I never planned to go to Japan. It wasn’t an accident, just somebody else’s idea. That somebody else is my daughter.
I’m in the incredibly fortunate position of writing and making films and media for a living. And sometimes I get to travel to wonderful places and tell stories about interesting people. For one project I was able to spend a season in Burgundian vineyards with a 2,000-year history. For another, I visited a remote research station on a stretch of the Great Barrier Reef seeing corals that are now mostly gone. I’ve been to Colombia and Bangladesh and fell in love with each of those places for a time.
“Can I come,” my daughter used to say whenever I shared news my upcoming travels around the dinner table. This started about the time she was 8 and our vacations to visit family in Germany were opening her eyes to this wide and wonderful world.
“Someday,” I’d reply.
Well, that was half her lifetime ago. I was fast running out of ‘somedays.’ She was suddenly about to turn 16 and I realized once she got her drivers license the last thing she’d want to do was hang out with her old man. So I told her for her birthday she could pick a place on the globe and we’d go. And she picked Japan. She’s into architecture and design, and the Japanese certainly do those things very well.
In truth, all I knew about Japan was the clichés. I had to admit that it wasn’t in my list of top 5 places I was itching to visit next. I’m not sure why. But we were working from my daughter’s list, not mine, so away we went.
And after 10 days, I fell for the country and its people and culture. I can’t wait to go back so I can be reprimanded for not removing my shoes, and so I can soak in the barrage of “hellos” when I enter a store or restaurant and then sail out again on a sea of “thank yous” with friendly waves and nods. I want to ring the gong at the temples tucked in every corner and silently stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the people-packed metro without feeling overcrowded. I want to fall in love with the old couple who owns the neighborhood itzakaya restaurant that seemed to be on every corner. I want to have my mind twisted by the fanciful architecture of modern steel and glass right next to a quiet street of traditional wood structures. I want to bow and smile, to browse and shop, to stroll along the garish neon streets and the quiet, leafy corners of ancient oases of the innumerable shrines.
My eyes were opened to Japan and a new world flooded in.
And I owe it all to my curious kid and her spirit of adventure.
Sometimes travel means being surprised to learn that you love a place that you never expected to see. Rick Steves wrote that, “travel is the last great form of legal adventure.” Charles Darwin took, basically, one big trip that lasted 5 years when he was in his 20s, and it fueled a lifetime of intellectual curiosity so that he was able to spend the next 50 years of his life rewriting the world as we understood it. Travel is transformative. Unlike money and stuff, travel is one thing that will last your entire life. A chapter that can never be unwritten. A trip is a tattoo on your soul. Travel is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and to one another, and in this case it wasn’t a gift that I gave to my kid, but one that she gave to me.
So if you ever get a chance, one place you may want to go is to Japan.
Here’s a little of what we saw: