10 days of oishi food, old and new friends, clean public bathrooms, excessive and intricate packaging, crowded trains, temples and shrines galore, glorious mountain nature, thrift shops, and a fun lesbian bar! I came to Tokyo to visit Ako, one of my closest friends coming out of ALCN “coach school.” I hadn’t seen Ako in a couple years though we keep in pretty consistent contact through Whatsapp and periodic chats. It’s great to have a good friend in Asia, because a lot of emotional emergencies tend to happen late at night when we’re most vulnerable and the Western world is in sleep mode. Two crises stand out: processing seeing Tom for the first time in 3 years and the latest craziness in December with my roommate.
My pre-planning for nomadic destinations ranges from 6 months (some place like Africa where I’ll pretty much stay on tours) to 2 weeks (e.g., Philippines, reserving lodging and domestic flights with day tours booked in-country) to in-country planning (Japan). This was probably my 5th or 6th time in Japan – last time was in 2015 with Iolani friends. Every time I go, it feels more and more familiar…partly from just being a more seasoned traveler and partly because it seems like they’ve made a very concerted effort to put more vital things in English (like the 7 system subway maps!)
The first few days, I experienced the typical jet lag and cultural shock from teleporting from lesbian spring break one week before to the constant anime din of Tokyo. Loudspeakers blaring slogans for the upcoming campaign in childlike, high-pitched voices. People rushing by and excessive politeness. The feminine and demure fashion of Asia. Not being able to read most signs. The bustle of Tokyo triggering memories of Taipei and Hong Kong, both touristic and emotional flashbacks.
I wanted to “make a little tourism” and not be an imposition for Ako, who is going through a major transition downsizing and relocating to Bali, so I headed out to the countryside of Nikko. By chance, there was a cool spring festival going on, and I plodded my way through an easy-ish hike in the mountains except for the soggy spots from the melting snow. There were still a few sakura (cherry blossom) trees with the melting of the winter frost to spring promise. Shin-rin-yoku or forest bathing is a thing in Japan, and I wholeheartedly agree that being in nature can reset something very primitive in our brains.
After a couple restorative days in Nikko, I returned to busy Tokyo. Having a cozy and welcoming home base in the middle of a hectic metropolis was a godsend, and I got to enjoy the quotidian domestic life of a single mom in Tokyo with a “super bath” 9 going on 16 year-old daughter named Hanae. This included butchering the language of love, trying to help Hanae study for her French vocab quiz, and doing dishes in a tiny but efficient kitchen, more like a galley. In fact, a lot of Tokyo’s compactness from capsule hotels to tiny bathrooms reminds me of being in a really organized and clean cruise ship.
Real connections around the world.
The great part of being nomadic and returning to places you’ve been is that you get to enjoy the people and culture. In addition to hanging out with Ako, I happened to coincide with a couple friends from Burning Man, and we hit up Golden Gai. Always weird to see people outside of the context you know them in.
I also spent some time with Mayumi, a friend I made on the airport shuttle after we both did Tony Robbins Date with Destiny on the Gold Coast of Australia in 2015. Was so fun to explore restaurants with her and Hiroko, a new friend.
And the time with Ako was very insightful and bonding for us. There is something very alchemistic in sharing living space with someone and seeing their inner home (both literally and figuratively). Ako helped me to work through an emotional challenge with Burning Man organizing and to uncover a deep vulnerability I was surprised to find hidden below several layers of denial and self-judgment…a sense of not deserving to feel pain and hurt caused by people you rationally know care about you but emotionally you feel abandoned by. It felt very reminiscent of being upset by something as a little girl but being told big girls don’t get upset by those things.
It was a beautiful, transformational process to give myself permission to feel hurt, share that deep vulnerability to the people I felt hurt by, and in doing so, I found strength not from their reaction and support but simply from the act of me standing up for myself to speak my truth. In fact, I did not get the “I got your back” support I thought I had wanted from my friends, but I found the “I got your back” unconditional love from myself for speaking my truth, even though I felt weak and vulnerable in doing so. This transformational arc was nothing I could have predicted. It harkens back to major themes of abandonment, not being good enough to belong/fit in, and not deserving to feel and express pain in fear of appearing weak and unworthy. It was in standing up, not to a perceived enemy, but simply for myself…to declare to myself that I am worthy by acknowledging my pain without judgment, expressing my pain to people I trust, and sitting in the discomfort, letting all that energy boil up to the surface, simmer, and be re-integrated.
For research purposes only.
I went thrifting for queer wear with Ako, who has a keen lesbian aesthetic eye / went to RISD. I picked up some gay essentials (fake leather bomber jacket, suspenders, and overalls)!
I made it to Gold Finger twice, Tokyo’s most famous lesbian bar. Friday night flying solo and Saturday night, taking Ako along on a cultural experience. Her reaction: “it feels so safe and welcoming.” Then, she went off on a date, and I made more friends at the one lesbian club night per month! What luck in timing! It’s been really fun to check out the queer scene in different cities for “research purposes” and briefly observe the dynamics, especially between locals and expats in more closed societies.
Oh, the food…delicious food everywhere…restaurants of all kinds, FamilyMart, and Ako’s dining room. A meal is a great way to catch up with friends!
And of course, random pics from Japan, because, well, Japan…