[This series is a play on ‘writer’s block’.]
Because sometimes, travels offer reflections of real life. My notes from my travel to Tokyo and Kawaguchiko in September last year:
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine
“It’s not about the destination, but the journey.”
Near Lake Shojiko
I was lost, but I did not realise it until much later. I guess I was enjoying myself too much after getting off Kawaguchiko’s blue line bus and walking along Lake Shojiko. After an hour of exploring the neighbourhood, I rested under a tree enjoying the view of fishermen juxtaposed against Mt Fuji right in front of me. After that pit stop, I continued walking, every now and then stopping to take more pictures of the Mt Fuji landscape, buying a can of cold coffee from a vendo machine along the road and continuing on, looking for the bus stop that would take me back on the route. Ahead of me, I saw a dark tunnel. And that was when I realised – crap, I was lost.
“You just have to keep going until you see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Near Lake Shojiko
I passed by a couple of construction workers who gave me a quizzical look. I acted like I was not scared as the tunnel loomed in front of me (good thing I haven’t watched the Korean movie The Tunnel then) and kept on walking. The tunnel slightly curved so I couldn’t gauge initially how long it was. Thankfully, it was well-lighted and every now and then, trucks would zoom past me. I reckoned, damn, did I just venture literally into the road less travelled by tourists? But like in life, you just have to keep on going, no matter how petrified you are, until you see the light at the end of the tunnel. I heaved a huge sigh of relief when it finally came into view.
“You may lose your way but something comes along to bring you back on track.”
Near Lake Shojiko
After the tunnel, there was a construction going on ahead by the hillside and I started to get worried because I haven’t seen any blue line bus passing by since I started the trek. With my limited Japanese, I could not properly ask the construction workers for directions so I just kept on going. Imagine my relief when I saw the familiar bus stop sign. My heart fell when I checked the timetable though. I still had an hour before the next blue bus line was supposed to come. There was nowhere to sit, I was surrounded with foliage and the crowing of birds echoed in the nothingness making me feel eerie, plus I only had an empty can of coffee with me. But what else can I do but wait? However, not 10 minutes passed when a local bus came chortling along in the opposite direction, going back to town. The bus stopped and the driver peeked out of his window and spoke to me in Japanese. I absolutely had no idea what he was saying but I waved my Pasmo card and asked “daijoubu desuka?” His “hai” was the sweetest word I heard and I made a beeline for the bus, back to town.
“There’s always time to stop and smell the flowers.”
Fall is a dreary season and that’s probably the reason why people in four-season countries would make an effort to have flowering plants around, maybe to cheer up the environment. Whenever I see flowers, I’d always stop to admire them and take a photo no matter if I was tired or in a hurry. It never failed to give me a boost of energy.
“The road may be bumpy, but there are beautiful things along the way.”
I rented a bike in Kawaguchiko and had the time of my life exploring the town along the lake from one end to the other. There’s a part of the dirt road that cuts across shrubs. On the left is the lake, on the right is the highway. Since I was scared biking along the highway, I chose the dirt path and found myself cooing when I biked through cosmos that looked like an arch. It was beautiful. And it served as a self-reminder that sometimes we are too trapped in our own fears and hobbled by problems we fail to realise how blessed we still are, if we only take time to appreciate what we have.
“You have to cross the bridge when you get there.”
Kawaguchi Ohashi Bridge
The bridge cutting across the lake, with a view of Mt Fuji from the north side, is about 4 kilometres long and takes about an hour to walk. The other option is to follow the lakeside until you reach the north of town. I wanted to see the view of the town and Fuji-san from the bridge so I decided to cross it with my bike. About 100 metres into it, I realised the danger. There was no road barrier to protect pedestrians from passing vehicles. Of course the pedestrian lane was wide enough for a comfortable walk, but not when you have a bike and your legs are starting to shake following a mild panic attack. Now I fully understood Arashi Sho’s fear of heights as I avoided looking down at the water below and just kept my eyes firmly ahead. When I reached the middle portion, I decided I wanted to take photos. So I stopped, and without moving my feet, rotated my waist to take pictures of the lake and mountain view, all this while trying to confront my just-discovered acrophobia. Again, like in life, you just gotta cross the bridge when you get there.
“It’s okay to stop for a while.”
I needed this break because I was scared of a breakdown. Work and real life can be stressful that we have to take a step back sometimes to save ourselves. That’s what I did. Even if I couldn’t see where the road was leading, or how much time it will take to reach where I wanted to be, I took the risk and stopped. No regrets.
“Sometimes it takes longer to reach your destination.”
It was a Sunday and I wanted to find a Catholic church. That’s easier said than done in Tokyo, especially given my requirements: it has to have the feel of a church and not a hall or a room in a building, and also not some weird-looking architecture. I searched through the directory, judging the church by its pictures, and settled for Tokuden Catholic Church. I was simply drawn to the architecture and the directions seemed simple enough. Of course, I realised along the way that while a straight arrow is the shortest path, that straight arrow can also mean blocks and blocks of streets. Though it took me about half an hour of walking from the Tokyo Metro, it felt longer. And when I got there, the church was already closed, but what mattered was, I got there. And yes, it was pretty.
“And sometimes, it’s a matter of perspective.”
Different strokes for different folks, as they say. We look at things differently. I have taken loads of photos of Mt Fuji from a variety of angles and places, whether cloudy or sunny, and obviously, they’d look different from one another even if they’re about the same subject. Life is the same. We look at things from different views and that may differ depending on where we are right that moment.
“The journey may be bumpy but the view is worth it.”
I have a friend who believes that a rough start to a trip means it will end up smoothly. Whenever I travel, I always worry about a lot of things: did I forget to pack something, will I get lost, do I have enough money etc etc. When something happens that inconveniences us, like delayed flights, we stress over it so much. But as soon as we reach our destination, we put everything behind us.
“Follow your true north and you’ll find the way home.”
It was my first time to try AirBnB and I made sure to pick apartments that were not only near the Tokyo Metro, but would also offer me a view of two of Tokyo’s important landmarks (Skytree and Tokyo Tower) and Japan’s iconic Fuji-san. Except for Skytree, going “home” was in the direction of Tokyo Tower and Mt Fuji, so it was not difficult to locate myself. It’s like keeping in sight an important marker in our life so we won’t lose our direction, or our way back home.
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