Not your average blog post title I know, but over the past few months, a dramatic shift has occurred in my life that I feel is important to discuss. Particularly as it’s deeply affected my relationship with travel and all the freedom I felt from it.
It may surprise you to know Travel Antics is the work of one girl, namely me. Over the last few months, the process has felt far more cumbersome than normal as I struggle to deal with the end of my long-term relationship and the end of my time in a place I called home. My mind became so preoccupied with the mental strains of dealing with what happened that I decided to leave Travel Antics alone for a little while and focus on the recovery process. But, today I want to take a look at one of the most significant things this man taught me and that was the love of travel. In memory of this and the loss of the relationship. I want to take a look at the one significant place that sparked an obsession with the world and eventually lead to the creation of Travel Antics…
Just over two years ago I got the unbelievable chance to visit the land of the rising sun itself; Japan. I had spent my life up until that moment obsessing over its outlandish nuances. My friends and I had spent our youths cowering under blankets watching unsettling Japanese horror films, that terrify me to this day and the Studio Ghibli films that never fail to warm my heart or nourish my soul with their whimsical characters and nonsensical plotline, never mind the books and films on samurai culture, geishas and so much more. This seemed like an opportunity I could not miss. So, when my ex came home and asked if I’d like to accompany him on a trip to Japan I literally jumped at the opportunity. I got to see first hand the sheer and utter insanity and beauty mixed together to create a rare and iconic place such as Japan.
To this day the sight of Shinjuku still blows my mind. From the moment I stepped off that plane after a fourteen-hour flight and after navigating my way through the minefield of the Tokyo underground system, I stepped into what can only be described as a modern day urban jungle. Towering skyscrapers pierced the ink black sky and upon each one flashing Japanese characters and moving images. The lights, noise, and bustle are like a drug-fuelled trip, expanding your mind and beckoning you to come and explore just a little more.
Wandering around in a trance, my ex and I found ourselves in a small pub that looked more like a neon-lit front room, with an array of foreign currency lining the walls and a series of tired looking business men propping up the bar, while the television broadcast images of Donald Trump and a quick succession of cartoonish emojis. It was there we soon started idly chatting to some of the other locals, one of whom proudly told us his wife had just had his child (an appropriate place for a new Dad). While the others excitedly asked us where we were from. We told them London and one man proudly stated ‘London women stylish’ I chuckled and assumed he wasn’t referring to me at that moment, clad in a baggy stripped travel jumper and some functional jeans. ‘No,’ I replied ‘Japanese women are stylish.’ He shook his head once more pulling the baseball cap back from his face. ‘Japanese women are cute, London women are stylish.’ To this day I still maintain he was wrong and I was right.
Imagine Disney meets Tim Burton and throw in some deep philosophical undertones and you have the makings of Studio Ghibli. These heart-wrenching films have the power to wield whimsical characters and touching storylines. It doesn’t matter if you fell for the charm of the creature in ‘My Neighbour Totoro,’ or connected with the strong anti-war themes in ‘Howl’s Moving Castle.’ And where else would you find the home of these childhood-shaping stories? That’s right Tokyo.
After an unnecessarily long journey trying to navigate the Tokyo underground system we found ourselves staring at the most whimsical building, covered in a layer of green ivy, with an enormous five- foot robot soldier looming over the museum (anyone familiar with Studio Ghibli will know it’s from the film ‘Castle in the Sky’). Totoro will point you into the main entrance. Where you will gawk at towering contraptions lit by handmade, stained glass oil lamps. It truly is like walking into a friendly, yet mad professors domain. Once inside you won’t be disappointed as you delve into the museum’s curious specimens including five rooms named ‘where a film is born,’ you will discover the disorganised lair of a creative genius and learn how an animated film goes from conception through to completion. Enjoy a short film in a small cinema, where you’ll be given tickets in the form of an old film piece with a still from a famous Studio Ghibli film. All avid readers will love the Tri-Hawks room, a place to encourage children and adults alike to learn through touching, feeling and maybe even smelling books. Burn off any excess energy by climbing on a semi-life-sized version of the cat bus from ‘My Neighbour Totoro,’ but be prepared for some strange looks as its normally reserved for those aged twelve and under. Finally, take a trip to the Terrace Cafe, an alfresco dining experience set to a backdrop of red pines and a colourful building overlooking Inokashira Park, then chow down on some organic and nutritious food. What else do you need from a day out in Tokyo?
There’s nothing more complex than a Japanese toilet. There are top engineers from NASA and Tesla scratching their heads in confusion and it’s no wonder why. The massive array of colourful lights, random buttons that omit a confusing ditty every time you press them. It’s every westerner’s worst nightmare, trying to figure their way around a Japanese toilet, especially when you accidentally press the wrong button and end up being sprayed in the rear by a refreshing blast of water. But, say what you will about these confusing mechanical contraptions, every morning when you awake the toilet seat is heated to perfection and it’s the perfect thing to rest your rear on before you start the day. Trust me, you’ll never want to go back to your early morning, frost covered toilet seat once you’ve tried one of these beauties.
Robots that give you the finger
Any fans of Asimov’s robot stories, or just general science fiction fanatics have no doubt spent an ideal afternoon googling modern day robots (I am very guilty of this, but what else is there to do on a lazy Sunday evening?) Well, no doubt the wide-eyed image of Pepper the robot has graced your screens, with her adorable smile and realistic hand gestures. I encountered her outside of an arcade in Shinjuku. People were happily snapping her picture and poking at the touchscreen on her stomach. Every tap and touch brought her to life and she would proudly state the intended information in a cute and endearing voice.
However during one of these interactions, Pepper’s middle finger didn’t close into her palm as the others had done, so while she was chattering away with marvellous vivacity her middle finger brandished at the crowd. I always thought the first time I’d interact with a robot they’d give me the finger. Bring on the uprising!
The capital city of Tokyo is a hub of neon energy that refuses to slow down, or even sleep. But Japan has a far more laid back attitude to life in other parts of the country and there’s no better place to venture than Hakone. A place that marries scenic beauty and ancient Japanese tradition. Just a two-hour train ride from the main city and a place of serene and rustic beauty. It’s famed for its relaxing hot springs and, if like me you’re dying to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji, there’s no better place. Just head for lake Ashino and prepare those cameras, you won’t want to miss a moment.
Nudity and the bath house
A strange one to end on, but bear with me. This is not an experience for the faint-hearted. In many Japanese hotels, you’ll find sex-segregated bathhouses. These rooms are filled with relaxing baths and grooming areas. You must go in completely naked and prepare for other women or men doing the same.
At one particular hotel I stayed at, their bath house was on the top floor and while most of the washing facilities are inside, there is a place for you to bathe alfresco. So, with an unlikely feeling of bravery, I headed for the outside space, fully aware that all the slight and beautiful Japanese women were about half the size of my left thigh. As I made my way outside I discovered that the main bath was in front of these slats of wood overlooking the city, 28 floors above Tokyo. The slats of wood sat at a strange horizontal angle, with no pain of glass separating you from the elements. I later found out it was so I could see out, but no one could see in. As I gently lowered myself into the warm bath I could feel the brisk breeze gently touch my face and I gazed down on the city below, imagining all the people below scurrying about their daily lives completely unaware that they belonged to one of the most spectacular cities in the world. It was here that I found myself in an existential crisis. I could feel my relationship slipping away from me, but here in that moment, I discovered a new love. A love for a city that I dreamt of for most of my life. It was everything I dreamed it would be and I knew this wouldn’t be the only time I would visit here.
Thank you for taking this highly cathartic journey with me. I hope you take a look at some of the other work Travel Antics has to offer, including the free quarterly magazine. The latest issue looks at women living in poverty in India and how they navigate their daily lives. These strong and powerful women with melt your heart and learn what the true power of strength really is.