My name is Luke Summerhayes and I just did something mad.
At the start of February, I packed a big bag and flew from my home in the UK to Tokyo, Japan. I’ve got a very basic understanding of the language, a vague plan to visit a few cool places, and six months’ worth of savings from working ridiculous hours in a restaurant. With that much preparation, a bald head and some big dreams, I’m going on an adventure!
How Did I Get Here?
I’ve opted for a working holiday visa. With one of these, I am able to stay in the country for up to a year and work during that time to fund my stay. There are already good guides online for how to apply. Although there was a lot of paperwork involved, I will say that everyone I’ve dealt with has been super pleasant and helpful. The embassy in the UK were great, and when I touched down in Tokyo Narita the immigration staff sorted me out with my citizen card promptly and explained everything in a helpful, simple manner.
With a visa secured, the remainder of my preparation consisted of learning a little Japanese through podcasts and the duolingo app (not to mention watching lots of weird Japanese comedies, dramas and anime), reading up on Japan’s history and watching copious amounts of Youtube videos about the coolest sights, foods and activities. I moved back home with my parents, got a job in a restaurant and saved up. And now here I am!
Oh Lord, What Have I Done?
As I write this, it is Sunday 4th February 2018. I’m sat by a window in Akihabara, looking out over the river in some beautiful sunshine. I landed in Japan at 11am on the first, sleep-deprived and lugging an enormous, heavy bag, confused by the timings and lost in the enormous Tokyo Narita airport.
I’d miscalculated, thinking I would arrive at 11pm rather than 11am. This meant I had to find somewhere to leave my bag until I could stay at my airport capsule hotel, which I’d booked thinking it would be unwise to travel after arriving so late.
Once I’d dropped my stuff off, worked out where I needed to go when it was time to tuck in, browsed the shops and had a bite to eat, I sat down and was hit by an 18-wheeler lorry of emotion.
I was on the other side of the planet from almost everyone I knew. I was surrounded by people whose language I barely speak. I was incredibly tired but had nowhere to really go. All the bravado I’d had when people asked me about this trip, my bold plan to have an adventure exploring the country then easily settle down with a little job and a room until the end of the year, suddenly felt like I’d been putting on a brave face.
I missed my family terribly, much more than I’d imagined I would. I’ve lived alone before, for 8 years, and even when living with them in the run-up to flying, I’d sometimes go the best part of a week without seeing them, what with working shifts and living on the odd sleep pattern that comes with it. Here though, on the other side of the planet, it hit me like it never had before in my life.
The fact was, despite being surrounded by people, I’d never felt so lonely.
Once In A Lifetime
I found my bed and tried to sleep it off. The next day I awoke to find it snowing, and enjoyed a picturesque train journey to Tokyo. The staff at the hotel and the train station had been absolutely lovely, and the language barrier hadn’t been an issue.
I found my way to my hostel fairly easily, and enjoying a nice latte and some pork noodles while I waited for my room, I felt a little more relaxed. Heading to the top of the building, seeing the views, I began to remember why I’d been drawn to Japan in the first place.
I’m not saying all of my worries disappeared instantly. The last couple of days, I’ve been so out-of-sorts I’ve had to go to sleep at around 5pm, often then waking at 2 or 3am and not being able to get back to sleep. This means I’ve not gone out in the evenings, not seen the beautiful lights of Tokyo nightlife or had opportunities to really meet people and chat.
But I’m adjusting. The black pit of loneliness in my chest is being filled by the fun things I’ve seen and done, and the simple joy of relaying them back to the people at home.
I hope nobody is reading this and being put off going on a trip like this of their own. I’m a little scared, yes, but I’m excited too. That just tells me this is going to be a real adventure.
Next time, I’ll be talking about my first few days in Akihabara, the geek capital of the world. Is it like stepping into an alien world, or do I feel like I’ve come home?