My flights went as flights go. A quick hop from Melbourne to Brisbane. A bit of a wait before the longer leg from Brisbane to Tokyo. Whilst being limited in my overseas travel experiences I have flown around Australia a lot. So nothing exciting to report there. Just the usual cramped existence whilst the guy next to me slept the whole way and for most of that slept with his head on my shoulder.
My arrival in Tokyo was exciting but I was dehydrated and crusty from the trip – and a little bit of Valium taken mid-flight didn’t help. Granted I have not flow in or out of any third world countries, but in my experience the bigger airports are fairly universal these days. Lots of big expansive spaces, glass, exposed beams, people queueing and unhappy looking security. All signs have English translations and I really didn’t have to use my extensive (not) Japanese vocabulary at all. And being late at night the airport was not terribly busy. So again nothing exciting about that.
However by the time I had found my luggage and got through passport control, I was more awake and much more alert to just how alone I really was. Yes there were lots of fellow Westerners looking around trying to read signs, haul luggage and get to the correct window to pick up their train ticket to get into Tokyo. My dad used to call people like this ‘rubber necks’. Their heads turning from side to side. It’s a dad joke for sure. And now I was one of them. And I even chatted to some of these people and we joked about having no idea. But still my mind had started to form anxious thoughts about getting on the wrong train and arriving too late in Tokyo to get into my hotel and other random and utterly useless thoughts. But still they persisted. A taxi driver approached me and offered me a ride into Tokyo. Even though I had pre-paid my train ticket I was very tempted by that stage to take the taxi and avoid the uncertainty. But I held firm. I made a quick call to my parents house to assure them and my kids that I had arrived and everything was ok.
I found the correct ticket window to obtain my ticket for the Narita Express from the airport to Tokyo – Shibuya to be exact. This was buried amongst the countless maps of the many train networks that run throughout Japan and in more detail the maps of the network around Tokyo. Add to this the countless ticket machines to allow you access to these networks. The give away, was a line of about 20 fellow rubber necks each assuring one another that this was the ticket line for the Narita Express. So I had found the first minor destination of many to come. Whilst relieved, my anxiety was naturally elevated. Imagine how I would have been landing in Iraq? Or Ethiopia? So express ticket in hand and standing at the correct platform I awaited my train to take me to Tokyo. I was tired and still a little crusty but the anxious energy was starting to be replaced by excitement. Pure and real excitement. Despite my recent state of mind and anxiety over the unknown and wanting to make sure that the children would be ok, I was really excited.
Once aboard the train, I had a very surreal experience. One of many emotional experiences I had on this journey. I felt suddenly free of my anxiety. Free of my depression. Free of any emotional or real binds that prevented me from being in the moment. I had freedom of spirit. Exhilarating after the kinds of emotional shackles I had been in for a couple of years. As a single dad and a relatively recent widower, being in the moment pretty much never happened. There was always the dark ugliness of the past and then what the future held for myself and my family. Don’t get me wrong here. It is not that I felt shackled by my children and their needs or by the memory of my wife. It was more an internal restraint. One of the mind. But this sudden freedom of spirit allowed me to see and believe that for the next seven days there was nothing I could do about those things. That this was a once in a lifetime experience and that it was here now, to be enjoyed and lived. I know that some people would think, it is what Isobel would have wanted….for me to enjoy this opportunity….That’s not true. She would have hated that I had gone away without her!
I was emotionally alert and my senses were wide open. Being on an express train late at night meant that there was very little to see out the windows. But the train itself was full of life and interesting things. The people, their body language, the conversations, everything was interesting. The design of the train. The endless advertising on every surface. I was seeing everything with so much clarity. Hearing everything as a wholly interested observer. It was quite amazing and really set the tone for how I approached the rest of my adventure. Throughout which this sense of freedom clung to me and allowed me to be so open to everything I experienced. So being this highly receptive sponge, imagine my reaction when I stepped off that train and into the utter stimulation overload that is Shibuya! Tokyo!