I watched Kick Ass on the Qantas flight from Sydney to Narita, Tokyo’s airport hub. I don’t know what it says about me that I really championed an 11-year-old sailor-mouthed assassin called ‘Hit Girl’, but I enjoyed the film nonetheless.
The film poses the question: why don’t more Joe Blows become superheroes? And what would the average person’s super powers be? (If we were constrained by the fact that there aren’t positive side-affects from a radioactive spider bite?)
I could’ve laid on my belly in the aisle of the jumbo with my arms stretched out in front of me with my airline blanket tucked into the back of my collar like a cape. Though, I guess Superman never had anyone stepping over him to get to the toilets midflight.
I still think flying is extraordinary, even after the amount of travelling I’ve done in the last nine years. The sound of wheels neatly being stored away after take off relaxes me. The approach for landing can still make the last half-hour of a flight flash by in moments, watching the miniature landscape become life-sized. I enjoy the people-watching it allows – everyone claiming territory, interacting with others, revealing how organised/disorganised they are: it’s been said that the first few minutes a person enters a plane they exhibit a small insight into the rest of their lives.
My life: having a look at everyone I pass, finding my seat, storing my bag quickly, sitting down. I usually try to get out of people’s way to the point of denying myself my bag during the flight, and the toilet if I’m next to the window. I will never instigate conversation. I love being put in the bulkhead or by an emergency exit for comfort (I’m 6ft 3” 190cm), and I hate waiting for the remnants of a meal to be taken away – how the tray just sits there in front of you. Ugh!
Super power #1: being discrete.
Kryptonite #1: being confined.
My first impulse when I have a few thousand saved up is to book a flight. This impulse means I still don’t drive, or own anything that you would call an ‘asset’.
Favourite weapon #1: experience.
Japan is the first part of this round-the-world trip. I’ve always been fascinated with Japan: from the cartoons I watched as a kid (and the Miyasaki and Studio Ghibli I watch today), Chris Marker’s SansSoleil, the Japanese students I’ve taught, and one of my favourite films, the polarising Lost In Translation.
I asked my parents to come along, and they said yes, so I soon found myself sitting with them in a shopping centre restaurant eating sashimi and drinking miso in Narita, where we had decided we’d base ourselves for the first part of the trip. We arrived as southern Japan was in the middle of a heatwave, so any chance they got my parents sought out air-conditioning. I, on the other hand, love the heat and delighted in the humidity. For some reason I get more motivated from sweating uncontrollably.
Regeneration source #1: outside warmth.
Kryptonite #2: the cold.
We explored much of what Narita had to offer the tourist: the Narita-san Shinshō-ji (temple) and Narita-san-kōen (park). My first impressions of the country met my expectations: it was as clean and orderly as everyone says, and the politeness in customer service made me gush. I turned the television on and was not disappointed in how inscrutable it was – wine in a can, tablecloth-pulling-out-from-under-wine-glasses competitions, televised Go games – but I found it endlessly entertaining, if not a bit too overstimulating.
After Narita, we moved our base to Kyoto, in the Kansai prefecture, south-central Honshu. We stayed in a Ryokan, or traditional Japanese hostel, with tatami mat floors, paper doors, and futons. Shoes off at the door, please! Kyoto is a grid, like Adelaide, and easy to navigate. I’d heard great things about it, and even though I found it charming enough, I was slightly disappointed. Like Adelaide, I found it a little too controlled, too hemmed in. It wasn’t until we went to Osaka to visit my cousin Tom (who works there) that I got my first taste of Japan writ large, neon and sprawling – the Japan I really wanted to see.
All over Japan, we used the shinkansen, the super-fast train system that links most of Japan’s cities. Even though I could appreciate and enjoy visiting temples and shrines, the little train-obsessed boy in me got giddy every time my parents and I waited on the shinkansen station platforms. They would whoosh by if they were an express, or grandly deign to slow to a halt if they were making a brief stop, and a brief stop it always was. I was happy to see this stereotype of Japanese punctuality being met in reality. Some autistic part of my mentality adores a systematic, punctual, modern train network, and Japan seems to harbour a collective understanding of this.
My cousin, Tom, took us into a toy shop in Osaka and up to level four which was dedicated to model trains. The most mundane features of the landscape were there to buy: you could even purchase a miniature police brass band, and several different hues of grass, from grey-green to lime. Outside this level of fastidiousness, however, you can see signboards at stations of the different types of locomotives in operation. In fact, painted on platforms were designated areas where you could stand to wait for your carriage, depending on what type of train it was. I liked the duck-billed designs the best.
Mode of transport: Shinkansen.
Most of the time in Japan I was drawn more to modern infrastructure than to the edifices to spirituality. In a bamboo forest in Arashiyama near Kyoto I delighted in the telephone wires amongst the green, and the cute little train crossing right in the middle of it. I couldn’t get enough of the drink vending machines everywhere, either, and I tried at least 70% of what was on offer, including teas that left a burnt wood aftertaste. I also enjoyed the mechanical toilets with the bum-fountain. But that might be giving too much away.
In our hotel in Narita I picked up the complimentary guide to Buddhism and read most of it, incongruously listening to Jay-Z at the same time. From what I could understand of it, Buddhism is the idea that we should strive to become almost super-human by shedding all worldly passions and possessions. The writings do suggest it’s almost impossible to maintain your inner Buddha constantly, but overall it was like a passive-aggressive self-improvement guide.
This is rich coming from me.
Super power #2: self-improvement.
Anyway, it made me reflect on my own maturity, and what sort of progress I’d made since my last trip abroad. I wanted to travel this time as an adult. I’m confident to stride off to find what I seek now, and I have better deflections for that ever-present
Kryptonite #3: self-doubt.
Through my autobiographical writing, I’ve noticed how I often paint the character of ‘me’ as the hero. But I see everyone as a hero of their own story. Other people are not my extras. That’s why I stare a little too long at you from across the aisle in a plane or super-fast Japanese train. What adventures are you on?