Apart from my years being lectured on the effects of good posture during band class, I’ve never been one to sit on the edge of my seat. At this moment, however, things were different. As our plane taxied wearily on the verge of Cyclone Pam, I was sitting rigid in my chair, fists clenched, waiting excitedly for the 787 Dreamliner to leave both the earth and New Zealand far behind and below.
I remember the rain beating on the plane windows, the rumble of the engines and that undeniably unnatural sensation of swooping up and away from the runway. I recall the turbulence as the monstrous airplane shot upward through the first wave of Cyclone Pam’s soggy assault on Auckland, and I remember the bubbling excitement at the thought of leaving New Zealand for Japan.
New Zealand had treated us well for the first month of our journey around the globe, and was ultimately a place I would recommend to anyone interested in travelling abroad. All praise aside, New Zealand was a country which paled in comparison to the exotic unknowns that would reveal themselves over the next six months of our voyage. Hailing from Canada, the southern country never seemed anything but an extension of my own back yard, albeit one whose only native residents are birds.
So here I was, side by side with my parents, on our way to experience Japan beyond Tokyo; a land of ancient traditions amid modern trends. It’s fair to say I was excited.
Touching down, we immediately rented a car and drove north, out of the capital and into the night. After several hours in the vehicle with no luck spotting a hotel, we pulled into a bizarrely deserted compound which appeared to have been designed for the purpose of temporary lodging. Little did we know at the time that this cluster of buildings laying adjacent to the highway was a love hotel; a space designed for romantics (and fetishists I suppose) to be able to slip away discretely in order to romp privately about a bed with their companion(s).
It must have taken the better part of fifteen minutes, but eventually we found a janitor to give us the scoop. He directed us up to a room and allowed us to enter. In broken English and with much gesturing the man explained that we were to enjoy our stay in the room and pay in the morning via the large whistling box that was glowing and beeping on the wall next to the door.
Sleep overtook in short ado and the following day arrived quickly. By mid morning, we still had little idea of the hotel’s true purpose, though we were wonderfully amused by the giant bathtub, automated massage chair and scores of complimentary condoms littered about the room.
In hindsight, this was the exact reason I had been tense with excitement the day before. While New Zealand had represented a vacation–a sister country to my own, packed with wonderful scenery and world-class hiking; Japan represented an adventure, obscure and unknown.
As most of my readers are experienced travellers, I’m certain that this feeling of affinity or bewilderment towards the unknown is a familiar one–or, at the very least, a feeling they recall having driven their early years of travel as a young person. To me, our return to Japan was the true beginning of what would become my greatest adventure to date. It was here that the land of the rising sun gave rise within me a burning desire to charge ahead, westward, until my eventual return home.