Looking down from the airplane and seeing the views of mountains paradoxically contrasting the tall, modern buildings, I felt an air of fresh excitement. This was my first trip to Japan, and I was travelling alone — another cause to feel free and uninhibited.
However, it was when I arrived at my hostel that suddenly the atmosphere turned somber for me and I longed to return to Phnom Penh. I missed my loved ones and daily life there; I was anxious about their well-being and safety in Phnom Penh; and more than anything, for the first time, I felt disillusioned and disconnected from my surroundings.
In its air of modernity, Fukuoka looked and felt much like what I had always seen and known, and I felt a gentle punch to my gut. Yet the city, and everything about it, was starkly different. And it was both the paradoxical similarities and differences, that incited in me a feeling of gloom.
I was even surprised I felt this way. For a long time, I longed to embark on a journey far away from everything that was familiar. But when I finally got the opportunity to travel to a foreign place on my own, suddenly, I felt misplaced and estranged — a strange and perplexing emotion even for myself, an adventurous and free-spirited individual who appreciates the unknown.
Yet it wasn’t so much because I was in a new country; of course I can attribute my emotions to the fact that everything was new — the language, the culture, and people’s mannerisms and dispositions, among other things — but there was something deeper than that. The collective energy felt different — there was a feeling of gentle sadness looming in the air. And for an empath, I felt it deeply and was helpless in mirroring it.
Walking along the streets of Fukuoka, I studied the motions of passersby, ordinary people going about their daily lives. Each individual walked with purpose and precision, the majority of them dressed in neutral-coloured business casual attires. Sometimes a passerby and I would exchange a discreet smile; other times, if we made eye contact, we’d kindly look away. There was an air of politeness and modesty in the way the Japanese carried themselves. But, I wondered, beneath the social graces and the strive to uphold group harmony, were people happy? Did they feel themselves free?
Times like these, and time and time again, words fail me. I try tracing Murakami’s footsteps in his deepest thoughts, and I’m reminded just how eloquently he’s able to unravel the mysteries of the human mind and soul through the written word, exposing the imperfections of humanity, and all that is raw, vulnerable, and authentic — the result of profound self-awareness.
In spite of everything, my first day in Fukuoka was a real treat because I got to see a friend who’s currently working and living in Japan. How awesome it was to meet again, in a foreign place and at a different stage in our lives. As usual, we did what we do best when we see each other: eat. Some of the delicious eats I tried were green tea ice cream (you’ll find out later that my life in Japan revolved around green tea desserts) and ramen at a yatai stand.