This is going to be a fairly short post, because it’s already quite late on this last Sunday evening of September 2014 and because I’m exhausted from all the running around (of various kinds) I’ve been doing over the weekend. But I wanted to write something anyway, because on Tuesday my husband and I are leaving for 10 days in Japan and I want to kind of prep up the blog for when I come back (because I’m sure I’ll be full of things to tell).
Going to Japan has been one of my top dreams for many years. Even before I discovered just how much I loved sushi, it was a country I wanted to visit. After all, it is the birthplace of those lovely Studio Ghibli animes and that’s enough to waken a sense of wonderment and longing on its own. I wanted to see this brilliantly unique culture for myself, both because so many people raved about it and because I’m sure I’ll never be quite the same person again.
Because, in my opinion, that’s partly what travelling is all about. Sure, you’re tired from endless weeks (or months) of work and you want to go away and relax, recharge your batteries, freshen your thoughts. You feel you’ll be able to tackle the world just that little bit better after a week or two of respite. It’s such a wonderful feeling that it’s become this addiction that you have to feed (or hope to feed) at least once or twice a year, or even more if you’re lucky.
But there is that secondary dimension to it as well. When you’re on holiday somewhere that inspires you, that makes you feel more alive than you have in ages, you start to acquire the time and space to really think things over. Your brain was previously too occupied with work and bills and various commitments to truly allow you some much-needed philosophical introspection. But when you’re away, you can finally reach out and take that freedom for yourself without feeling guilty about the million other things that are begging for your attention. They’re back at home, and chances are, they can wait.
Isn’t that wonderful?
Okay, I realise you probably hate me right now. You’re thinking “yeah, she’s going on holiday, lucky so-and-so, she doesn’t need to rub it in our faces…” Well no, I don’t… but neither did all the people who went away during the summer and rubbed it in my face while I sat at my computer, gazing longingly at the sunshine outside. I chose to wait, and now my wait is over (finally!). Everyone looks forward to their holidays, and everyone else can’t help but feeling little jealous and resentful, even if they might not have chosen the same destination, or even the same time of year to travel. Taking time off work just does that to the people who are left behind. But because we try to be self-aware and reasonable human beings (don’t we?), we accept that this is just how things work. We let each other get excited about going on holiday, because we’re nice. Case closed. 🙂
The point I’m trying to make here is that a holiday starts in the mind long before you actually arrive at your destination, or even leave your own home for that matter. Some time before, you start to clear the clutter from your brain in order to make room for all the new things you are going to see and experience. Perhaps you’ll read up about the country in question, or read some books by an author who was born there. At the moment, I’m reading the Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami, and loving the simple beauty behind every carefully chosen word. It’s something I do expect to experience in Japan (perhaps I’m setting myself up for disappointment, but somehow I doubt it) and so breathing a bit of it in beforehand is helping me get into the right frame of mind. I’ve researched correct Japanese etiquette time and time again, nervous about what we should avoid doing and what is considered acceptable. I watch in wonder as my husband ploughs his way through our various books on how to learn Japanese, counting and muttering to himself late into the night. When I try to say something, he corrects my grammar or tells me alternative phrases I could use (this is frustrates me greatly, because I can only barely remember a few select words in the first place). But I’m so relieved he’s doing this, so we can at least attempt some conversation while we’re there, and not be considered horribly rude foreigners who don’t care to learn any of the language.
I’m taking a notebook with me, and I want to write while I’m there. Perhaps some haiku (cliché? Who cares… when in Japan, do as the Japanese do… lol) or just a poor rendering of all the thoughts passing through my head. But I want to keep some record (other than photographs, too often inadequate to express the feeling one gets from a place, unless one is a professional photographer, which I of course am not) of this “dream journey” I am about to undertake. I want to find parts of myself that I haven’t yet explored, just because I haven’t visited the particular environment that will bring them to light.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into the act of travelling… perhaps most people just like to lie on a beach for a week, devouring novel after novel or (heaven forbid) playing on their Smartphones all day. If that’s you, mea culpa, please carry on… I hope you have a nice relaxing time and you get what you came for. And I genuinely mean that (although I will have to frown pointedly at your Smartphone, sorry…). I just find that’s not enough for me. The beach is great and all, but after a day or so I need to go and do something else.
One of the best holidays I had in terms of ‘thinking time’ was in January 2012 when I went by myself to the Dominican Republic for a week. I did go to a resort and I did read a lot (partially because I’d pledged to write a review of a particular book for a magazine and the deadline was drawing closer), but because I was on my own, I had a lot of time to sit and watch people and think. I thought of all sorts of things, and no one else was any the wiser. I was influenced by what I saw, what I didn’t see (or rather, what tourists aren’t meant to see) and what I was reading at the time. If I’d been reviewing a completely different book, I think I would have had a completely different holiday. Hence the importance of the reading material you take along.
Of course going on holiday with your family or friends is fantastic. I’m delighted that my husband is coming with me and seems to be as excited as I am about going. But if you have the chance (whatever your situation… I firmly believe that being married or in a relationship should not prevent you from going to your dream destinations, even if you have to go by yourself while your partner goes off to do something else for a while – think of all the stories you’ll have to tell each other!), do try to go on holiday by yourself at least once in your life. You might struggle a little, especially if you’re a very sociable person who’s not comfortable with their own company for long stretches of time, but you might also surprise yourself. It might push you to talk to people you’d otherwise ignore. You’ll try new things and there won’t be anyone you know to laugh at you for it, or to tell other people when you get back home (although try not to do anything you’ll regret).
As long as you remember your manners, and reasonably respect the values and customs of the country you’re visiting, you can become a different person for a little while, a person whose knowledge and experience might bleed into the person you are back at home, making you a richer and more rounded being overall. You may be travelling out to a distant land with strange people, but you are also travelling within. I think it’s important to remember that, and to pay just as much attention to your surroundings and experiences along the way on both these journeys.
Have a happy first half of October! I’ll be back soon, hopefully with some articles on my adventures in Japan. 🙂