Little did I know when I married my wife that she was someone with travel in her veins and that by agreeing to spend my life with her I had also agreed to share in her lust for adventure. She is semi-fluent in Japanese and has travelled the world with orchestras and study exchanges. It was in the planning of our honeymoon where the first inkling could be seen. I had never left Australia when my wife made the suggestion.
“Perhaps we should go on a cruise, you like boats right?” She asked.
“You like Korean culture and I love Japan,” she added. “Let me show you the places we enjoy so much.”
Curious about the world and eager to start our life together with adventure, I agreed. And so it was that I was thrust so willingly into the deep end of world travel.
My wife and I had an amazing “old-school fun and games” themed wedding, and LEGO played a big part. So we decided our cake toppers (LEGO us) should come on our honeymoon too.
(Before this story begins it should be made very clear that this is a tale of adventure, curiosity and most of all fun!)
But there is a dark side to LEGO us… A bounty had been placed on us for having a wedding that was far too awesome… Bubba Fett was hot on our tails!
Act i: Japan
We arrived at Narita Airport and took the Skyliner and several JR trains to get to our hotel near Shiba Park. Already I was overwhelmed. Those first few hours were where my fears I had all along finally surfaced. Not speaking the language, or even being able to read the signs, I couldn’t even ask for directions. Thank goodness for my wife. Travelling alone, I’d be done for! We arrived at the hotel near midnight, too late for dinner. With no restaurants open we had to get food from a convenience store. I tried Melon Bread and Crunky Bar and they were delicious!
Lost in Translation
The first day was the hardest.
We woke up the next morning to see a beautiful view from our hotel room and a clear and sunny day. We headed out for an adventure and I got to experience my first Japanese vending machine and taste some Pocari Sweat, a drink advertised everywhere by mermaids. We headed over to Senso-ji, the oldest and most significant Buddhist temple in Tokyo. We had our fortunes told. My wife got the “Best Fortune”, which as its name implies is the best fortune one can get. I, however, got “Bad Fortune”, the worst possible fortune. At the bottom of my fortune scroll was the advice: “Be Patient.” This was a really valuable tip which I would later need.
We then headed via train to Akihabara “Electric Town” where my wife wanted to take me to a specific pop-culture store she and her friends visited last time they were in Japan: Super-potato. The directions from the internet were terrible. Japan’s streets have no names, and their addresses are based on blocks. This confused my western-minded brain and we got lost again. To add insult to injury, that beautiful day had turned into a sticky-humid haze. Needing some air conditioned respite, we stopped at McDonald’s to get our bearings.
Our first day was very rough. Having never travelled overseas before, and being a grumpy traveller in general, I had a really hard time. There was so much to get used to, culturally and tangibly. I am a big guy who didn’t physically fit in a lot of Japan’s smaller-framed places. This challenged my views of our relationship as well. I had always been the person who looked after us. It was the first time I really had no ability to step in and fix things that weren’t going the way we planned. My wife had to take care of us, a thought that took a lot of getting used to. But with my wife looking after me, and the sage advice from my fortune scroll, I was able to keep my cool.
Later that afternoon I remembered a story my wife had told me a long time ago. She had once had this fantasy that her husband would ask for her hand at the top of Tokyo Tower. So I suggested that we head on up to Tokyo Tower as tourists, and when we got there I made my LEGO figure get down on one knee and propose to her LEGO figure. After taking the photo I whispered a proposal in her ear and she blushed with happiness.
Looking back, that first day was my favourite part of our adventure. I really learnt a great deal about myself and my relatiosnhip. It felt the most special because it was just us in a foreign land, off to explore, get lost and come what may we would get through it together. It seemed the hardest at the time, and probably was, but I think that is what made it the most meaningful. I would love to return to Japan and revisit those areas from a different perspective.
Of course, we weren’t the only ones who spent the day on an adventure.
Yokohama and Setting Sail.
The next day we were on a boat, and therein a different pace of touring. We boarded and discovered our beautiful balcony view overlooking the cityscape of Yokohama’s waterfront.
Whilst in Yokohama we also had some excellent tours to Kamakura where we got to see an amazing giant Buddha and Shinto Shrine. For a long time I have been interested in the Shinto beliefs, and often educated my students on them. Shinto Shrines were one of my favourite parts of the trip. At the Shinto Shrine some more roughness brought my wife and I closer together and we shared a special moment where she taught me to pray and strengthen our relationship for the Shinto Gods to hear.
Little did we know LEGO us needed those prayers more than we did…
We returned to the grand luxury of the cruise ship but were followed and later that evening confronted for a dramatic Yokohama Sunset Pokémon Battle!
After defeating the vicious bounty hunter we danced as the ship set sail under Yokohama’s bridge.
(Our ship only just cleared the bridge by 6 feet. As we went under all the people on the upper deck screamed, and the band played on.)
Osaka and Shimizu
The cruise took us to Shimizu. Here we went on some amazing tours, again looking at Shinto Shrines and also the beautiful waterfalls. At the Mt Fuji Shinto Shrine, with our new connection, my wife and I demonstrated to our tour group how to pray in a Shinto temple. It felt so special. As we tossed our coins, clapped our hands and bowed in unison with others watching on, there felt like this unbreakable connection existed between us.
The ship would then sail to Osaka where we watched a Geisha performance in the theatre. My wife is obsessed with Geisha and has even written university papers discussing their role and portrayal in both Japanese and Western culture. After the performance there was a photo opportunity, after which my wife thanked the Geisha formally in Japanese. The Geisha were so impressed that they responded with a traditional bow, something they had done to no other guests. My wife lost her mind and was giddy the rest of the day.
We headed onto a ferris wheel, I had never before been on one as I am terrified of heights. We went up so high! I was terrified, and so was my wife. Together we made it through.
Then as a reward for my shogun bravery, I got to try some takoyaki – a snack of fried mash-potato stuffed with octopus. MMMMmmmmm MMM! It was delicious. If there was no other reason to return to Japan, I would just for this!
Act ii: South Korea
Our amazing honeymoon now got to head to my favourite part of Asia, South Korea. For a long time I have wanted to learn the Korean language (Hangeul). I feel drawn to this amazing part of the world. A balance of natural beauty and urban development, this country blew me away even more than I ever thought it would before leaving Australia.
Here we visited beautiful Jeju Island – The Honeymooners’ Island of Fertility. This place is naturally astounding, and the whole place is filled with these “Small Grandfathers”, fertility symbols who you rub the nose of and get a baby.
Not wanting babies just yet, we fervently avoided the rubbing of noses, despite the pressure from our tour group.
We also went to Dragon Head Rock and Dragon Pond where we crossed the Cloud Bridge where it was a bit windy. The story of these locations are some of my favourites. I love folklore…
We also went to Incheon and then on to Seoul. Korean police have the best police badges! That’s right, it’s a phoenix!
The voyage from Korea to China was rough thanks to the typhoons that were on either side of us. We were lucky to depart from Osaka the night before the typhoon hit, closing the ports. We both got a little seasick, but enjoyed taking some time off to relax and enjoy the cruise ship’s facilities, including drinks by the pool, ping-pong and some art exhibits.
Act iii: China
The Forbidden City
We arrived in China and were immediately amazed by the smog and haze. Later that day I would look up directly at the sun and see just a small red circle in the sky. Even in the Port of Tianjin, 3 hours drive from Beijing, we could barely see a few kilometres ahead of us.
The traditional elements of Beijing were amazing. We both loved the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City. Both sites were so amazingly beautiful. Tiananmen Square felt very strange. To be standing on such a historical site known mostly for the numerous massacres it was home to sent an eerie feeling deep into my soul. We were lucky however, as the day before we visited was a national holiday and the spectacular floral displays were still present. It was such a beautiful site despite the bad vibes that emanated from it.
Shanghai by Day
Shanghai was so culturally diverse that it reminded us of Sydney. Having recently read “Chinese Cinderella” with my year 7 class, it was amazing to see the locations in person. The Bund was such a diverse place and thanks to the typhoons passing by, great winds had swept most of the smog out of the city for our visit.
After visiting some more landmarks we headed for the airport to make our journey home.
Better luck next time FETT!
So that’s the story of my first trip outside of my homeland. Here we are safe and sound in our home.
I have been told in the past that everyone needs to venture outside their home country once in their lives; to experience what it’s like to be in a place where the words you say and know really have no meaning to anyone.
For me, what stood out above all, was not the isolating feeling of adventuring where my tongue (my primary asset in my homeland) had little use, but instead the humanity in an everyday action. Seeing a mother walking with her child in a pram, seeing two newlyweds holding hands as they crossed the Cloud Bridge. We are all on a journey in life, be it one like mine in a foreign land, or a more personal one inside ourselves.
This trip has taught me one thing, and that is simply that there are no barriers between us, no races or creeds or nations, only humans; Humans who travel.