It’s Not All Sunshine and Sushi
We spend weeks counting down the days until the boarding call. Crossing off the dates on the calendar, edging closer and closer to the aircraft’s window of hope.
Travel is supposed to be a great time, right? The sights, experiences, culture, friends and food: it’s what some of us young guns live for. But what happens when your light at the end of the tunnel is shat on? What if there was a bomb dropped on your picture perfect getaway?
Japan was my destination. A month-long stint in Tokyo, the city I’d dreamed of as a kid, sitting in Japanese class spending hours crafting the perfect origami paper crane. The crane is a symbol of hope, and just like Sadako from the Thousand Paper Cranes story, I was holding onto it with a similar plea. I was convinced this trip was no longer a want, but a need.
My arrival was a shit-storm. After not one, but two panic attacks at 35,000 feet, I stepped off the plane dripping with sweat and tears with the reminder of my banana bread spew fresh on my breath. Uncomfortably slipping out of my Birkenstocks as I approached the carousel, I nervously awaited my 20-tonne Flylite. Still in a flurry and pouring sweat, my trembling hands managed to count the correct money for a Skyliner ticket to Nippori, the Tokyo district I’d be calling home. I was terrified, but I could not pinpoint exactly what was so frightening. I just needed to feel safe.
“I will be fine once I get to the hotel,” I repeated over and over.
Stepping out of the station at around 9.30pm, I resembled Dorothy as I was punched in the face by the culture, cityscape and unbearable heat all at once. Where were my ruby red slippers?
I attempted to navigate myself to the hotel. I was weak, still crying and exhausted. After a mental pep talk, in an effort to “get it together”, I popped into a convenience store to ask for directions. The air conditioning hugged me like an old friend and I wiped my tears before approaching the staff member at the counter. As I watched the young girl ponder my distraught appearance, I could tell this was a dead-end. I left feeling more defeated than ever and continued to drag my dead weight suitcase behind me.
Soon I spotted the all-too-familiar golden arches and rushed to the free WiFi for help. I scrambled for my phone as I felt myself thrown into another attack. Diners looked up from their Big Macs as I hyperventilated and sobbed while sweating bullets and internally screaming. A Japanese woman approached me. Desperate to help, she bowed and hugged me, unphased by the mess I’d become. She asked me what was wrong, and as I choked on my breath, all I managed to blurt out was, “I’m lost.”
I fell in a heap on the floor of the restaurant and she cried with me, rushing for water and paper towel, wiping my tears with her skirt. After showing her my map to the hotel, she took my hand and bag and led me in the right direction. As I tried to regain composure, she introduced herself as Yuki and attempted conversation to bring me back to Earth. Fascinated by my blue eyes and fair skin, she complimented my appearance and repeatedly used the word “beautiful”. I forced a smile and thought about how I could not have looked worse in this moment, but was wowed by the fact she was able to look past my current exterior.
We arrived at the hotel and I felt relieved. I farewelled Yuki after countless thank yous and felt sad to see her go. She was my safety net of the night, and I wasn’t prepared to dive further into the unknown without her by my side.
I was restless and struggled to settle into my new temporary home. The first week felt like a month, I woke anxious each day and attempted to wash away my tears in an ice-cold shower every morning. By the time I reached the latter of my second week, the dizzy spells ceased and my heart rate returned to what I knew as normal. I was feeling good.
Keen to socialise and explore, a group of us decided to doll up for a fun Thursday night out, so we slapped on some lippy, a cute outfit and began our Google Maps journey. As we walked towards our dinner destination, I heard my phone ring. Initially, I was surprised, as I forgot my pocket WiFi was on, so I rummaged through my bag to answer. It was my parents, both looking more serious than usual. I knew something was up.
“Nan is gone,” Mum said. I froze.
Through glassy eyes I looked past my phone and at my friends. What were they thinking? Where was Yuki now? Where was my safety net? Where was the reassurance I so desperately craved?
I sat waiting for someone or something to break the hotel room door down and revive my defeated headspace, but I realised no one was coming. I was truly alone.
As I reached the end of my Japan trip, I thought back on what I had to show for it. Eight panic attacks, no more grandparents, a slashed thigh and heat stroke. My inflated expectations betrayed me. I was convinced those four weeks in Tokyo would reboot me and my spirit. But when life stabbed me in the back, I was forced to fight beyond my knowledge.
And I did.