When budget travellers meet their match: an odd tale of Japan

 

I hear wonderful things about Japan. I hear that it’s beautiful and well developed and that the way of life there is so unique and enthralling. I hear that Okinawa has beautiful beaches, Hakone has wonderful hot springs, Kyoto is full of things to do. I hear that you can see Mt. Fuji from Tokyo if the weather’s nice, but that the real way to see Mt. Fuji is a train-ride on the Tokaido line from Tokyo to Osaka.

Yes, I did visit Japan, but it beat me. It was like a resort with a thick stone wall surrounding a beautiful network of gardens and luxuries awaiting inside for the right price or the right people. And to use my short stature as an analogy for our budget, we just couldn’t peek over that wall, let alone sneak through to see the true Japan. My husband and I are very crafty when it comes to being frugal, a trait which has doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled our travel possibilities. Nearly every place we go, we’ve found the budget way to experience it – leaving with change still in our pockets and yet a collection of experiences as deep and true as oyster pearls – free if you know where to look.

But Japan is like cryptanite for us. We were able to manage a 5-night visit, but three of those five nights were spent sleeping in airports and to be honest, most of our time, (when not navigating the subway system getting from hotel to hotel or airport to airport,) was spent hurriedly trying to establish our next night’s accomodation.

I know Tokyo’s subway system about as well as I ever could, and I know what cheap make-shift dinners can be found inside the “Newdays” convenience stores there. I saw a peek of Yokohama’s “Cosmo Land” when it lit up the view from my window one night, and I had a taste of real Japanese food at a restaurant in the airport.  These are snippets.  Scraps that I appreciate for the way they make me think, feel, and experience things in hind-sight, but that don’t show me the beauties of Japan.

But the experience in Japan I hold most dear and have become oh so grateful for was an accidental stumple upon an enormous park full of people celebrating Japan’s “Golden Week”. There were people doing tricks on their skateboards and tossing around hackey-sacks with the most precise kicks, as though it were as easy as typing on a keyboard. There were people playing guitar, dancing, singing. Some played frisbee or soccer and many more just sat and talked or shared a picnic on a blanket in the lush, green grass. Everywhere we looked, there were people, nestled comfortably in the foliage of this beautiful park and shaded by the low-growing trees.
Our first night in Japan, before we quite realized the prices around us, we took the subway to the HaraJuka stop recommended to us by the bellboy at our hotel. This is where we found that square of paradise, and was what we thought would be a little introduction to the Japanese sites we would hopefully take in throughout the week. We walked and walked and people-watched all the way. The park was so big we could have kept going all night. And scattered all over with people delighting in the company of friends, it looked like a Utopian world.

I thought that would be the start of many insights into what must be a spell-binding culture. Now, five days later and already onto our next destination, I realize that this prolouge will have to be stored in my memory and kept in that place we keep our bucket lists. I suppose there are places that budget travellers just cannot see…yet. But that is good for me.
It keeps me dreaming, and keeps me from feeling as though the world is shrinking.
No it is still big and full of things to wonder about.

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