48: Narita, The Friend I Didn’t Know I Needed

Narita came to me at a time when I wanted it the least. It was a place I’ve always dreamt of going, to explore the temples while simultaneously drown myself in sushi. However, working on my days off allowing me only eight hours upon arrival to my apartment in Chicago to finish packing and cleaning before driving to California with the first stop being Denver, was not ideal. Like most of my life, especially since traveling, I’ve just learned to let things happen, which is exactly what I did. I went to the airport on little sleep and a three hour warning and boarded the plane with a coffee half full and a smile half sincere.

On the flight, though everyone was more than friendly, I only spoke with one flight attendant willing to explore. She was a little older than my mother and it was, too, her first time to Japan. She was more excited than I was, considering I was mildly hungover, and spent most of the flight interrupting my book with unnecessary stories about her cat, but she was sweet.

Lesson 92: No matter how your mood may be, don’t shut people out just because you have nothing in common. Being an unnecessary bitch to nice people gets you no where, so suck it up and pretend listen. Good karma goes a long way.

Upon arrival, we both went to a sushi restaurant decently close to a shopping area we roamed around in. The shopping was not the same as it was in Shanghai; Japan was much more industrial and updated. The streets were narrow and had a European feel to them while maintaining their Asian culture.

The sushi restaurant we decided on provided all the items made fresh on a conveyor belt, however, no one spoke English. It took about three nods and a lot of pointing but eventually, we were able to get beer and seat. The sushi, unlike that in America, wasn’t covered in spicy mayo and avocado. Most were strictly rice and fish. We looked at the sushi key in front of us trying to match up the fish on the menu to those on the conveyer belt and after two successful misconnects, I realized it didn’t matter. The fish was fresh and delicious melting between your teeth with every bite. Afterwards we went to the grocery store picking up snacks for the next day and local beers to take home.

Fun fact: In Japan, and many other countries, flight attendants do not go through full security and usually can take food and beverages through. This means every place I go, I bring home local booze.

In morning we took a bus to the Narita-san Shinshō-ji, a Buddhist Temple founded in 940 in Chiba, soon after the sun fully rose. On the way there we walked nearly a mile on this narrow, mildly winding road as I tried my best to keep my head from swiveling and letting my shopping addiction get the best of me. The stores were preparing to open as I passed restaurants freshly catching, slicing, and preparing eel from buckets of water in a melodic motion. Everyone smiled and bowed while remaining swift and respectful.

We arrived at the temples by first ascending a flight of stairs and walking a bridge over the coy pond. Most posts, I can describe the scenery perfectly. I can describe the mini forest we walked through as the insects hummed a familiar tune. I could describe the sound of running water beneath a bridge, approaching a pond. I can describe how I removed my shoes before I went into the temple already scattered with three other souls ready to meditate and soul search. Luckily for you, and myself, I took a gathering of photos to show just what touched me the most because for this visit, my descriptions won’t do what I saw justice.

Once we were done we lazily made our way back to the hotel just as it started to rain. Although I didn’t get to venture far outside of Narita, this trip helped me realize my favorite thing about Japan, the people. Other nationalities often group together cultures and countries as if because they are on the same continent, they’re the same. They’re not. I was once one of these people and I am humbled to say traveling and experiencing other cultures has taught me to be less naïve, less disrespectful, and all around open minded. I apologize ahead of time to those that may find my next comment inappropriate, but people of other races and countries sometimes group Asian countries together, which is incredibly rude because they are not the interchangeable. Separate beings, countries, and people are not interchangeable just because you are not educated enough to tell the difference between Mandarin and Japanese. Most Japanese people I have met or encountered on this trip (and others) during my short stay were polite, intelligent, helpful, nice, respectful, and like other races, do not deserve to be grouped together with anyone. Obviously I cannot speak for an entire culture or race because that would be silly, and rude, but it’s the lovely experiences, the patience, and politeness that make me truly want to go back to Japan. Like when you meet someone you didn’t realize was missing from your life until that moment. A friend you never knew you needed.

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