“What went well today?”

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Since August of 2015, almost every single day, I have written down three things that have “went well” that day. It’s a habit I lifted from some self-help article I read what feels like ages ago. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was adopting what felt like my first truly powerful, truly positive habit. Now, completing this little ritual every day is an essential part of maintaining my mental health, of practicing mindfulness, and of keeping track of my life – essential for someone with a such a bad memory.

So…what to write for my first post, seeing as Emily set the bar ridiculously high with her wit and thorough research? Why not share my personal notes! I’m not the most private person (an understatement), so sharing what amounts to my diary with the world is really no problem. Not only do I hope it chronicles a play-by-play of my first two days traveling, but also gives insight into the way I think, feel, and remember. I also hope it proves illustrative for how travelers can keep themselves grounded as they experience often overwhelming new experiences. I hope you enjoy!

4/25/17 – In transit from SFO to Vancouver to Tokyo; arrival in Tokyo

  1. Tried to sleep in SFO…didn’t – it was cold, I was lying on some cushion thing, and it was bright and loud; the flight to Vancouver wasn’t too bad, though my Farolito burrito didn’t make it to the Great White North
  2. Waited in the Vancouver airport and admired the art in the terminal; there’s something nice about airport museums – once you acquaint yourself with some of the art, it makes the whole place feel a bit homier, as if you’re with some of your favorite art…or maybe I was just delirious
  3. The flight to Japan…oh boy, was I crunched out; however, I got to play Civ 6, finished Confessions of a Yakuza; watched a couple episodes of Westworld for the first time, and made a bit of conversation with a Canadian professor I was sitting next to
  4. This day lasted a long time…because wouldn’t you know it, it was still afternoon when I arrived in Japan – but it felt so amazing to finally arrive after a whole year of planning, waiting, and dreaming about it; the ride from Narita into Tokyo took a while, but hey, it was only ~$11 and I got to see the countryside of Chiba turn into the urban mass of Tokyo over the course of an hour; appreciated the variety of people I saw, the weird ads I could barely read, the little girl bumped into me, much to the chagrin of her mom (“Daijoubu! Daijoubu!”), and who peered at all the English on my phone
  5. Wandered around Shibuya, then waited at the Shibuya Crossing for Frank; after much anxious anticipation, Frank arrived! I handed him his burrito to much fanfare, then we went on a nice long walk north: stopped off at the remarkable Vaping Ape vape shop (“Chotto takai…soshite, nicotine janai!”), almost hit Harajuku before veering through Yoyogo Park (so many Pokemon Go! players…and then a bunch of college students doing some sort of goofy team exercise), went to a bar called Manatee (lol) for a beer, a smoke, and some fresh gyoza, then blearily rode the train back to Matsudo (I definitely had not slept for 48 hours and almost fell asleep on some person to my left, but also was listening to loud music?)
  6. A final bowl of ramen in Matsudo with Frank (“What is this sauce?”…for only 550 yen!), and took a well-suggested shower before totally passing out

4/26/17 – First full day at Frank’s apartment

  1. Woke up with Frank and got to work earning my keep – washed all the dishes, did
    all the laundry, fixed his second bike’s tire, and enjoyed contributing to his little slice of Japanese heaven here in Matsudo; also drank endless tea and had a nice morning cigarette; Skyped with my folks, as well as Em, which made me feel better before I ventured out into the day
  2. Biked first to the nearby temple to check out their matsuri – it was so windy! The festival itself was quite empty, though there were plenty of screaming kids at the adjacent preschool; the whole experience felt oddly lonely and anxiety-inducing, but then again I was running on little sleep, it was my first time on my own, and the wind made everything a bit foreboding; after wandering a bit and feeling very out-of-place, I settled on a littl
    e stall run by an old woman making yakitori; I stumbled through a conversation with her as I enjoyed 5 skewers and a beer, chatting about the weather, where I was from, and whatever was around (the cute kids, language); in a way, these matsuri are an expression of the “hokey, dingy fair archetype” we Americans are familiar with at county fairs – there are dopey little toys, games, and an array of “festival food” (which is much healthier than funnel cakes, but it’s the thought that counts); it should be noted later in the day, when I biked by, the festival seemed much more lively, likely because folks were off work and their kids were out of school
  3. I continued on my way north of Kita Kogane and biked amidst the roads, neighborhoods, farms, and canals of the greater area; Matsudo is supposedly famous for a unique variety of green onion, and I saw that and many other crops being grown on plots large and small; such a fascinating land use pattern here! Forests flush with fields and neighborhoods create a fine-grained patchwork of uniquely Japanese “suburban” life, though that term means something very different in America; the wind created fantastical symphonies as it blew through trees, across wide expanses, and through metal grates, casting leaves and banners about
  4. Eventually, I found my way to Hondō-ji, the largest temple in the area; spent at least an hour just wandering through the bamboo forest, the gardens, past temples large and small, by a cemetery…taking photos, taking it in…I had the entire place all to myself, save maybe two workers that I barely saw or heard – and how could I over the wind! I took a lot of pictures
  5. After Hondō-ji, I was beginning to feel some jet lag creeping in, so I made my way back towards Kita Kogane; stopped off at a big supermarket called Aeon and just…gaped…and wandered…all through the aisles; yet again, the familiar feeling of feeling out-of-place, but how could I not? The food, so unfamiliar and yet not, was a joy to look at; after much consideration, I grabbed a mysteriously on-sale bento, fumbled my way through a brief conversation with the cashier, and braved the wind and roads one last time to get back to Frank’s apartment
  6. …in which I ate…and then the tiredness kicked in – but no time for sleep yet! Upon Frank’s return (and exceedingly sweet admission that he was excited to come home because I was here), we set out in search of dinner for him
  7. ..and didn’t get far, because we walked literally a minute away to his friend Kohei’s house to say hi…and were invited in…and what followed was a sublime, riotous, lovely 3? 4? hours of spending time with Kohei and his whole family; I didn’t even learn their names before I was offered miso, a bowl of rice, sashimi, two types of mapo dofu, cool green tea, and a whole bunch of conversation (mediated by Frank, of course); and what language skills he has!! Frank was able to describe me, where I’m from, what I was saying, what I studied in college, my thoughts about sustainability in relation to flood control, what the hell my vape was – you name it – all while we ate and sipped and smoked our way into the late evening; truly, This is why I came to Japan! (Kono tame Nihon ni kita!) I only hope I can return soon to ask them some questions

Love,

ETS

How to Pack for a Year-Long Trip

  1. Agree to go on a year long trip. Oscillate between pure joy and nauseating fear for the next few months. Begin to consider the physical size and impact of your possessions. Wonder how you’ll survive without five different cardigans.
  2. Research (other) travel blogs, and search out their packing lists. My favorites are:
  3. Make a spreadsheet cross-listing all of these lists, so that you can compare numbers and types of items at a glance (lists are probably fine, but my motto is “why make a list when you can make a SPREADSHEET”). Look for patterns in the items – you probably won’t need two swimsuits if you’re going to ski the Alps – and remember that other countries have washers and dryers. You don’t need 300 pairs of underwear (but you also need more than one. Don’t be a hero).
  4. Look at what you already own. Your clothes are more durable than you think – if you’ve been wearing a pair of jeans for a year and they’re soft and broken in, chances are they’ll work well for your trip.
  5. Drink a glass of wine too quickly one evening and splurge at Uniqlo.com. If you make too many of these mistakes, just make a habit of reading the return policy.
  6. Once you have an idea of the number of items you need, research brands. Tons of travel sites review clothing, shoes, and gear regularly; compare brands, ask around, and take recon trips to REI to test them out. (Don’t purchase anything at REI until at least your fifth visit. The reusable water bottles are tempting, but it’s better to wait, I promise).
  7. Slowly purchase necessary items for your trip. Try not to buy too much at once, but buy early enough that you can test out clothes and break them in if necessary. Keep track of what you’re buying, and what you’re bringing from your closet.
  8. Make sure your desired wardrobe fits in the backpack/suitcase you’re bringing. You’ll wear some clothes on the plane and when you’re walking around, but at no point should your bag feel uncomfortably full.
  9. Remember that even if you’re unsure/stressed, other countries have stores. You can buy the basics along the way if you need them. And it’s not shameful to abandon unnecessary items during your trip – just find them good homes (e.g. other hostel guests, donation bins, etc).
  10. You’ve done it! You have a workable wardrobe for your trip! Congratulations! Drink another glass of wine to celebrate.