I really want to get stuck into writing about the actual trip, but I also feel really compelled to document everything that happened beforehand – everything that led up to my going to Japan – so that’s basically what I’m going to do. Sorry, no actual details of what we did will be included in this post. I had started writing this as the Sapporo post, but then realised that my pre-amble was getting big enough to be a post on its own, so here it is… (Just a word of warning: this post is almost 1300 words long, and has no pictures. I will not be offended if you stop halfway, or even here.)
The sole reason for this trip was the Sapporo Snow Festival. I’ve wanted to go to this Snow Festival since I was a kid (and that was a long time ago, but also not that long ago). I studied Japanese in primary school, from grade 5 (and continued until grade 9 in high school). I remember my primary school Japanese teacher randomly telling us about this Snow Festival, and me thinking that it would be frickin’ awesome to go one day (except I don’t think I used the word “frickin’” back then).
So this has been a childhood dream of mine. Not one of those my-life-hinges-on-this kind of dreams, but more like one of those milder, I’d-like-to-do-that kind of dreams. But, you know, there was always school, then university, then starting new jobs, then other life things; and I just never got around to planning this trip. There were probably large stretches of time when I just didn’t even think about it; maybe I even preferentially dreamt of other holiday destinations (not that I went to any of those either).
For a reason I no longer remember, at the start of last year (yes, 2016), I decided that I should stop the excuses, stop the “maybe another year” attitude, and just go. The only problem was that everyone in my department was taking holidays around then (maybe not everyone, but it felt like that), and I didn’t really have time to apply for leave, and also plan this holiday.
Actually, I did have some annual leave booked, but I think it might’ve been at the end of February or the start of March, and that would’ve been too late for the Snow Festival. Besides, I ended up cancelling that leave because my manager needed to shift hers back a few weeks, and we cannot have overlapping holidays.
Not to worry, I thought, I’ll plan for 2017. I figured that if I got the proverbial ball rolling a year in advance, I’d have no reason, no excuse, to not go. This was going to happen. I was adamant. And I didn’t care if no one was going to go with me. I was going.
I remember mentioning it to several different people, in different groups of friends, that I was planning this trip, and casually asking if anyone wanted to come with, but no one was really as eager as I was. I got a few “maybes” but no one gave me a definitive affirmative (and all the maybes became nos). Well, until I asked KF. I actually hadn’t thought she’d agree to come because she despises cold weather. But she is a “yes” sort of person, or at least a “sure, why not” sort of person.
(Quick sidenote on KF: We are very “opposite” in some regards, but, by some miracle of friendship, we became really good friends in a really short time. Maybe this was enough to offset her dislike of the cold (?) Well, either way, there is no one I would’ve rather travelled with.)
It feels like so long ago, but I think I submitted my leave application in July or August last year. As soon as it was approved (which didn’t take very long at all because evidently no one else was thinking of applying for holidays that far in advance), I told KF to submit hers too (which also didn’t take long to get approved). I would’ve liked to have had more time off – maybe an extra week – but I knew there were people who were contemplating holidays either side, so I kindly booked my holidays neatly between the two, even though I applied for leave first.
What followed was months of casually (but sometimes addictively) browsing japan-guide.com for travel tips and suggestions; a lot of time monitoring flight prices; even more time on hyperdia.com (looking at train times and routes) and Google Maps (just browsing maps, really, and getting an idea of where everything is); and many, many conversations with various friends who’d been to Japan before (including lots of helpful advice from my sister and my brother-in-law, who also lent me noise-cancelling headphones (these were so good on the planes and trains!))
Since the trip was my idea, KF left most/all of the planning to me. She really wanted to visit the “suicide forest” (Aokigahara) but told me she didn’t mind where we went the rest of the time. This was, perhaps, good and bad. I really just wanted to go to Sapporo, and didn’t care where we went the rest of the time either. However, I figured that since this would be our first time in Japan, it’s probably worth exploring some of the major cities too. But planning a holiday to unfamiliar territory takes a lot of time and effort. And I had not done this planning thing before.
Thus began the advice gathering.
And everyone was really helpful and really enthusiastic. Have you ever felt that about a place? You know, when you’ve gone on holiday somewhere, absolutely loved it, and you just jump at any opportunity to share your experiences, especially with someone who’s headed there for the first time? Well, I’ve got that now (in case you couldn’t tell). I’ll be including some travel tips in my upcoming posts.
In the two months before our holiday, I booked flights (I didn’t book the departing flight until late-November because I was waiting for sales; the return flight came later), finalised accommodation, drafted and refined the itinerary, made lists about what I needed to do (including a note to make a list of things to pack), and revised some Japanese (my Secret Santa last year thoughtfully gave me a Japanese phrasebook for this).
I was so excited to be going to Japan (and so excited to be on holidays with KF) that the whole thing didn’t quite feel real (despite the copious research, planning and advice) until we were actually there, walking around Shinjuku that first night. I spent a lot of time smiling like an idiot (and seemingly laughing at nothing) in those two weeks.
And now, just slightly over a week since we returned to normality, I still really miss being on holidays. I’ve spent a lot of time this past week telling anyone who’ll listen about the trip, and showing them photos (I took about 800). I might be in denial, but I don’t think it’s because I’m really clinging to this, but because it’s such a happy memory, and I like sharing happy things.
Anyway, I think the real point of all this is so you know that when I say this was “the best holiday ever”, it is because I had a great time, and because everything was amazing, and it was a wonderful experience; but it’s also because it was the realisation of a dream, it was the perfect result of many years’ anticipation and many late nights’ planning (some of which was probably unnecessary), and because I got to experience it all with my favourite person.