Going to a foreign land or any uncharted territory requires research and planning. So what happens when you fail to plan? Do you also plan on failing?
It was a question I didn’t know I would find an answer to when I went to Tokyo, Japan—yes, without a concrete plan, not even a draft! But in a nutshell, if I were to recall and answer if NOT having a plan is a good idea, well read on and perhaps I’ll let you be the judge.
Disclaimer: If I hadn’t made it clearer, this story won’t tell you much about a detailed itinerary, expenses and stuff like that. (If you want some ideas what not to miss in Tokyo, read: Tokyo, Japan: To Do’s, Must-See Spots, and Other Kawaii Finds) This is, however, for those who are still experimenting on the way they travel or for those who get excited or at least toy with the idea of getting lost in its full sense.
Here are some of my trip’s highlights that may or may not happen to you should you decide to fly in close to 2,000 miles away sans planning.
Photo taken at the exhibit my couchsurfer friend and I went to. And no, that was not us in the photo.
The Curious Case of CouchSurfing
A couple of weeks before my scheduled trip, I tried to find a host at Couchsurfing.com, an online platform / social networking website that allows its members to either “surf” on couches as a guest or to offer up their couches as a host. That would make me save up significantly on my travel expenses, I thought. My requests, however, were declined until a kind Japanese man offered to host me for six nights, the whole duration of my stay. The catch? I would have to bring my own sleeping bag, leave once he leaves for work in the morning, and can only come back at night once he’s home. Needless to say, that didn’t work out.
Three days before my trip though, I received a message from another couchsurfer offering to pick me up at the airport and help me “plan” my trip over dinner. He looks decent and really friendly so without much thought and also for the lack of plans, I agreed.
That experience couldn’t have gone better. He turned out to be really nice asking nothing in return for his efforts e.g. carrying my huge luggage, telling me more about Japan and its complicated train stations, etc. other than the opportunity to practice his English.
What I’ve Learned: Saying “yes” to uncertainties, though often scary, has its rewards. I’m not saying that you should be a Yes Man all the way, just that sometimes, when you open yourself to life and its vast possibilities, you get pleasantly surprised.
READ: CouchSurfing and Why It's Here to Stay
Photo taken at the shared living room of the guesthouse I booked on Airbnb. Guests and hosts alike shared the Adobo dish I cooked for them.
Another First with Airbnb
It was another first for me to try Airbnb.com. Upon realizing it might be cheaper to book at Airbnb than a capsule hotel, I searched for an accommodation within my budget and booked right away. The photos posted on the site seemed a bit too good to be true but to my delight, the place I stayed at looked almost exactly the same. The best part?
The hosts and the other guests that I met were oh so lovely that despite some cultural challenges, we still managed to sit in one table, have dinner, socialize and truly enjoy it! I even had the chance to cook Adobo for them and while they were anxious at the amount of soy sauce I put in, they totally loved it.
What I’ve Learned: I’ve always thought that human connections are getting more scarce these days. But when I stayed at the guesthouse, I realized there we were, people of different culture, defying stereotypes and language barriers for a miniscule chance to connect, communicate, and understand.
READ: Cambodia Was My First
Photo taken at the demonstration calling out nationalists for racial slurs.
No to Racism, No to Hate Speech
By far one of the best things that happened during my trip was to have been given the chance to take part in something significant. It was my first day out strolling around Ginza when I noticed people gathering at an intersection. With a megaphone in one hand and a poster in the other, they were chanting lines that expressed their call to stop the nationalist Japanese from their racist slurs and hate speech against foreigners, mainly the Chinese and Korean people living in Japan.
I asked a few people to know more about their cause and as it resonated with me, I felt like since I had no plans or maybe even if I did, it wouldn’t be as important as what I was about to do then. So I joined in and speed walked 2km from Ginza to Hibiya and back and I’d have to say, it was the most meaningful 4km walk of my life. My legs were too sore the next day I wasn’t able to go out of the guesthouse but it was definitely worth it.
What I’ve Learned: You can be anywhere in the world but when you have a stand, you take it and fight for it no matter where you are.
Photo taken at Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.
In Love with the Contradiction
I don’t know what sort of stereotypes you have of Japan and its culture but if I have to sum up my observation in two words, it would be: beautiful contradiction. And I am in love with it. I’m still trying to figure out how some can appear dry and cold sometimes but still offer warmth once you’re around them. They’re reserved but at the same time loving and affectionate.
They have all these buildings, bustling city lights, progressive transportation and economy, people working unbelievably long hours. But they still manage to firmly hold on to their roots, values, and tradition.
What I’ve Learned: There are two sides to every culture. The one you’ve embraced all your life and the less popular or the least favorite. Striking a balance between the two may seem like a contradiction but it can be done. And when done right, it can be beautiful. Like Japan. And that’s saying a lot since I’ve only been in Tokyo.
You see, planning is good. In fact, I am all for it. But as it happened, I now know for a fact that there are also far better things (and people) that can happen without it.