the conductor tried to wake me up by saying “ Hey man, it is the terminal point, please get off the train!” I had no clue which station I am at, I only knew that I have only 3 minutes to change trains, and the Japanese railroad is world famous if its punctuality, not like the Hungarian MAV. So, I caught the first train on the other platform as fast as I could. It was pure luck, or I was in the hand of fate, that I did not end up in Vladivostok but in Nikko. 

I was asleep on the train to Nikko

I got the around 6 in the evening. I took a short walk in the city, but every scenic spot was closed. I was looking for a place for the night, and I chose an empty parking lot on the North side. It was close to the area which I wanted to visit the next day, and there was a store close by, too. I was so tired that by 9 0’clock I was asleep. I could only hope that nobody will attack me, and the police will leave alone this “homeless”.
I think this was the best sleep in the tent of the entire 2 months. The next day I got up and got moving. I visited the temples and the sanctuaries, the wonderful world-famous Shinkyo-bashi Bridge.

My first night in my tent


Toshogu- shrine

After that I had the most difficult moment of my life in Japan.
The Chuzenji-ko lake and waterfall was 20 km away, which is like a 4 hour walk on the spectacular Irohazaka serpentine. I did not consider the 4 hours walk to be uplifting, thus I had to hitchhike. There and then the first time in Japan…  I began hitchhiking like a real hippy, with trembling hands, without any signs. And after like 2 minutes, I got a ride. It was a father with his daughter. I was so happy; I could not even express it. To no avail, everyone remembers their first….
And the funny thing was (and there will be other thousands of examples) that they were not even going in the same direction which I was going to. And I mean in literarily. The lake was 20 km away to the right, and they were going to the left, but they took a half an hour detour just for me. Unbelievable!! But I am telling  you, I will have other thousand stories like this about Japanese people.

Hitchhiking for the first time

As the lake is at 1300 meters above sea-level, and we were just in the middle of the rainy season, it was slightly disappointing that I did not see anything but the clouds. Oh well, I saw the lake, yes. The real scenic thing would have been the waterfall, but it was not visible at all. I took a picture of where the waterfall should have been so I can prove that I was there at least. I will Google it… At home… 

Chuzenji-Lake...I was there

Kakehashi: Was there any interesting adventures during your first few days? 
Soma: My plan according to my itinerary was that I would hitchhike back to Nikko, and from there I would hitchhike to Yokohama. As this is a 200 km trip, and it was already around 3 in the afternoon, I had to hurry. A young man gave me a ride with his brand-new Subaru and dropped me off at the train. I started my journey by walking from there to the closest highway entry. I misread the map which I just recognized too late, so instead of hiking for 2 kms, I had to walk 10.
I sat down to take a rest at a shop, where I was approached by a young boy (younger than me, a Ueno-san) and asked what I was doing. I told him that I was hitchhiking and was trying to find a ride to Yokohama. Then he said, “do not go anywhere, I will be back in a second.” He entered the shop and told me that he will take me for part of my trip. And “here is a coke, I bought it for you.” I was speechless. We got into his brand-new Audi (not everyone has brand-new cars in Japan either, but it was just such a day), and he drove me to a huge parking lot along the highway, where I thanked him for everything, and we went on our own ways. 


I went to use the toilette, and on my way out, a 50some years old man asked if I was a hitchhiker. I told him that indeed I was, and I am on my way to Yokohama. Then said that he cannot give me a ride all the way as he was going to Chiba (a city close to Tokyo), but the next day we could travel together as he will meet his son in Shinjuku (a district of Tokyo). I said, OK and there we went, speeding on the highway. It turned out that he was working in a hotel in Nikko which I also remembered. He knew quite a lot about Hungarians, and we had a good conversation going on.
I need to make a comment here. It is a false information that Japanese people do not speak good English. It is more like that they are afraid of speaking English because they are afraid of making mistakes. So, in general it is not true that they do not speak English at all. But those who dare to – as it is well represented by the previous examples – they speak English very well.
We got to his house, and he said, “here we are.” I told him that I will look for a spot where I can put my tent up and we will meet tomorrow by his car. He started laughing and told me not to be a fool. There is spare room in the house, I can bunk there. I was a bit nervous, but I accepted his offer. Eventually, who knows when I will be able to take a hot shower and to sleep in bed. He made spaghetti for the two of us, I drank a bottle of vine he bought just for me (and two cans of beer too), and I offered him some of the “heart and fence breaker” (very strong) Hungarian palinka (fruit brandy). He did not like it very much … But at least we had a good time. My second night in Japan, and I am already invited as a guest. Wow, what else lays ahead of me?

Arai-san and I got up at half past four in the morning, travelled together to some part of the trip then we went on our own ways. He gave me his phone number and told me to call him on my way back to Tokyo so we can have a drink together! He was really a fantastic person! 


Arai-san's flat

By 7 o’clock I was already at the Yokohama Station and started to discover another new city where no real adventure was awaiting me. This was a classic, typical sightseeing in the town. In the afternoon, I was rushing over to Kamakura, one of the ancient capitols. And to what happened to me there, I will tell you in my next blog post. I tell you a secret in advance that this is where my soul got free and my journey became a real freedom and flow experience. 


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