I opened the guidebook excited that I had set aside the rainy afternoon to plan out the itinerary for our upcoming trip to Japan.
I closed it about 10 minutes later completely overwhelmed. I had no idea where to start. I’ve been wanting to go to Japan for years and, reading the book, it all sounded so amazing that I wanted to do it all.
Yes! Let’s hike Mt Fuji. Yes! We should head to the north and visit a remote onsen. Yes! We’ll stay in a capsule hotel in the heart of Tokyo. Yes! Walking along an ancient pilgrimage route sounds perfectly zen-like. Yes! We can pay tribute to the victims of the Hiroshima bombing. Yes! We’ll visit temple after temple after temple in Kyoto. Yes! We’ll gorge on sushi and ramen and okonomiyaki until we burst. Yes! Let’s head to the south and see the beaches there. Yes! We’ll stay in a temple and wake to the chanting of monks. Yes! Yes! Yes!
Ahhh, but we’ve done that before. Run from place to place feeling like we need to experience EVERYTHING and staying only a day or two in a place before moving on.
This trip is to be a study in traveling slower. Less places, more experiences. More settling in and getting to know a place, less running around wondering if this temple or castle is really that much different than the twelve other ones we saw last week.
It’s about remembering what worked and what didn’t in the past and using those lessons to guide our planning this time. It’s about distilling that great must-do list into a concise list of experiences and focusing the planning on those experiences rather than on places. It means understanding how we want to feel on this trip and passing up on the ‘shiny things’ that don’t contribute to that feeling.
Easier said than done.
I want to feel that I’m learning. That I’m starting to understand how things work; how to order sake, whether to slurp or not, temple etiquette, how to open those sliding paper doors.
I want to feel that I’m taking my time. That I’m giving a place it’s due, not just rushing through.
I want to feel that I’m not missing out on anything. It’s the missing out feeling that drives me to travel too quickly. I want to prove to myself that slow travel is more rewarding.
I want to really experience food and drink. I think we are too timid sometimes and I don’t want to be scared by what looks weird in Japan. I want to try all the different kinds and styles of tofu and understand how they are different. I want to visit sake breweries and taste the difference in region and style. I want to slurp noodles in back alley ramen shops, drink in izakayas, and eat yakatori by the stickful afterwards. Of course I want sushi but also okonomiyaki, tempura and bubble tea. I want to spend the money on a Kobe steak and enjoy a multi course meal at a ryokan. This will be the highlight of every day in Japan.
I want to experience culture and history but I don’t want to roam around in museums. I find them overwhelming. I prefer to take small scale city or site tours and have a guide weave history and culture into the stories they tell of a place. I want to visit temples, take in some Kabuki theater, and stay in a traditional Japanese inn.
I want to have urban experiences – I love cities and the thought of Tokyo and all it’s districts and people is exciting. But I also love the outdoors and want to do some hiking and see what rural Japan is like.
I want to feel quiet. I know that might be difficult in a country of 127 million people but I want that zen feeling of content. I think that will come from traveling slowly, listening to how we’re feeling and ensuring that everything we choose fits the criteria.
An itinerary is emerging.
Photo Credit: BilabialBoxer