Photo:Guy Mayer on Flickr

Magic Moments: My Personal Top 5 Moments in Japan

Ten years is a long time to accumulate experiences. Some people can live an entire lifetime’s worth in one short decade, for others it can seem like no time at all as they continue on with the busy daily dirge of their lives.

For me, I fall somewhere in the middle. For sure, I keep myself busy; my work for Taiken Japan and various other websites across Asia makes sure of that!

But in doing so, I am never unaware of the passing of time. It has indeed been 10 years since I first moved to Japan and a heck of a lot, both personal and professional has happened to me in that time.

Yet, throughout it all, I have always retained a certain wonder and awe that comes with being in Japan, with living the dream, as it were.

And so we come to my latest story here today. I set myself the task of choosing my 5 favourite moments, my own personal top 5 highlights of my life in Japan to date.

Trying to pluck out just 5 moments from 10 years of memories, experiences, triumphs and challenges certainly wasn’t easy. However, I hope I’ve done a passable job and that you, dear readers, will be able to take something useful from the inane ramblings I present to you today. So, in chronological order, here are my top 5 moments in Japan.

1. August 2005: A fascinating discovery

This first experience came a full year before I actually moved to Tokyo, and was during my first trip to Japan in 2005. It was during my second week, where, with all the formalities of the Kendo training camp over and done with, I was now engaged in the pursuit of sightseeing, exploring and just generally getting lost amidst the urban wilderness that is Tokyo!

And get lost I did, but in the most beautiful, quintessentially Japanese way.

I was walking around the Ryugoku area, probably most famous for its Sumo Stadium and the nearby Asakusa Sennsoji Temple. I was lost, and in 2005 this was the time when smart phones and their navigational capabilities were but a mere glint in Steve Jobs’ eye.

Yasuda Garden at Ryogoku, Tokyo.
Yasuda Garden at Ryogoku, Tokyo. Photo: Manish Prabhune on Flickr

However I wasn’t panicking. For the good thing about Tokyo is: if you ever get lost, just find a subway station and you can be back to where you want to be in a matter of minutes.

As I ambled down the street, I saw what looked like a dirt track leading off into a wooded area. Now, of course in Scotland I would never take such a potentially dangerous detour out of plain sight, but in Japan such concerns are far less of an issue. So, in the end my adventurous side got the better of me, and I turned the corner into a clearing revealing to me the full splendor of the Yasuda Garden. Yasuda Koen, to give it its current Japanese title, is, without a doubt the most beautiful, ornate Japanese garden I have even seen. I must have sat there for about 20 or 30 mins, just drinking in the atmosphere and vowing to return someday with my better half when the time comes for that all-important proposal.

2. October 2006: A first date at Tokyo Tower

Shortly after I arrived in Tokyo, about 3 weeks to be exact, I met the lovely young lady who was to become my girlfriend for the next few months or so. For our first date, we choose to visit Tokyo Tower. After all, she was from Hachioji, to the west of Tokyo, I was living in Motoyawata, which was the easternmost stop on the Shinjuku Subway Line. So, the centrally located Tokyo Tower was the perfect spot for that first, lovely day out.

View of the setting sun with the Tokyo Tower.
View of the setting sun with the Tokyo Tower. Photo: Takuma Kimura on Flickr

Now, I had visited Tokyo Tower the previous year with my tour group, and it was a grand spectacle to be sure, but there is definitely something to be said for visiting it again with that special someone. Watching the sunset together from the top of the 333m high observation deck is one of the most romantic experiences one can have in Japan.

3. January 2007: A day at the races

I’ve been a fan of horse racing since I was young and I will freely admit that one of the things I miss the most about moving away from Scotland is the fun nights out that my dad and I used to have at Hamilton Park Racecourse, just a short drive away from my family home near Glasgow.

Now, in January of 2007, I had just left one job and was about to start another. However, my first employer hadn’t exactly been very honourable when it was time to settle up my final salary. So, I was left with a bit of a financial shortfall as I waited to start my new job. I’d also just broken up with my aforementioned first girlfriend so I wasn’t in the best of moods.

Looking to cheer me up my affable English friend “Big Steve” called me up and said: “Fancy a day at the races?”

Whilst the prospect was thrilling, I genuinely couldn’t afford it. However, after much arm-twisting and an offer of a short-term loan from my friend (which is quite uncharacteristic for an Englishman!) I decided to head over to the racecourse.

It was cold that day, so I decided to put on my coat.

As I put on the coat, a ‎¥10,000 note suddenly fell from the pocket.

Suddenly, my worries of paying my way that day disappeared.

And things just got better from there.

The Horse racing event at Tokyo race course.
The Horse racing event at Tokyo race course. Photo: Tsutomu Takasu on Flickr

At the racecourse, Steve guided me through how to fill out a coupon correctly, and how to place a bet. I headed over to the window, where the beautiful young saleswoman, dressed head to toe in gorgeous pink smiled and took my bet for the first race.

It won, and at 14-1 my 500 yen bet had suddenly returned 7,500 yen.

Being the superstitious type, I continued to visit that same lovely lady in order to place a bet on each of the subsequent races, sticking as always to my 500 yen per race betting limit.

By the end of the day, I had managed to pick 6 winners and one second place.

My 3,500 of bets for the day had multiplied by several magnitudes. Walking out with a whole lot more yen than when I first entered, my financial worries for the month were over. Truly a victorious day all round!

4. August 2007: The “Racist” Cat

In difficult times in life it is always vital that you retain a sense of humour, and this little experience certainly taught me this valuable lesson.

I had had a bad day at work, and my girlfriend and I had just been out for a decidedly mediocre meal on what was the beginning of a weekend together. I’d been having some culture shock issues, and I was beginning to develop an irrational sense that all of Japan was somehow against me, and everyone was somehow prejudiced.

As we walked by to my apartment together we didn’t talk much. Then suddenly a beautiful, tortoise-shell cat crossed our path.

I have always loved cats; I had two as pets when I was a teenager.

The catty encounter.
The catty encounter. Photo: Jeff Laitila on Flickr

So, naturally, I got down on my knees and said “hey kitty, come here, come here.”

The cat ignored me.

My girlfriend also crouched down and said similar, this time in Japanese. The cat ran over to her, purring and rubbing its soft fur against her face.

“That bloody cat is racist!” I spat out in frustration. “It responds to Japanese people but doesn’t like foreigners!”

“No Liam,” my girlfriend said softly, stifling laughter as she did. “The cat isn’t racist. “She just can’t speak English!”

I had to laugh.

And from that moment on, my mood was lifted. We spent a wonderful weekend together and the following week I went out and got myself a better job.

5. September 2009: Visiting Miyajima with mum and dad

In 2009, my parents came to visit me again. By this time, I had relocated to the southern city of Kurashiki, situated in Okayama Prefecture, almost exactly halfway between Osaka and Hiroshima.

Kurashiki itself is a lovely city, but it can be a bit boring after a couple of days. So, I decided to make things more interesting by taking my family down to Hiroshima for a day out.

For this visit, the undoubted highlight was visiting the Itsukushima Shrine on the small island known as Miyajima, about 20 minutes outside Hiroshima City itself.

Floating torii at Miyajima.
Floating torii at Miyajima. Photo credit: Jeff Laitila on Flickr

The stunning seascape views, the semi-submerged Torii Gate, the wild deer running rampant around the town. It was a perfect picture postcard of all the things I love about Japan, and it remains my favourite place to visit.

So, there you have it, 5 of the best, and this is just the beginning!

Who knows where the next ten years will take me. I for one can’t wait to find out.

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