Don’t you think it would be wonderful to get rid of everything and everybody and just go some place where you don’t know a soul?
~ Haruki Murakami
It was 2012 and I was on a long train ride along the Rocky Mountains in Canada. In the backdrop of the dramatic scenery outside my window, I savoured every word of Norwegian Wood, my first book by Haruki Marukami – a celebrated Japanese author. I remember laughing and crying many times on that train ride, my emotions surging with those of Murakami’s characters (Also read: Unlikely Books to Inspire You to Travel).
Through his books, I’ve walked along the bright deserted streets of Tokyo in the wee hours of the morning; drunk craft beer on a warm summer day in the city’s upscale Ginza neighbourhood; indulged in intellectual conversations at a jazz bar in Shinjuku; sampled ramen in a traditional Japanese ryokan; and sipped whiskey by the fireplace, listening to music on an old vinyl record player, on a snowy day in Hokkaido.
Through his books, of which A Wild Sheep Chase and Sputnik Sweetheart are two of my favourites, I’ve felt grow in me a mysterious yearning for Japan. An indescribable feeling, despite never having set foot in the country.
After dreaming of Japan for years, I’m finally heading there… in search of Murakami’s Japan, but also my own.
My plan for Japan
I arrive in Tokyo on March 5th; I’ll spend my first week exploring the Kantō region and the Japanese Alps on the mainland of Honshu – on assignment for the Japan National Tourism Organization, along with a handful of bloggers from around the world. We’ll be sampling some of Japan’s finest whiskeys at the foothills of Mount Kaikomagatake, seeking out “Ume” – Japanese plum blossom – in Akima, sneaking a peek at snow monkeys that descend from the cold cliffs to the Valley of Yokoyu River to bathe in the onsens (hot springs!) in winter, and indulging in the intriguing local cuisine, including unique Buddhist vegetarian fare.
You can follow our adventures with #UndiscoveredJapan and #VisitJapan on social media.
Over the following two weeks, I plan to explore the lesser-known island of Kyushu; this promises to be a region of extraordinary natural beauty, including active volcanoes, remote calderas, open grasslands and somewhat strange, nearly uninhabited forest islands.
And I’m still figuring out where to go on my own in the last week – perhaps catch the onset of sakura – cherry blossom – along the temples and forests of Kyoto prefecture; or meditate at a Zen Buddhist retreat in a mountain shrine; or lose track of time in a remote little village in Hokkaido…(Also read: The Joy of Slow Travel)
If you’ve been to Japan, I’d love to hear your recommendations on unique places to stay, interesting experiences off the tourist track and any vegan survival tips!
Oh, and if you happen to know Murakami-san, I would love an introduction 😉 Arigatou Gozaimasu.
I sometimes think that people’s hearts are like deep wells. Nobody knows what’s at the bottom. All you can do is imagine by what comes floating to the surface every once in a while.
~ Haruki Murakami
What would you most like to read about from my month-long Japan trip?
*Note: I’ll be spending my first week exploring Japan on assignment for Japan National Tourism Organization. Opinions on this blog are always my own.
Featured image: Keromi Keroyama (cc)