My journey to Japan

The 4th busiest airport in the world
The 4th busiest airport in the world

The coach I rode to the airport on was fancy. Most of the journey involved sitting. As a vegetarian, the leather seats made me feel comfortably uncomfortable. The blue lights lighting the coach’s interior felt vaguely futuristic, as if I were in one of the earlier Star Treks, only with a higher budget.

After two hours on the coach, I arrived at Heathrow Airport. It was incredibly big, but there were no people. It made the whole place feel a bit cold and empty, like a house without any furniture. There was furniture, however, so I sat on it. I started thinking.

Travelling is peculiarly difficult

Travelling feels like a lot of effort for something that predominately consists of sitting down. Maybe it’s psychologically demanding, like when a woman you like asks you a question she doesn’t want the answer to. But, despite no one asking me anything, nagging questions were floating in my head. They asked whether I’d packed everything, or remembered my boarding passes, or was going to make my travel connection on time. All the thoughts I like to pretend I don’t have exerted a psychic pressure on me.

I don’t believe in psychic phenomena however – a fact that comforted me whilst I considered whether Heathrow was haunted. Sitting alone, I felt a shiver. The spirit of a commuter who’d missed his connecting flight was condemned to walk the terminals forever, always arriving late. I must’ve imagined it.

People began to arrive as the hours pressed on. By half-passed 4 in the morning, there were people in most directions, all of us waiting for an indiscernible time when the bag-drop zones might open. I had given up all hope after an agonising wait of five minutes, resigning myself to sitting forever and eventually withering away, becoming a hint of a memory, joining the undead that didn’t exist, psychically pressuring commuters with nagging anxieties evermore.

Shortly afterwards, the bag-drop zones opened and I forgot all about becoming a ghost. I interrupted my sitting by dropping off my luggage before promptly resuming sitting in the departure lounge. The departure lounge was better because it wasn’t as empty. Some time later I was able to upgrade again from sitting at the departure lounge to sitting at the boarding gate.

By the time I’d boarded the plane, I started to think thoughts like, “what are you doing?” and “maybe moving to Japan is actually crazy and not just pretend crazy.” It was difficult to know the answers for sure.

The planes

Sitting on the plane was a very surreal feeling. Partly because I had been sitting for the best part of 10 hours and I was starting to lose feeling in my tush. But also because this was it: I was going to leave my home country, travel farther than I ever had before, to live in a place where I didn’t know anyone, speak the language or have a job. It was the moment that I had thought about ever since a year ago when I decided to do it. The moment was now – the moment where I plucked my dream from fantasy and made it reality.

My plane landed in Turkey, late. It took quite some time to disembark, and in that time I felt mildly anxious, since I wasn’t sure if I would make my connecting flight on time. By the time the shuttlebus started to ferry us from the plane to the airport, it was over 30 minutes past the departure time of my connection. But I met a couple in the same situation as me, and it made us feel better to all feel anxious together.

As it turned out, luckily our connecting flight was delayed too, so the three of us ran to the departure gate feeling urgently relieved. When we boarded we had to part ways, and I resumed my sitting for another 13 hours.

I had a little TV screen in front of me where I watched a film and the first series of The Big Bang Theory, but mostly I watched the plane icon drag itself agonisingly slowly across the full width of Eurasia. I tried to sleep but I couldn’t sit comofortably enough. When my neck was tired from holding my head up straight, I alternated between letting my head hang forwards, which I didn’t like because it hurt, and backwards, which I didn’t like because it hurt.


After what seemed like 4 days I stood up. My legs didn’t work very well so I shimmied and shuffled until I had disembarked the plane. The sun was shining – it was a good day. It was the day that I made it to Japan.

I’d left London at 7am and arrived in Japan at 9am the next day. All in all my travel time was 26 hours. Mostly sitting. I went to immigration and was given a zairyu card (alien registration card). The photograph made me look like I was vaguely surprised about something.

I walked around the airport a little looking for the trains. Whilst I was looking at a map, a helpful man came over to me and asked me where I wanted to go. He helped me confirm my route and showed me where the machine to get a PASMO card was. I took the Skyliner to Nippori station.

The Skyliner was amazing. The view from the windows was impressive, and the train tracks were often elevated so that you could see some distance away. The weather was good and the train was high tech. At Nippori I transfered trains to my next station, then boarded the wrong train. I guessed a second time and boarded the correct one. It took me to my final destination.

When I arrived, I looked around for the meeting point where I was to meet my house manager. I was 30 minutes early so I waited. It started to rain but I didn’t care. Then my house manager didn’t show up. Hm. I started to dislike that it was raining.

After a phone call he came along in a tiny van to pick me up and drive me to the house. He gave me a tour and I signed my rental contract. Then… that was it. I was living in Japan.

Since then

It’s been one month now and I feel settled in. I’ve met more people in one month here than I’d met in over a year of living back home. I feel like I’ve done so much, but I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Even though it’s been a month, there’s not been a day that’s gone by yet where I haven’t thought, “holy shit I live in Japan.”  I think that feeling won’t fade very quickly.

Matt Bowen

Matt is a blogger, budoka and software developer. He sold his things, quit his job and moved to Japan to study Japanese and martial arts. Sometimes he writes about it.

2 thoughts on “My journey to Japan

  1. Finally. You did it. You made it. To Japan. What now? Away from home and friends. Will you make a new home and new friends, here, the land where the sun rises?

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