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Japan Trip 2018

Words and Pics by Richard Seidlitz
9-19 November 2018

A preface to the story is necessary to give it context. Many of my trips have some deep meaning or ultimate goal involved. My trip to Japan in 2015 was a way to thank my dear friend Eric for pulling me out of a crippling depression. It was a way to thank one of my best friends for being there for me, and giving him an experience neither of us will ever forget in return.

My upcoming trip to Japan in May of 2019 will be to celebrate my father’s life. Not only did he survive a dismal cancer prognosis this year, he’s also managed to raise two sons that turned out rather well despite the incessant setbacks and challenges he’s faced throughout his life. Plus, his 57th birthday is during that trip so it’ll be a celebration of his life in more ways than one.

Dad.jpg

This particular trip in November 2018 was to find a sense of peace after a breakup that shattered every plan I’d made for the life I’d been working so hard to build. I had laid out a path to create a life for myself and my family - my then-girlfriend, Clare, and our two Great Danes, Wallace and Dexter. When the relationship ended, so did my hopes for the perfect life I thought was inevitable. I didn’t take it well. I decided to go to the one place I knew I’d find peace. Yup, Japan.

We broke up five weeks before my 35th birthday. I let her stay in my house until she could get herself set up on her own. I stayed in my own guest room and felt like a stranger in my own home. I realized I wouldn’t be able to handle being there on my birthday, so I decided to run off to Japan and spend my birthday there. I also wanted the trip to be a way to address the anxiety issues I’ve been plagued with for so long. To that end, I planned to hop around a few cities. Each stopover had a purpose. Utsunomiya is famous for gyoza and was also the closest major city to a SuperGT race I’d be attending. Sendai is famous for gyutan (grilled beef tongue) and near Matsushima Bay, one of the Three Views of Japan. Also on the bay was Shiogama, which has the most sushi restaurants per capita in all of Japan. After Sendai would be Tokyo, where I’d be meeting up with Eric and some of his friends, in town for a couple of concerts. Then I’d be going to Osaka for takoyaki, okinomiyaki, and a Man With A Mission concert.

The constant movement would keep my mind off things except when sitting on trains to go from place to place, and that time would force me to take a breath and look at my surroundings. Perhaps, I hoped, all of this combined would be like hitting a giant reset button and get me back on an even keel.

I’ll admit that I get a sense of pride when I talk aloud to myself to get my thoughts to flow and come up with something witty, poignant, or deeply meaningful. While compiling my notes and fleshing them out into a comprehensive story, I thought of an honest way to introduce my trip to Japan in November of 2018.

Sometimes we run from our problems. Sometimes we run into our solutions. I know I was doing the former, but I hoped for the latter.

And So… I Ran Away

I said goodbye to Clare that morning and went to work. After work I went home to do laundry, tie up as many loose ends as I could, pack for the trip, and say goodbye to Wallace and Dexter. When I returned home, they’d be gone. I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry then.

I stayed at my friend Zak's house in Orlando the night before. I got less than five hours of sleep, which had been status quo since the breakup.

"It's currently 23 degrees and snowing at our destination," the pilot said over the intercom.

The entire plane let out a collective sigh of dismay. I checked the weather app on my phone - it displayed 71 degrees, which meant it was slightly warmer in Orlando than the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul where we were heading.

I'd slept a total of 13 hours over the last three nights. My back was tight, my neck so stiff that it audibly cracked when I turned my head. I was exhausted both physically and emotionally. I had to fight back my tears.

The flight from Orlando to the Twin Cities was uneventful and my short layover was just enough to get to my next gate at a casual pace with a few minutes to spare. The air in the skyway boarding the plane was cold and crisp. It was refreshing and even a little exciting. The chill of it reminded me of the shiver of excitement setting out on a new adventure, even if I was struggling to find that optimistic outlook.

We were slightly delayed when leaving as the plane needed to be de-iced. Seeing the snow covering the airplane's engine outside my window was a little surreal. I'd only been living in Florida for 11 months but something about it reminded me of a former life.

De-ice the engine.jpg

Once we did depart, the flight itself was very comfortable. I'd upgraded to Delta's Comfort+ section, which meant I was given pre-flight prosecco immediately after taking my seat on the plane. Leg room was wonderful, and the passenger to my right was polite and courteous. I didn't sleep nearly as much or as well as I'd hoped. I think I got only a couple hours, if that. It didn't help that I drank a wee-bit too much during the flight. I didn't think so at the time, but reading back through my notes... Let's just say I started with some perfectly-legible cursive and ended with all-caps drunken thoughts, a couple of which were hidden things I've never once said aloud.

I'm pretty sure I was still drunk when I landed at Haneda. It was a struggle getting to Utsunomiya simple due to my insobriety and debilitating exhaustion. I passed out as soon as I got to the hotel.

I woke up just before midnight after only four hours of sleep. It seemed absurd given how tired I'd been before my head hit the pillow but there I was, awake and ready to go. I didn't feel fresh and ready for a full day, but it was enough to get me out of the hotel for a quick bite to eat. I walked around the corner to a 7-Eleven and bought a razor, large bottle of water, and two onigiri - one salmon, one beef and egg. I ate them at the hotel and passed back out.

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