I had always dreamed of going since I was 8-years-old. Over the course of my life,I watched its shows, appreciated its design aesthetics, involved myself with the culture, savored the food, admired pictures from my Pinterest boards, and even studied the language in college at Chapman. 13 years later, I finally had the opportunity to experience my 20th birthday there and begin a new 3-month, semester long chapter through studying abroad.
The crisp air enveloped my skin as my plane landed smoothly and swiftly on the ground. Instantly I felt as though my life became complete as I found my way through the clean, organized, and efficient maze of the airport. The airport employees were the most polished and polite strangers I had ever met in my life as I was greeted with bows and opening remarks of “ようこそ,” or in other words, “welcome.”
Even though there were hundreds of people filtering through Haneda airport, the organization and structure of operations moved so swiftly and efficiently. Compared to my home airport of LAX in busy Los Angeles, California, the airport was actually a fun experience. In fact, even though I was in a country 5,355 miles away from home, it was intriguing for me because I had felt the most welcomed. I gasped in awe, realizing my childhood dreams were coming to fruition as I took my first steps onto the Land of the Rising Sun.
As soon as I stepped out of Haneda Airport, my eyes were filled and reflected off of the thousands of bright, luminous LED lights that glistened on buildings that seemed to be infinitely high. My journey began on one of my favorite parts about this “magical” land: their train transportation system. They made New York City look behind and outdated; trains arrived on time, were spick-and-span, and were even peaceful at the dying ends of rush hour. Although just a tiny island off of the coast of China and just a “pimple” on Earth, there seemed to be galaxies to explore in every crevice of land; there was no such thing as a space not filled, utilized, or maximized to its fullest.
Floods of people grouped by the thousands filled the narrow streets and alleyways, the sounds of city life making their way through the crowds. The smell of fried Taiyaki, grilled meat, and miso ramen engulfed the air. Vending machines carrying a variety of items filled the streets in every corner to serve those scurrying for a snack or drink before on their way to their next adventure. While every subsection of the city was beautiful and unique in its own way, there were of course different areas that were my personal favorite. My daily commute to school included all of my favorite spots along the way. I found myself visiting and exploring a new prefecture every single day. Every hour was an adventure in itself, even to just grab a bite and walk around alone.
The street art was vivid, phenomenal, and captivating. Takeshita street in Harajuku, a central hub for the trendiest bars, restaurants, and shops, hustled and bustled with a variety of individuals expressing themselves through different forms of fashion. My favorite monthly activity to do while living abroad was visiting Harajuku and getting a haircut after sipping on a creamy, bold iced Hojicha tea latte. The barbershops and vintage clothing stores always added to my afternoon strolls after class. Pastel colored pink and blue cloth painted the area with cosplayers and contrasted between the foreigners with t-shirts and jeans. While the dessert shops of crepes, boba, and other sweet treats fancied my interest, the sleek modern architecture and streetwear fashion was my equivalent to a kid in a candy store.
Another stop where I enjoyed my daily reflective adventures was Shibuya. Shibuya glistened and gleamed with neon lights. Like a beehive, swarms of people of all kinds were found engaging in all aspects of life. Each “bee” had its own story and mission to get to the next place they needed to go. Especially in Shibuya, hundreds and thousands of “worker bees” in their monotone suits and briefcases made their way through the streets, focusing on one goal: to provide for their families. Shibuya was bustling, stimulating, and full of life.
Nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and 15+ story department stores blanketed the land, creating no space left behind. While an extremely advanced, technological city, pockets of nature could be found throughout. Shrines with vivid, bright red “Torii,” floods of bamboo trees, blooming cherry blossoms, as well as other plants were upkept. The overall culture of this magical land appreciated nature and the value of being one with it. The culture involved treating one’s belongings and environment around them with the utmost respect to pay homage to the nature that was there before them. Overall, the flow of nature, respect, and culture in combination with its innovative technology, design, and cutting-edge city structure, made it my favorite place to be. My childhood dreams of going did not disappoint, and I never took my experience for granted. Thus, I will always have a place in my heart for my favorite place in the universe: Tokyo, Japan.