Travel Chronicles June 2019: 9 days in Japan

Having come from Australia, any minimum overseas plane ride consists of at least 8 hours. Hence, I’ve really taken full advantage over the last 6 months working in Singapore to travel at every opportunity. As you can tell, there’s a huge gap between my first post and now. In December 2018, I thought my plan was still to be travelling to 4 countries to learn 4 languages. And then, I got relocated to Singapore for 6 months to head NewCampus’s Singapore expansion. I will try to cover what I’ve learned during these 6 months in another post.

But for now, here’s a quick travel recap. In March, I was given a few hours notice before flying to New York to pitch for NewCampus. I then travelled to Hanoi and Cat Ba in Vietnam, eating pho, continuously almost getting run over by motorcyclists for 4 days.

I then went to Taiwan in April where I got to simultaneously see my parents, celebrate my mum’s birthday, hang out with friends like Flo, Audrey & Alan and see Dexter. We wandered countless food streets, stuffing ourselves with delicious pepper buns, wintermelon teas, gua baos and beef noodle soups.

In May, I went to celebrate my brother’s marriage in Shanghai, amazed by the rapid blend of eastern and western influences and explored the quaint old streets of Suzhou.

So these 9 days in Japan, exploring Japan was really a trial run of what was about to come starting mid-July where we’ll be living, working & traveling together for the next 6 months.

These travel chronicles series will be a glimpse into the daily life of traveling. What I see, feel and experience and going granular into the specific moment. So settle in, ’cause this is going to be one long-ass post.

Arriving in Osaka 

On the night of Friday 21st of June, I wrapped up all my work and made sure to get to the airport early to settle in and utilise my airport lounge access. I had all my essentials (eye covers and face masks) to get me through the long 8 hour total red eye flight from Singapore to Osaka with a short stopover at Thailand. I thought I was ready.

My first snag hit when the security at Thailand told me I couldn’t just board my next flight and had to go out through immigration and check in again. I looked at my phone. My flight was boarding in 20 minutes. I surveyed the Foreign immigration and nearly fainted at the snaking lines suggesting a 30 minute – 1 hour wait time. I luckily cut the line at the much shorter APEC Diplomat line, imploring the other people waiting in the line to let me through. I finally got through immigration and bolted through the airport in the sweltering heat with my 10kg Nomatic bag and panicked that I was going to miss my flight before my trip had even started. Turned out without wifi access, I hadn’t realised that my flight was actually departing an hour later because of the time difference and I really needn’t have rushed.

After finally boarding on the flight to Osaka, I tried to get some sleep on the plane, craning my neck a little too much towards to the window. My neck felt stiff and cramped even after I touched down to Osaka at 8am the next morning.

My first mission was to get to Shin-Imimaya where Dexter would be waiting me on the other side. I bought a cheaper “free” ticket to Shin-Osaka direction thinking that both “reserved” & “free” tickets referred to the rapid train to Osaka city centre with the difference being that “free” would be to just find whatever seat was available. I was wrong. “Free” actually just meant the slow-ass train that would take an extra half hour-45 minutes and stop at every stop.

After these couple of bumps at the start, I finally got off at Shin-Imimaya and my spirits were instantly lifted when I saw Dexter’s smiling face waiting for me at the gate. We happily walked back to Dexter’s hostel with my hand around his waist and his arm around my shoulder. I made sure to look at each cute freckle after not having seen his face in such close proximity for 3 weeks. We had around 2 hrs to kill before meeting up with a few of his friends for lunch so we dumped my bag for the time being and went to explore a bit around the Shin Seikai (New World) area.

The first thing I noticed about Osaka were the giant food board signs on the top of each restaurant hawking their specialties. You knew that the giant octopus sign probably meant a takoyaki store. Dexter took me to a great takoyaki place nearby and I savoured biting into the gooey goodness with octopus bits which I’d seriously been craving. We then versed each other with a short round of “Whac-a-mole” at an arcade and my semi-competitive side may have come out a little.

We met up with a couple of Dexter’s friends, namely Jun, who he met at a Japanese language exchange Meetup as well as his previous colleague and friend from Dropbox, Tiffany. Jun also brought his girlfriend and his friend Stian who is a Norwegian guy doing a Masters in Mechatronics and currently on holiday in Japan. Stian had met Jun the previous year at another Meetup back in Osaka. I was impressed by his Japanese speaking level and it was cool discovering that he free-dives to spear fish for fun!

Tiffany, on the other hand was on 10 day holiday with her friend but halfway through the trip, they decided to split up and venture on their own for a few days before reconvening in Tokyo. I found that pretty funny and interesting that they acknowledged they needed time to themselves. Travelling makes or breaks friendships after all. She seemed very independent and happy travelling on her own and I hope she had a smashing time at the onsens in Hakone.

For lunch, we had okonomiyaki and mostly talked about varying topics from Terrace House to ex-work environments. We then proceeded to spend a good 10 minutes awkwardly standing around not knowing how to part ways, but eventually said our goodbyes and got a nice photo snap.

Going to Kyoto

Dexter and I got to Kyoto later that afternoon where I had booked a ryokan on the outskirts of Kyoto. I was kind of hoping that there was going to be a hot spring within the ryokan but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The ryokan was at the top of this hill, and the walk up featured immaculate houses with zen gardens and expensive Mercs parked in the driveways. Definitely a high-end area. My shoulders were dying from not being used to carrying the weight of my luggage on my back but I was thankful when imagining what it would’ve been like if I had a suitcase with me instead. This was definitely infinitely better than lugging a suitcase up that hill.

After a nap, around 8pm, we ventured out again to Gion district to see where we could eat. Dexter’s favourite food is ramen so we tried to go to a couple he had starred on Google Maps but they all ended up closing as we got there. We found a cozy Tsukemen shop instead which fit a maximum of 9 people.

Strolling around this area at night, we were walking alongside both tipsy Japanese locals being a bit rowdier than usual and foreigners looking for a good time. The quaint, old-styled bridges elegantly built over a running river juxtaposed the pumping bars and hostess clubs on the same street.

It gave me flashbacks to my 2017 Taido World Championships trip where Emma, Lena, Steven and I were also bar-hopping around this area. We promptly also got denied entry when we tried to enter a strip club. I found it incredulous at the time that women were still not allowed in these places at this day and age, and I guess got a brief glimpse into a highly patriarchal society.

Exploring the world of Geishas in Gion; a thriving hub of culture, history, religion and politics

The next morning, we had no particular plans for the day and so in the morning, whilst sipping brewed tea Dexter had brought from China, he suggested we do a walking tour that started in Gion at 11am. I happily said yes. Dexter and I had first discovered our feelings for each other when he invited me out to do a walking tour in Singapore in February. To follow this trend, we had also gone on one when I went to visit him in Shanghai in May. We’ve found them to be a great way to really get to know a city. We get to understand its history, culture and quirks in a fun, interesting way as well as being able to meet people from all walks of life.

That day, we met at the iconic statue, a shrine maiden on the Shijo Bridge which crosses the Kamogawa River outside Gion-Shijo river. The statue, as our guide enthusiastically told us, was of Izumo no Okuni who was the original founder of Kabuki theatre. Whilst the founder of Kabuki was female, Kabuki’s distinguishing factor is actually the fact that all the actors in Kabuki are men.

Our guide, an exchange student from Barcelona, also pointed to us the Kabuki theatre just diagonally across the road. Dexter and I shared a little giggle as we spotted the sign outside promoting the next Kabuki edition of Naruto. Even traditional arts need to keep evolving and keeping up with the times.

The tour then continued along the cobble stone streets of Gion where Kyoto’s geishas, called Maiko and Geiko live. Since WWII, the number of these Geisha’s have dropped dramatically. Whilst standards for geishas in other areas of lessened, Kyoto’s standards for Maiko (apprenticeship Geishas) have still maintained its strict standards.

We craned our necks to see if we could spot a real geisha but to our untrained eye, it was hard to distinguish through the throng of people walking through the streets to see who was a tourist dressed in kimono and who was not. There are even companies these days who will help you look exactly like a geisha from hair, make up and dress. We were told that the only distinguishing factor is their attitude. If they’re too willing to take pictures or look overly social, then you’ve probably got a tourist on your hands.

As we walked through the back streets, we learnt that most girls start their apprenticeship as a Maiko from the age of 15. If they are picked to be a Maiko, they leave home and will live with a Mama San to help train them, invest in their education for ~6 years until they are 21. It’s absolutely crazy to imagine that overnight, they will give up their lives as a normal schoolgirl to become someone who has to go back in time in terms of way of living. They’re not allowed access to friends, family and outside world let alone technology and social media. They can only write letters and see family 1 day a year.

Tea houses are where geishas perform at, and their patronage is so exclusive that you can only go if you’re invited by an existing client. I’ve always been fascinated by geishas after having read Memoirs of a Geisha in primary school. I would always try to imagine the life of this elusive character having to balance the delicate line of being a multi-talented entertainer, savvy business woman, and great conversationalist whilst also being commonly objectified as someone for men’s desire.

After talking about geishas, we walked through Yasaka Shrine where we were told the differences between a Shinto and Buddhist shrines and the distinguishing political and cultural history with these two interesting ‘religions’ that is now so integrated within Japanese common life.

That afternoon, we went to see our last attraction stop for the day, Kiyomizu Temple. It’s an ancient temple that has existed for over 1,200 years and on the World Heritage List! I found it beautiful to learn that these temples and shrines are all intentionally built from wood, where over the years it’s been burned down over and over again. The beauty is in the ephemeral nature of life. It humbled me deeply and served as a reminder to recognise that life is fleeting and to cherish each passing moment as the present. I gripped Dexter’s hand just a little tighter.

Understanding to live in the moment in Arashiyama

In 2017 when I was in Kyoto for 36 hours, my attitude to exploring Kyoto with friends at the time was to cram in as much sight-seeing as possible. It’s with bittersweet memory that we were only there to really just take photos for the ‘gram and social media due to the time constraints rather than really savouring the experience and soaking in the place.

One of these places my friends and I rushed to was Arashiyama where we had booked a kimono rental and taken countless photos at the bamboo forest. We had seen it featured everywhere on Instagram and we wanted to get those same shots. I’m a bit sad to say that we didn’t really see much of anything else.

Now 2 years later, I was back with Dexter and we couldn’t have approached our exploration and mindset more differently. We meandered slowly through Tenryu-ji Shrine where we admired the Zen gardens with its meaningfully places stones and swirling sand patterns. We sat at the temple veranda and contently let our eyes and minds wander. We also took our time and tried to avoid the crowds as much as possible. This included not spending as much time at the bamboo forest which was packed with eager tourists jostling each other with their long selfie sticks to get the best angle.

As Dexter was on his last 3,000 yen cash for the both of us and both our accounts needed another day for the money to process through before we could withdraw more money, we had to really ration what activities we wanted to do and the food we wanted to eat.

We decided to scale back on the food and spent 1,000 yen renting bicycles for 2 hours. What a wonderful experience. My third ever bike ride in my life was with Dexter in Singapore when we explored Palau Ubin and so this constituted as my 4th or 5th bike ride. Despite my inexperience, my excitement to explore the place replaced my trepidation of being a terrible bike rider prone to accidents and after a few initial wobbles, we were speeding down the pathways along the river.

What we saw was breathtaking.

Just five minutes by bike, we left the crowded tourist areas and were met with serenity. As we sped past, we saw people tending their gardens, creating patches of urban farms alongside residential buildings. We saw an old grandma playing golf by herself on a random patch of sand. We saw people old and young playing lacrosse and laughing joyously. We saw school children on their way home, their feet lightly springing with the notion of infinite possibilities ahead of them.

In the beginning, I was gripping the handlebars so tightly my knuckles were turning white but as I got into the flow of riding, I let myself be at ease, not completely, but letting my fingers relax and unfurl, little by little. I’ve always wanted to challenge myself to go out of my comfort zone, and do things I have no experience or afraid to do. This mentality helps stretch my ability to discover new things and ultimately, makes the experience so rewarding. I like to think that I’m getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

We were rewarded at the end of our tiring ride with a relaxing complimentary footpath smack bang in the centre of Arashiyama station, literally situated on the train tracks. I sighed in contentment and wiggled my toes towards Dexter.

Discovering our working patterns

That night, we started our first attempt at working together whilst traveling together. We both had calls to make and in my opinion timing wise, worked out well for the both of us. I felt completely comfortable and happy just sitting at the same table with him working in silence on our respective activities. It was a soothing feeling to know that we can still both work on our own personal projects, develop ourselves and have time to reflect and gather our thoughts on our own even when we’re together.

As times go on, it will be important for us to work out some time to ourselves with Dexter wanting to work on his writing projects and coaching whilst I need solid time to work and unpack learnings. I’ve discovered we both need this time, otherwise being constantly on the go makes it hard to absorb what we’ve seen and experienced and reflect.

The university graduate & management consultant who became a tea farm owner

We had been waking up pretty late but Tuesday was an exception. Our alarm was set at 6am and we made our 1.5 hour trip to Wazuka-Cho, a tea-farming rural area outside of Kyoto and on the way to Nara. A lively young man Daiki greeted us at 9am on the dot at the station before driving us to his tea farm. On the way, we discovered that he was not some son of a farmer but the savvy owner of the tea farm and brand D:Matcha.

Daiki was a Kyoto University graduate (which is an elite school) in agriculture where his initial interest stemmed from wanting to learn more about healthy foods. When he graduated, he got a gig as a management consultant at an American consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton, where ironically, one of his clients, a donut chain about to go into insolvency asked him to step in and be the CEO to revive the chain.

He took the job and for 2 years, he ate at least 3 donuts a day to do quality checks. Finally, sick of this unhealthy lifestyle, his interest grew towards tea farming where him and his brother apprenticed at tea farms in Wazuka for 2 years. Finally in 2015, they gained the trust of the older generation who decided to lease these lands to him and they made their long term investments in building their own tea farm and brand.

Learning about his personal journey to get to where he is now and the tea production process opened my eyes to the under-served potential of the agricultural industry and how interesting it was. He was also exploring the Farm to Table concept with his cafe whilst also holding tours for foreigners like us so that they could also be educated around Wazuka tea.

To say that Wazuka area looked like it was plucked straight out of a picture book would be an understatement. I was enthralled by expanses of rolling green hills of different shades neatly planted and trimmed with tea bushes. It was such a beautiful sunny day, a rarity in these parts as the usual thick fog and cloudy, rainy climate provides a shield of protection for the matcha production and makes it a prime location for tea leaf growing.

Most of all, I loved seeing how excited Dexter was by the tour as we were learning new things; the way he engaged with the guide, asked meaningful questions and patiently explained concepts to me if I didn’t understand something. I’ve always found it an incredibly attractive trait when I see people’s faces light up when they talk about something they’re genuinely passionate in. It was a great joy to see Dex’s passion and earnest interest come out that morning. I felt lucky to be able to take part in his world and share some of that interest, curiosity, and joy with him.

Organising failures can lead to impromptu opportunities

It was our last day in Kyoto and so given the responsibility on organising what we were going to be doing, I looked up places where we could rent a private onsen. We packed our bags, checked out and ended up in Arashiyama where according to a few websites, there would be private onsens there available for day-use.

Turns out I was most definitely wrong and I felt that emerging anxiety, hopelessness and guilty sense of responsibility as we lugged our heavy backpacks across Arashiyama only to be turned away ryokan after ryokan. I anxiously looked up towards Dexter, half expecting him to be annoyed by the fact we’d just traveled an hour for nothing but he just smiled at me and kindly said, “It’s not your fault. At least that’s good exercise! Let’s get a coffee here and rest”. Just hearing that made me want to tear up.

We ended up googling a public bathhouse and made our way over. Private onsens would have to wait another day. I was also dying to soak in some healing waters and rest my aching neck. When I came out of the bath, I laughed from amusement to see Dexter having merrily found his new favourite discovery; sparkling Umeshu (plum wine) in a can.

Going to Tokyo

We made our way to Tokyo around 5PM and it took us over 4 hours before we finally arrived at our new home in Shimokitazawa, a super up-and-coming and hip area in Tokyo.

During the day, the place oozed hipster vibes with its numerous cafes, antique shops and second-hand clothing stores. However, at night the place transformed into a different kind of hip – young voices rowdily shouting, izakayas mixed with shisha bars, and hawking all kinds of international food.

As we’ve previously both been to Tokyo a few times, we opted to take the next few days slowly and chill out. We mainly spent the days journaling and reading at various retro cafes. Our highlight in Tokyo was meeting people, both friends and strangers.

The 47-year old man who lives with passion and fervour for life

One evening when we met up with another one of Dexter’s Dropbox ex-colleagues, Shoe-g for dinner.

The restaurant we met at was located in Ebisu, a bustling city centre, one stop from Shibuya station. We struggled to find the restaurant, walking the same street back and forth again with the rain pattering onto us. Turns out it was a located on the second floor of an unassuming building. The only hint available was a tiny white sign written in hiragana jutting out from the building.

When we entered the restaurant, a boisterous Japanese grandma, the owner of the restaurant greeted us enthusiastically, a stark contrast of the gentle, quiet demeanour that is usually displayed by local Japanese women.

Shortly after we arrived, Shoe-g came in and boy, was he also a character. He bounced in and immediately slapped Dexter on the back almost half-shouting “Ayyyy, it’s so freakin’ awesome to see you!!!” He was hyperactive and used a lot of hand gestures. I was shocked to learn that Shoe-g who looked in his mid-30s was actually 47 with 2 kids. His passions included BMX racing and rock climbing. He clocked his most recent body fat percentage at 6% which I found absolutely crazy and inspirational for someone at that age.

During dinner, Dexter and I listened with rapt attention at his various stories. The best story he told us was his first Spanish love story.

When Shoe-g was 19, he did a few months English study stint in the UK where he fell deeply & madly in love with a Spanish girl. When they went back to their respective countries, he was so in love that he was ready to ask her hand in marriage.

However, the only catch was her parents only spoke Spanish. He then dove head first into studying Spanish, listening to Spanish from the radio and almost failing college classes because he was so focused on Spanish. He had his eyes completely locked in on the prize.

Summer came along, and he saved enough money to travel to Spain for 2 months to see his girl. During the time between they met and him coming to Spain to visit, they sent handwritten letters to each other. But shortly after he returned to Japan the second time, the letters started slowing down and eventually stopped. The last letter he received was a thin 1 pager. She had met someone else.

What was crazy was what came after. 15 years later with no contact in between, she suddenly contacted him asking how he was, with questions like why did they break up? Was he still single? Even though their story only lasted a few months in their youth, it amazed me that she still thought of him after all these years. He must have been incredibly memorable to her.

From his journey he seemed like an all-or-nothing person that puts 110% effort, pouring his heart and soul into everything he does. Whilst the first love didn’t work out, he proved to himself that if he wanted to learn or do something and put his mind to it, he could achieve it.

6 months of learning Spanish, he became conversationally fluent to the point where it was better than his English. I could see that with his hobbies in competitive biking and rock-climbing, and he recently even started self-learning machine learning on EDx.

I think both Dexter and I both walked from the dinner feeling refreshed to know that becoming older doesn’t mean being jaded with life, being boring and stopping hobbies and trying new things. No matter what age, we can live with passion and enthusiasm and achieve whatever we decide to put our minds towards.

The old lady and the black bar

Golden Gai, is a cool, drinking alleyway in Shinjuku where it comes alive after dark. These streets were lined with alley after alley of tiny bars, most serving a starting seat price cover charge of 500 yen. We scoured the entrances to find one with no cover charge and found one called Kuro Bar (Black Bar). Inside, a frail elderly lady served us drinks with surprisingly good English. We queried how long she’d had this bar and she says she’s had this place for 45 years!

There was soft jazz music playing in the background, lighting was mysterious and dim and on the walls hung an eclectic mix of glamour show girl posters of legs and fishnet stockings, an erotic giant butt, dolls and a closeup photo of stiletto heels with blood on them. A unique trait was that the drinks shelf had hundreds of currency bills from countries around the world stuck to them. Customers scrawled their name and date of visit to Kuro Bar on these bills.

The elderly lady told us about her world travelling adventures where she spent at least 2 months of the year going to a new place. This year, she was planning to go to Argentina and climb Machu Picchu. Her age? 80 years old.

Learning Japanese with locals at a language exchange Meetup

I’d previously mentioned to Dexter a few weeks ago that I wanted to attend a language Meetup whilst I was in Japan to practice speaking with some locals. I’d actually forgotten about this request so I was really touched that he remembered and brought it up.

We signed up to the Japanese exchange Meetup group located at a British Pub in Takadanobaba which convened in the afternoon. As people started to file into the pub, we were allocated into separate tables where every 20 minutes, we would switch from English to Japanese before rotating the group members. It was encouraging that everyone was really accommodating in teaching me new sentences and I emphatically requested people to correct my grammar and pronunciation, whilst constantly repeating “How do I say “__” in Japanese?”.

When signing up to these Meetups, I love the feeling of extracting the most amount of value out of the 2 hour sessions and coming in with the sole purpose of learning as many new sentences from the locals as possible. This helps me build on my knowledge base which I can memorise vocabulary and infer grammar rules as well.

One of the Japanese icebreaker topics included outlining my “ideal date” and I searched for all the Japanese vocabulary I could muster. I said something along the lines of “In the morning, we would eat ramen. Then we would watch a movie. We’d have Italian for lunch before going to Yoyogi Park to have a picnic. We would have red wine and cheese. We would then go bungee jumping. At night, we’d have dinner and go home to watch Terrace House together”. I’m glad the 3 Japanese people on my table found my fictional date planning amusing.

Gathering like this reminded me of my daily Meetup days in Seoul earlier in January. It was at one of these Meetups where I first met Sunny, and basically cornered her to be my Korean teacher for the night. However, we found so many common ground topics, it ended up blossoming into a fruitful friendship where I was lucky to have her visit me in Singapore in May.

After the language exchange session, a couple of us went out for lunch at a Chinese restaurant and I sat in between Kenta, a Japanese local who was in one of my language groups and Yuto, a Japanese-American who was coincidentally also from the mid-west. Apparently he used to drive past Dexter’s high school in Michigan! We also had a Chinese, Korean, Peruvian and Canadian with us.

During our Chinese cuisine lunch with featured spicy mapo tofu and 80 gyozas, I mostly chatted with Yuto. He told me about how he felt growing up, wanting to be American almost meant needing to give up his Japanese identity to fit in. He initially came to Tokyo with an American perspective, expecting people to speak English. However, through travelling and experiencing the world, he’s realised that no, he was the one who needed to change and embrace his Japanese heritage and learn the language.

Since working at Toyota the last 3 months and speaking Japanese with his coworkers, his Japanese has improved dramatically. It was great to hear that he was embracing both sides of himself and that he now feels like he doesn’t need to pick one from the other.

The 7/11 working culture in Japan

Sunday was my last day in Japan together with Dexter. The last few days in Tokyo had become a daily morning routine of finding a new cafe and working individually on our laptops. This served as some individual refuge to collect our thoughts before going out and meeting people for the rest of the day.

We ended up staying in Shimokitazawa for the entire day. We first met up with Dexter’s classmate, Takayuki for lunch who Dexter had met when he was doing his intensive Mandarin course in Taiwan. Taka had coincidentally picked the all-you-can-eat hotpot lunch Dexter and I had been eyeing for days, right across our apartment. We were both secretly overjoyed.

Over heart warming soup, plates of meat and much needed vegetables, Taka told us how he worked in both Singapore for 4 years, Hong Kong for 2 years and now recently moved back with his investment banking job to Tokyo. The working culture here seemed intense with him clocking in over 12 hours a day starting at 6:30am in the morning and leaving after 7pm. Most likely, he would also sometimes work 6-7 days a week. It reminded me of Jack Ma’s 7-11 mentality where employees at Alibaba are expected to work all days of the week 11 hours a day. This kind of lifestyle looks like to me the perfect recipe for intense burnout.

At the end, he picked up the bill when we weren’t noticing. Dexter says it’s a second time he’s done that already but Taka just replied we can treat him next time with the famous No Signboard chilli crab in Singapore.

Being a third culture kid & entrepreneur in Tokyo

Dinner was spent with my friend Venese who I had met in high school. We first bonded when we went partying together in Hong Kong at the end of 2012, right before I started university and started working at BDO and she was admitted to study at Waseda university in Japan.

As we hadn’t seen each other in a long time, so many things had changed since we were teenagers. We reminisced on the old days, where she recounted a hilarious memory when one late night after clubbing, she had taken someone home with her and they saw me naked when I accidentally walked out of the bathroom not knowing they were there!

Venese also spoke passionately but the ingrained racism and sexism that lay embedded in the foundations of Japanese society. I was shocked to learn that at her own university, clubs and societies are formed called ‘Circles’ where any Circle with numbers in them mean that you’ve joined an underground orgy group. This includes innocent sounding Tennis clubs which may be named “Tennis23” or something. My jaw dropped to the floor when I heard that.

Aside from those topics, she also talked about her budding entrepreneurial venture, Flip Guide where she promotes local bars, restaurants and cafes as well as doing ad hoc marketing work. She told us about the challenges where she would enter a room trying to create partnerships and be dismissed as too young, being female, being non-Japanese.

However despite these aspects, she had been running for the last 3-4 years and now worked with some major clients. She built it with no resources and backing and peservered. Her face lit up when she talked about business and entrepreneurship. She recommended us podcasts and she seems very resourceful and naturally resilient in the face of adversity. I can’t wait to see how her business goes.

Ending our Japan trip

Those 9 days surprised me as I got to understand Japan through the lens of people we met. These were locals, expats, friends, and strangers who painted a clearer picture of what this unique place’s culture, history and modern day life looks like. I’m excited to travel for the rest of the year with this at the forefront; placing the importance of understanding a place through its people and forming a connection deeper than just a tourist guidebook and surface level touring.