As I sit at my desk and begin to liberate the memories I have so carefully stored from my time in Japan, I can’t help but wonder—what is it that makes a memory so powerful? When it comes to travel, I suppose the answer is different for everyone. For some, a significant memory might be tied to a flavor or a particular scent. For others, strong memories may stem from adrenalin-fueled thrills, or perhaps the joy of finally feeling relaxed and stress-free.
It goes without saying that memories can take on many shapes and forms and can be triggered in a multitude of ways. But the one thing that our memories often have in common, is that the most cherished ones are usually made while on a trip—regardless of whether it's been five days or five years since.
Let me take you back a few years to when I just graduated from University. Like most graduates, I was ready for a well-earned break from doing anything remotely serious. I was ready to embrace my newly acquired adulthood (little did I know it would take years before I could entirely embrace "adulting”). Nevertheless, the world was my oyster, and I was determined to learn more about myself and the world around me. What better way to do that than through travel? (That's a rhetorical question.)
So, to my utter delight, a few months after graduating, I found myself on a plane bound for Tokyo. I had absolutely no expectations, and truth be told, I preferred it this way. All I knew was that the sushi was probably incredible and I was determined to try it all. This trip was in fact, a solo one for me. Luckily I received recommendations from family who had visited before, along with some financial backing (as I said, real-life adulting wouldn’t arrive until years later). I knew this was about to be the sojourn of self-discovery I was looking for.
I arrived at Japan's Narita Airport in the evening, with just enough daylight to see out my window on the hour-long bus ride to Tokyo. It feels odd to say, but that bus ride would set the tone for my arrival and the entire trip to come. Unlike Tokyo which is a city that, at times, doesn’t feel too far from home, the bus ride from Narita airport took me through rural Japanese towns which reflected a quieter and incredibly heartwarming side of Japan. I gazed out my window at Minka-filled villages (Minka is the term for traditional Japanese-style homes, meaning “house of the people”), green rice fields, rivers, and a rain-soaked countryside. I watched as farmers worked on their rice paddies and took in the architecture that was so fondly and fundamentally Japanese. Just thinking about it now fills me with feelings of peace.
Recently, we wrote about Tokyo’s Senso-Ji and the paradox that exists between this ancient Buddhist temple and the modern city that surrounds it. Well, it seems that Japan is filled with enigma, as there was nothing more captivating than transitioning from a moment of tranquility directly into a city pulsating with frenzied energy. Upon arrival, the atmosphere was vibrant, the chaos was palpable, and the energy was simply… Tokyo. After stepping off the bus and arriving at my hotel (which happened to be located in the heart of it all: Shibuya crossing), I instantly sensed that I was at the epicenter of everything, and I breathed in every bit of it. How could I not? If you ask me, traveling, especially solo, is all about embracing the unpredictable. Your world can be shaken and stirred from one minute to the next. One moment, you may find yourself immersed in a quiet countryside, and the next, walking among a crowd of thousands.
Just contemplating the unpredictability of travel has unlocked a new memory of mine… what a joy to sit here and relive it all with you. On the day I set out to visit Senso-Ji temple, I was prepared for a spiritual and transcendent experience. I had journeyed all this way, my intentions set on discovering more about myself through the lens of the world, so visiting an ancient temple seemed like a pretty good way to do that. After a quick Uber ride, I was in the Asakusa district where Senso-Ji resides. Looking back, the experience was spiritual not because of the temple, but because of the novelty surrounding me. It was a profound immersion into a culture that was previously unknown to me, encountering people from all corners of the globe, and discovering delectable cuisines that I had never even seen, let alone tasted.
Side note: At times, the thought of finding yourself in the middle of all things unfamiliar can feel unsettling—trust me, I know. However, I've discovered that once you truly embrace the moment and soak up everything around you, feelings of unfamiliarity quickly float away, and joy fills the space where uncertainty used to live. Whenever I jump into a new adventure, I like to make a conscious effort to remind myself to embrace the unfamiliar.
The day I visited Senso-Ji, I could have never anticipated what was waiting there for me. The crowd of people in the area was bewildering… I thought, “Could the temple be this famous?” It turned out all those people weren’t just there for the temple. As I pressed through the crowds, I saw the unexpected: a Brazillian Carnival festival. In a matter of moments, I found myself in the middle of a vibrant Carnival celebration parading through the streets of downtown Tokyo. You can imagine my surprise… Carnival?! Awe and excitement overtook my confusion as I saw dancers in traditional Brazilian Carnival costumes, grand and extravagant floats, Disney characters in costume, marching bands, and more. The energy was intoxicating! I carried my joy with me throughout the day, but my confusion remained… why Carnival? It was later that I discovered the rich history behind this unique samba parade. Since 1981, it’s been an annual tradition held each September, symbolizing the bond and friendship between Japan and Brazil.
I hope that all this talk of moments and memories has started to resonate with you in some small way. Travel can be unpredictable, and at a moment's notice, the atmosphere around you can change completely. What was initially an opportunity for a serene and introspective day had transformed into a vibrant, unforgettable memory, brimming with a fervent appreciation for all that life and its people have to offer.
I went to Japan looking for more than just a travel experience; I went hoping to discover a deeper understanding of myself at the time and the treasures that the world had to offer. I left Japan, however, with something far more precious than any souvenir or insight. I left with cherished memories that to this day, bring me joy when they cross my mind. I expanded my knowledge about the world and its people. And most importantly, I gained the wisdom that everything can change in a single moment.
I encourage you to remember this wisdom as you plan and embark on your own adventures. Embrace all the unfamiliarity that comes with world travel. And when you’re done embracing, we hope you’ll share your experiences with us. We would love to hear all about it.
The above post is part of an ongoing segment of the Sherpani Travel Blog. We want to highlight personal travel stories from the women in our community. Would you like to share your travel story with Sherpani? Email email@example.com for more information. We can’t wait to read about your adventure!