Constant Curiosity | TOKYO DAYREAM
The long road to Tokyo
When I was five years old my family asked me: “If you could visit any city in the world, where would you go?” My answer: “Tokyo, Japan.”
The Long Road to Tokyo
In 2021, I finally had the freedom and flexibility for extended travel to Japan, yet it remained one of the only countries in the world completely closed due to COVID-19. I frequently asked myself, “How is it that the one place I want to be most is the only place I cannot go?”
During this time I had been learning Japanese, a pursuit that took an hour or more of study each day. Honestly, the slow progress of such a challenging language combined with the inability to visit Japan was demoralizing.
Another downside of waiting for Japan to re-open was that it put all other travel plans on hold. I wanted to be able to fly to Tokyo the moment the country reopened, so I decided to wait patiently in Minnesota.
I told myself, “I should be able to be completely happy living a simple life in a small town.” I created robust daily routines, cooked meals with only locally sourced ingredients, and made my home a fortress of productivity, relaxation, and aesthetics. I installed a five-person sauna, got a wifi-connected Traeger smoker, and a Herman Miller desk and chair.
All the pieces were in place for a cozy and fulfilling life.
Yet something was missing… I felt restless, stagnant, and alone.
Maybe having a girlfriend would be the answer? I’m quite picky when it comes to dating, so finding candidates for even a first date was quite slow-going. Eventually, I met a few great people, but nothing worked out.
So if hunkering down or dating wasn’t the answer to my funk, what would be? Travel? I decided to stop waiting for Japan and booked a string of trips to LA, Korea, Hawaii, and NYC. It was two months of continuous adventure and some of the best trips of my life.
I adopted an entirely new persona in each location. I left behind the version of myself that woke up at 5:30, read a book per week, and was obsessed with an ideal daily routine.
In Korea, I stayed out until 8 am, slept til 3, and repeated the next day.
In LA I ate four meals a day from the best restaurants in SoCal.
In Hawaii, I stayed in a mountaintop shack on the remote island of Moloka‘i. I woke at 4 AM daily to experience the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean.
On my brief stop back in Minnesota, I started the process of getting a pilot’s license and flew a plane for the first time.
In NYC I went to opera, Broadway, or ballet performances nightly. I ended the evenings bar-crawling to speakeasies and lounges with old friends. You see a unique side of New York when you walk home to Midtown from the West Village at 4 am…
No routine, no books, no meditation, no self-reflection. Just a maniacal focus on making each day as exhilarating as possible.
My life had become an unrecognizable blur of dopamine spikes and thrill-seeking.
The biggest downside of all these adventures was that they made my normal daily life feel even duller by comparison. Returning to Minnesota after this string of travel, I felt empty again.
Then Japan announced their official re-opening date, October 11th, my birthday. It felt like the universe giving me a cheeky wink.
A part of me was excited but even stronger was an unexpected feeling of dread. Now, after all this time I could finally go back to the place I’d been dreaming of since age five. But I’ve long since learned the only problem with having dreams is that someday you might reach them.
What if Japan wasn’t as wonderful as I remembered? What if it had changed since COVID? What if I wouldn’t be happy there either? Even though I had previously vowed to take one of the first flights to Japan upon reopening, I considered abandoning the trip entirely.
Thanks to the council of my close friends, I decided to book a ticket. Within 72 hours of the border opening, I would be in Japan.
Expectations vs Reality
Somehow, my time in Japan was even better than I could have expected. It felt like I was living in a city designed just for me.
Attention to detail, an obsession with cuisine, impeccable fashion, reverence for traditions, and a love for technology.
Tokyo allowed me to effortlessly quench my insatiable curiosity.
Vignette of Tokyo
It’s 11 pm. I should probably head to sleep... ah what the hell. I’ll head out and see what kind of shenanigans I can stumble into. Four hours later I find myself in what must have been the tiniest, dingiest, and smokiest karaoke bar in Tokyo. The bartender wastes no time inviting me to join the drinking game he’s playing with some regulars. I learn that the bartender has always dreamed of being a chef and that he had been saving up to start his own French restaurant. Tonight was his last night as a bartender before realizing his dream.
But the night was only just beginning. The bar was packed with only four of us, but soon others would join. Shibuya party girls, a troupe of professional dancers, and a lone salaryman.
Being a horrible singer, I found it best to break the ice by taking the mic and singing Don't Stop Me Now by Queen. Soon after, the entire ensemble would join together in singing Empire State of Mind with the word “Tokyo” swapped out for “New York.”
Japanese people are incredibly polite, but they tend to have a bit of a wall up (not unlike my fellow Midwesterners). Alcohol and karaoke bring this wall crashing down.
That night was like a time warp. When I emerged from the windowless bar, it was 7 am, sunny, and I was standing at Shibuya Crossing (the busiest civilian crossing in the world), yet the streets were empty. Everyone else was either still asleep, or still out from the night before.
I smirked to myself, “I love this city. I’m glad I didn’t go to sleep at 11.”
Some other notable experiences include:
Learned the basics of Iaido (traditional Japanese swordsmanship) from a world-renowned teacher
Discussed economics with a group of Bitcoin hackers on Halloween night
Competed in a dodgeball tournament
Practiced traditional Japanese archery
Visited an incredible seaside park that looked like something from another planet
Bathed in a mountainside Onsen (traditional Japanese bath house)
Frequented one of the top 50 bars in the world and tasted my favorite cocktail of all time
Visited DisneySea, my favorite Disney park
Awakening from a Daydream
I write this now sitting poolside on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui. It’s a nice place to unwind after five full-throttle weeks in Tokyo.
The prospect of returning home feels like the end of a beautiful daydream. The type of daydream so engrossing that a wave of sadness overcomes you when you are shaken back to reality.
I’ve tasted a life more exhilarating than I could have imagined, and I want more.
Do I feel embarrassed that at this stage of my life, so much of my happiness could be dependent on my physical location? Honestly, yes. I would love to be able to sit crossed-legged in a dark cave and achieve enlightenment with no external stimuli. For now, I choose the path of least resistance. I’m at peace with this choice. Enlightenment can come later.