The first time I went to Japan I thought everything was so freaken cute. More cute than things ever should be. It felt like the country was a kaleidoscope of delights - from the food to the festivals, from the super cute children dressed in yukata to the super groomed men on the streets. I spend hours in the convenience store looking at all the magazines and cosmetics and candy bars. I thought I could live in Japan for a million years and never get sick of it.
The second time I went to Japan on impulse. We got super cheap flights and I thought why not? My work screwed up my pay and I got pretty much stranded with little money. I had to go to internet cafes to try to get my money sorted and lived on the free vending machine corn soup you get there for a few days. We had a crazy night of drinking and woke up with photos on my camera I don't remember taking of people I don't remember meeting.
The third time I went to Japan for an Arashi concert. Not just any concert but their 10th anniversary concert. We had to buy scalped tickets online and they cost a small fortune. We were so relieved when we got to the hotel and they were waiting for us. At the concert venue, we were convinced we'd get busted - that they'd realise the tickets issued in very Japanese didn't belong to our very un-Japanese faces. When the concert started and I saw them float over the stage, I felt like all my dreams had come true.
The fourth time I went to Japan, I moved there to live . I thought I'd be living there for the rest of my life. I arrived on a student visa, excited and scared about my life in a new country. I left a year later feeling like Japan had thrown every thing it had at me to get me to leave. An earthquake, having my rent money stolen, dating a guy who got off on trying to rip my self-esteem to shreds, and the perpetual comments about being how good I was at using chopsticks.
The fifth time, wasn't meant to be my fifth time. I'd planned to stay in Tokyo until my sister did her exchange semester for university. Instead I returned to Australia, worked for six months, then went back. We lived in a strange suburb and spend most of our time at Gusto, a family restaurant, or in Shin Okubo, eating Korean BBQ. I went travelling around the country and feel in love with the Seto Inland Sea.
The sixth time I went to Japan was last year. Although I'd been to see my beloved Arashi in concert several times, I had never seen them play at the National Stadium (Kokuritsu). Only one band plays there a year and it was rumoured to be the last concert ever before the stadium got pulled down to be rebuilt for the Tokyo Olympics. I was determined to go to that concert no matter what the cost. I figured I'd travel the entire country, visiting every town on my list so that I'd have done Japan. I could move on to somewhere else.
The seventh time was 6 weeks later. I got cheap flights and I got cheap concert tickets - this time for Sapporo and hey, I'd never been to Sapporo before.
I don't know what it is about Japan that makes me keep going back. It's a fantastic place to go for a short holiday - the kind of holiday where you think everyone is so polite and helpful. Any longer and the mask slips. If you try to go outside the prescribed lines of what a foreigner should do or see, you realise you are a lot less welcome, but it's only outside those lines I get to experience the things I want to see.