Climbing Mt Fuji was unlike anything I’ve ever done. Every aspect of the climb was memorable. Getting our walking sticks branded. Lucking out with clear skies that let us see every star during our night climb. Walking by the surprising number of convenience stores on the trail up. Being involved in a traffic jam of people marching to the summit at 2am. Feeling alone in a crowd of hundreds as the sun rose. Watching the sky set on fire. Warming up with delicious miso soup at the restaurants at the peak. Finding a post office at the top. And, seeing people talk on their cell phones beside the crater. It was all wonderfully chaotic and peaceful, touristy and local, a day at an amusement park and communing with nature at the same time. Something to never forget.
Strangely, though, it is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of my trip to Japan from seven years ago. In my memory, there are two everyday moments that stand out. They are quiet. But, louder than the crowds on Mt Fuji. They are plain. But, brighter than the sunrise there.
The day we came down from Mt Fuji, we took the train to Kyoto. We transferred trains in Osaka and sat in a row behind a mother and her son. I’m not sure exactly when the little boy saw us but he was definitely curious. He kept popping his head up over his seat to get a look at us. We said hello a couple of times but he’d just giggle and quickly duck down and hide again.
I thought to get my camera ready, but those moments are always so hard to capture. Plus, I was torn between the idea of being in the moment and introducing a mechanism that would change the mood. But, since this went on for more than just a few minutes, I figured I would try to capture something of it. Anything of it. Even if just as a blurry photo to remind myself later.
The next time he popped up, I had the camera up and snapped as quickly as I could. I had only one chance – literally one shot to get it. When I looked at my little digital screen, I was so pleased to see that a hint of the mischief and joy this little boy had in his eyes was frozen in time. It remains one of my favourite shots I’ve ever taken. And, a favourite memory from all my travels.
Sitting Still in the Bustling Arcade
While shopping an arcade in Kyoto, the noise can be overwhelming. The crowds. The bells on the games. The greeters at various stores and kiosks. It’s not just the sounds but the sights too. The rows upon rows of food, clothing, toys, dishes. The flashing lights. The neon signs. The hundreds of people. Somehow, though, the longer you’re in it, the more it all just reduces to white noise. You stop really seeing or hearing anything. But it is still noise to be processed – and a lot of it.
I was exploring one row of the arcade and, somehow through the fog of overwhelming sights, stacks of books caught my eye outside one little shop. The more it came into focus, I realized it was such a contrast with those around it. It was darkly lit and muted colours. Bookstores are a favourite of mine and I love just wandering through the aisles. This shop was so small, however, that just standing at the door let you see everything inside.
Fascinated by the organization and labels on everything, I stood there for quite a while just taking it all in. Almost as if a statue, the owner was sitting there amongst it all. If I were in more of a hurry, I may never have even noticed him. He didn’t make eye contact with me when I finally did spot him. Not sure when, or if, he even noticed me before then.
But I quietly caught his attention and asked if I could take a picture of him and his shop by just shyly pointing at my camera. He tilted his head down in a single silent nod and gave me the narrowest of smiles. I responded with a large grin. Unfortunately, when I went to raise my camera, his smile had disappeared and he returned to the statue-like stare he had moments before. But, I will always remember it.
Gathering the Ordinary
As I’ve mentioned in some ways before, travelling memories for me are mostly about those moments without flash. Those times in our day that often go unnoticed. Of course, I remember the big events; a lot of the top tourist attractions. But it’s those quiet memories that speak to me the loudest when I think of the world. They are the moments I seek out because I believe them to be the deepest connection we have. The everyday threads of any and every culture.