Foreword: Apologies for the lack of posts. Got a lil’ worded-out and had to take a step back from storytelling. Writing is a surprisingly unconducive day-job for writers. But hey, here’s a story of my time in Japan!
I went through every possible scenario of my first steps in Japan while on my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Hokkaido. Home to a mix of innovation, tradition, and tentacle porn, Japan had always held a special place in my heart. Were my first experiences going to be about pachinko and panty vending machines? Or would I not even get past the sci-fi toilets? There was so much I wanted to find out.
I flipped through these mental images absent-mindedly as I thumbed through my phone’s photo album. I was clearing out the photos to make space for my journey ahead, not knowing that it would be a decision I’d regret in the next seven hours.
Upon landing at New Chitose Airport, Fendi (the photographer) and I lined up at immigration, filling our entry cards along the way.
“What hotel are we staying at again?” Fendi asked.
I fumbled around in my pocket and fished out my phone. “Don’t worry. Got it right here.”
Now, my hate-list is pretty short. On it, you’d probably only find a few scrawls of ‘biting the same spot on my tongue twice’, ‘noisy people at bedtime’, and ‘walking long distances in wet socks’. That day, I added a new entry to the list: ‘taking a picture of an itinerary a week before, but deleting it because I forgot about it’.
“Uh yeah,” I said. “I don’t know where we’re staying.”
Fendi took his laptop out of his carry-on. “No worries. I’ll just check my mail. Excuse me sir? Can we get Wi-Fi he—no? Okay then.”
The immigration officers ushered us back to the end of the line for us to sort our problems out. Since we had no way of doing that, we just sat there until we were the only ones left on our side of immigration.
The officers beckoned us over. “You come together?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Okay, okay, no problem. Where stay?”
“Uh… sorry but we forget. Somewhere in Furano I think.”
“Oh? Immigration card please?” By this time, officer number two had approached us. They each took a card and studied it. For the sake of storytelling, let’s call them Ryu and Sota.
“Hm…” Ryu said. “Come for business?”
“Yes, for work,” I said.
Sota frowned and exchanged words with Ryu, who then looked at me and said, “He write here, for tour?”
“You ticked tour?” I asked Fendi in Malay.
“We’re here to tour, no?”
“Fuck me.” I tried damage control. I pulled out my wallet and offered Ryu my business card. “Look, I’m a writer, and he’s a photographer, and we’re here on assignment, for the magazine.”
“Yes!” Fendi said. “We’re colleagues!”
“So ka,” Ryu said, looking at Fendi. “Your card?”
Then it dawned on me that we’ve just dug a deeper hole for ourselves.
“I… ah,” Fendi stammered, as if realising this mistake as well. “I’m freelance…”
“Not colleague?” Ryu asked.
“We are!” I said. “Technically! He’s a freelance photographer for the magazine. I work for the magazine. Ok? No? I give up.”
“What do we do?” Fendi asked.
“Try not to get deported I guess.”
After Ryu and Sota briefly discussed among themselves, they miraculously waved us through. Ryu followed us as we picked up our luggage, and pointed a finger at Fendi. “You. Cameraman?”
“Yes sir,” he said.
“Open bag please.”
I breathed a sigh of relief, because he’d see the equipment and realise were weren’t lying. Satisfied with what he saw, Ryu gave Fendi a thorough pat-down before letting him off. He turned to me.
“You,” Ryu said. He pressed his forefinger and thumb together, moving them around.
“Writer, yes.” I said, mirroring the gesture.
He looked at my small backpack, a carry-on. He looked around, towards the conveyor belts, back at the immigration booth, then at me. “No luggage?”
“Samui?” he said, hugging himself.
“Ah? Cold? No, I think?”
I probably looked like a potential illegal immigrant, but I didn’t know we were going to land to a temperature of one-degree Celsius. I packed for autumn, and the only thermals I brought were a cotton hoodie and a pair of long johns. As I unzipped my backpack, I prayed that my copy of The Great Hunt and a notebook full of scribbles would sway him into thinking I was who I said I was. Instead, only a t-shirt and a pair of convertible pants fell out.
“No more?” he asked.
You see, I enjoy minimalism in both its aesthetic and philosophical forms, so when it comes to packing for travels, I pack light—really light.
To do this, I’ve painstakingly sourced for niche apparels, such as the Icebreaker tee, a shirt made out of Merino wool. The material keeps you warm in the cold and wicks moisture in warm conditions. You can wear it up to two weeks without working up even a hint of odour, and it air-dries overnight, making travel-laundering a convenient affair.
If you think I’m boring you, you should try listening to it in a foreign language and weird gestures. Ryu’s eyes glazed over as I mimed the miracles of Icebreaker tees, mainly by smelling my own armpits and giving him the thumbs-up. I’m not sure if he ever bought my tenure with the magazine, but he finally waved me on and said, “Enjoy Japan.”
I caught up with Fendi and we made our way to the media group that had taken to sitting on their bags while waiting for us.
“We thought you got lost and were about to leave you behind,” a man said.
“Why nice meeting you too. You must be our guide,” I replied.
“What took you guys so long?”
“Fendi looked like a crook,” I said. “Anyway, come on! There’s so much you have to show us.” And I ran ahead to explore the airport, with everyone else trailing behind my first steps into Japan.