The Explorer on her first visit to Tokyo, Japan

Mark GardnerBlog, Hakuba, Japan, Japan rugby tours, Ski Trips

Fresh out of University, bright eyed and full of wonder, I jumped in at the deep end and took a job with a renowned sports management company I simply couldn’t refuse, even if it did mean I waved goodbye to what would be my last summer before ‘adult life’.

Within just a few weeks I realised that there was more travelling involved than I’d first thought and it wasn’t long before I was asked to commute half way across the world to Tokyo (alone) for my first event.

As someone not too keen on flying at the time, a million and one things went through my then 21-year-old brain, mostly wonder and fear at the thought of my first event 5,775 miles from home. But, I accepted and booked my flight. When else would I ever get the opportunity to go to Tokyo, business class, I thought.

With no expectations of Japan nor no previous ambitions to visit, I headed straight to Google where I found useful packing lists and a round-up of the type of weather I could expect at the end of May. I naively headed to the supermarket and bought most over-the-counter remedies for those ‘just in case’ moments that were never to be.

Before I knew it, the day had come and I headed to Manchester Airport ahead of my flight with Turkish Airlines, stopping at Istanbul Ataturk along the way – another country I had never visited.

After an incredibly smooth journey (despite the fact I almost missed my connecting flight from Istanbul as the boards broke in the first-class lounge) flying over the terrain of Russia and Mongolia, I landed at Narita airport. I’d only been through the doors of arrivals a matter of seconds before the abundance of bright lights and exuberant colours greeted me; a theme that was to continue throughout my trip.

Welcome to Japan sign at Narita Airport

After finally figuring out which bus would get me to the right part of Tokyo, I met with my colleagues and headed for the city. The start of my real journey.

I was never really prepared for those five days that lay ahead of me. I think it helped that I had no expectations and took every day as it came, but boy did I have a blast.

Between the meetings, emails, and event (I shook hands with the wife of Japan’s Prime Minster!), I made the most of any free time I had and explored just a small segment of what Tokyo had to offer. From streets lined with vibrant Hello Kitty inspired shops and crepe stands to historic shrines and rooftop bars, there was so much to do and see and I learnt a lot, both culturally and professionally.

I couldn’t believe how safe I felt using their efficient public transport and walking the streets of Tokyo and I remember feeling more comfortable than I did in New York, which at the time was my favourite place. I’m still not entirely sure why I had even built up the perception that I wouldn’t feel safe and that I needed the whole of Tesco’s medicine aisle.

By the time it came to flight my home, I couldn’t help but feel sad that I had really only got to see a snippet of Japan; there was so much I hadn’t had time to discover, but then again I suppose I was there on a work capacity. Three years on and I am still extremely gratefully for this momentous experience and it’s since allowed me to encourage others to fly east rather than west. There’s something intrinsically rewarding about telling stories about a country that most have not visited.

So thank you Japan for opening my eyes to culture, history, hospitality and non-westernised countries. I will be back very soon.

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