INTERNING AT JAPAN TRAVEL
A reflection from London to Tokyo.
Like most kids growing up in the 90’s and early 2000’s, Japanese pop culture made up a pretty big portion of my childhood. Watching Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, and Naruto in my grandma’s basement was a weekend ritual for me and my cousins, something that very much influenced my cultural interests growing up.
Over the years, of course, my interest in Japan spanned much wider ranges of appreciation; from its history and traditions, to its creative industries across art, fashion, and music, along with its sprawling urban scenery, Japan has so much more to offer.
The photojournalism internship at Japan Travel is a great opportunity for those interested in travel journalism and exploring visual modes of storytelling. It is, without a doubt, a role that will push you past the limits of your comfort zone as you seek out the unknown, adapt to a new country and entirely different culture, and document it all through a camera lens and a keyboard—all the while, completely on your own.
It's a lot to take on, but also incredibly rewarding. I would recommend the role to anyone, and would gladly do it all over again. Here's why.
After my first week in Tokyo, I lost count of how many times I’d gotten lost on the metro. There were times where I thought I’d finally figured out my way around it, only to somehow find myself on the wrong platform or train because I was actually meant to get on a train that arrived just two minutes later (and this was all with the help of Google Maps, mind you).
On the bullet train, or shinkansen, I made the mistake of booking an unreserved seat and had to stand for the entire two and a half hour journey from Tokyo to Kyoto because all the unreserved carriages were completely full (don't make the same mistake I did and make sure you book a reserved seat!).
That said, there is no other country more well-equipped to help you cope with all the challenges that come with being alone in a new country.
Coming from London, I could not have been more appreciative of the amount of tranquil parks, gardens, temples, and hikes each city had to offer. The parks in Tokyo are huge and extremely well-kept. The juxtaposition of the serene scenery up against the industrial architecture of the city plays a strange trick on the mind as you cross the portal from the entrance of the parks back to the city.
Kyoto was a paradise in terms of getting back in touch with my with rural roots. I grew up on an acreage outside of the city, and spent most of my time ambling around the forests that made up my backyard.
Hiking through some of the trails on the outskirts of Kyoto, such as Daimonji-yama (my personal favourite), was an incredibly fulfilling experience that had me smiling cheek-to-cheek as I made my way through the trees. To feel so in my element miles away from home realigned my perspective in a lot of ways that I hadn’t even noticed had shifted so much over the years.
A lot of people ask me what my favourite experience from the trip was. My default answer tends to be the day I explored Nara's Dreamland. I say this one because, well, the thrill of exploring an abandoned amusement park is obvious.
Really and truly though, my favourite memory involves a night filled with a Video Game Space Station Bar, a round of flaming ‘hadouken’ shots, vintage Nintendo games, and a midnight bike ride through the empty streets of Osaka—all with friends I’d met just a couple of hours earlier at my hostel. I can, and still, point to this night as one of the best of my life.
The hospitality I was met with in Japan was some of the most welcoming I’ve ever experienced. I was lucky enough to have found a home away from home at the very first hostel I stayed in. I now call the staff at Tokyo’s Star Inn my friends, and this blog post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning them.
Sohya, Rina, and Yoan are more than happy to provide you with travel tips to lesser known spots in Tokyo and Japan, and even accompany you on a night out on the town to belt out some karaoke after you’ve had one too many shots of saké. The first time I left Tokyo, it was pouring rain outside, and Sohya was kind enough to surprise me by coating my luggage with a plastic bag so my belongings wouldn’t get soaked.
Although their website lists the convenience of travel to and from Tokyo's airports as the most appealing aspect of the inn, I would beg to differ. The most appealing amenity that Star Inn has to offer is, unquestionably, its Nintendo 64 and the endless amounts of time you’ll spend button-mashing to some retro Super Smash Bros on it. Sohya is the reigning Super Smash Bros champion, and it is absolutely essential that you challenge him or Yoan to a match before you leave.
I visited Tokyo again at the end of my trip and during my last night at the hostel, the Star Inn team put on an entirely vegan hot pot night, a level of generosity and kindness that I've come across rarely in life. The morning I left, Rina, Sohya, and Yoan all waved goodbye as I tugged along with my suitcase to catch the train to the airport. It felt like saying goodbye to my parents!
I spent over a month in Japan, yet there was still so much I hadn’t done. I spent my journey home planning my journey back.
Words by Victoria Kamila