Tokyo to USA

Since leaving Thailand, I have been experiencing the thrills and challenges that come with a long journey home. James and I spent our last hours in Phrao and Chiang Mai sharing meals with the friends we’ve made and worked with. The weight of the always bittersweet goodbyes were strong for me but I knew, after over a year of traveling, it was time to go home. We had a few last meals and drinks, and bought a few last souvenirs in Chiang Mai during our last night in Thailand before we flew out to Tokyo on Aug 11.

 Lucky for James and I, we were able to take advantage of my aunt’s retired employment status from American Airlines and decided to fly non-rev (no reservation) back home from one of the airline’s bases in Tokyo. Flying as a non-rev means no guaranteed seat but a huge discount in airline fare. If you know us, you know we wouldn’t dare fly through such a fascinating city and country without stopping to explore. So we booked a couple nights at a hostel ahead a time and got excited for our last hurrah before the USA.

 Everything about Tokyo was interesting and impressive to me. Contrary to what I assumed, it’s not overwhelmingly hectic but rather extremely clean and organized because of the influence of Japanese culture. Of course there’s busy areas with Times Square-esque lights and chain restaurants like in any big city but the amount of cultural restaurants, decorative shrines and healthy everyday habits we noticed gave it a very pleasurable vibe.

 Some of the places we visited and enjoyed included Ueno Park and the famous shrines around the area, Shibuya, Ginza and the Imperial Palace, Ueno City, Tsukiji Fish Market and an area called Asakusa just behind our hostel. Tokyo consisted of an endless amount of neighborhoods, each with their own flare of Japanese culture. The ones we visited were exciting, busy but somehow organized, and beautiful. After visiting so many Buddhist temples in SE Asia, it was interesting to change it up with Japanese architecture. We ate fresh sushi each day, including once at Tsukiji Fish Market, and also tried Ramen, Udon and Japanese BBQ dishes.

Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan
Ueno Park
Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan
The Imperial Palace
Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan
Tsukiji Fish Market
Asakusa, Japan, Sensō-ji Temple
Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa

The highlight of the weekend was when we hit up the bustling nightlife of Shibuya. We bar-hopped for a bit, stopping in a little underground bar that played music with vinyl records and then the smallest bar I’ve ever been to located in an alley locals call “Drunkards Alley,” before ending up in a bar called Start Bar in search for sake. We didn’t find sake but at Start Bar we discovered a group of drunk Japanese friends and an Aussie who offered us free drinks. We took them up on the offer and hung out for a while, but then ended up paying for our drinks anyway. Turns out the guy offering didn’t exactly run the free drinks offer by the bartender…

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo, Japan
Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

 The evening all led up to the main reason we came to Shibuya, which was for a DJ set James and I bought tickets to. The set was at a club called Vent and it was one of the classiest venues I’ve ever been to. There were two different rooms, one with house music and one with popular music. We switched between the two throughout the night and made a few Japanese friends while we were at it. Because it’s Tokyo and nobody sleeps on Saturday nights apparently, we didn’t make it back to our hostel until 7am. Guess that means we did Tokyo right?

 Preparing to fly out of Tokyo was hard for me. It meant the end of the most incredible and eye-opening year of my life, and no more avoiding the craziness of American life. I did what I had to do though and held my head up and set out toward the USA with a positive mindset. I thought about all the family and friends I was soon to return to and all the possibilities ahead of me. I told myself it didn’t have to be the end. It was just the beginning. James and I ended up with premium seats on the flight from Tokyo to LAX too which definitely helped the matter. We soaked up every bit of the luxury.

 Arriving to LAX was another emotional experience. Not only was it the first time James and I stepped back on to American soil for over year but it also meant it was time to not only time to say goodbye to the adventure, but also to each other. After a hard goodbye, James headed home for St. Louis where his parents would be anxiously awaiting him and I hopped in a cab and headed into downtown Los Angeles to stay with my good friend Alexia for a couple nights. I was exhausted but excited to see an American friend again after so long, and see a little bit of LA while I was all the way out there.

 Alexia couldn’t take off work but we had dinner together both nights and got to catch up on current life and reminisce about the college times. She helped me satisfy my cravings by taking me to an authentic Mexican restaurant one night and then In-N-Out the next so I could devour a big, greasy American cheeseburger. I spent Tuesday lying in the sand at Venice Beach and walking to and around Santa Monica. It was a gorgeous day and a wonderful way to come back to America. It’s so great to have friends all over the U.S. who all have their own cities and lifestyles to talk about. It keeps life interesting and of course I love visiting.

El Coyote, Mexican, Los Angeles
El Coyote – where I had my first American meal
Venice Beach, California, USA
Venice Beach

Then came the day to return home to Orlando. It’s a day I’ve thought about a lot through my travels, wondering what it’d be like and when it would happen. I can’t say it came too soon as I’m very aware a year is plenty long but I will say it came abruptly. One week I’m living in a village in rural Thailand and the next I’m back in the bedroom in my hometown, where all the planning began. It will be an adjustment going home to the familiar and stagnant but after all I’ve experienced this year, there’s still nothing more important to me than my family and lifelong friends so if that’s where they are, well then that’s where I’ll go.

For now, I’m looking forward to reunions, creating a new lifestyle in Orlando and figuring out where this crazy life will take me next. Here goes nothing.

 – Annaleigh

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