Japan, the farthest I’ve traveled to by myself:
My cousin, Reeva, had recently moved to Kyoto, Japan to learn Japanese for a year, and she convinced me to visit her there. I didn’t know anyone else living in Japan and Reeva was going to be there short term, so I couldn’t possibly pass up going! I was admittedly pretty nervous about traveling all the way across the world— a 24-hour long plane trip, including a layover— especially to a country that uses a language that isn’t remotely like anything I was used to. But, again, I wasn’t going to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Since I didn’t know how my lightweight, foldable motorized travel chair would do in Kyoto and didn’t want it to break down on me, I didn’t take it with me. Reeva and I found a manual wheelchair rental store that allowed us to rent one for $50/month! Even though I was already walking most of the time, I knew that it would be difficult to explore a large city to the full extent just on foot. Reeva graciously offered to push me in the chair. We are more like sisters than cousins, so I trust her with my life.
Throughout my life, I’ve had adverse experiences with my cerebral palsy being accepted by various Asian cultures, especially from growing up surrounded by Korean people and culture. But, to my pleasant surprise, I found all the Japanese people I encountered in Kyoto to be super welcoming and polite. Even though it is an ancient city, it was much more wheelchair accessible than NYC is; all public transportation and landmark destinations were accessible. This might be because, after World War II and the Korean War, much of Kyoto was demolished, so when they rebuilt it they kept the injured veterans in mind and made most places accessible. Also, the Japanese have high regard and respect for the elderly, so that’s another reason why the accessibility rating is high.
I immediately fell in love with Kyoto. I adored all the mountains and the architecture of the city, and the fact that residents were always quick to lend my cousin and I a hand made the trip even more spectacular. I felt like I was somewhere the polar opposite of NYC. Out of pure coincidence, we met two American brothers who were also visiting the city when we were at breakfast the morning after we arrived, and were able to sync up some of our plans.
There were so many aspects of the trip that I deeply enjoyed, too many to name. I experienced and explored places and things that were exclusively unique to Kyoto… where do I even begin! On the 1st of every month, all the shrines and temples are free of admission to the public, and the visitors honor and pay homage to the city’s deities. We visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is famous for its thousands of red vermillion gates. The gates straddle a network of trails that lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, so there were dozens of fox statues across the shrine grounds. Reeva and I didn’t walk through all the three-hour-long hikes, but we briefly walked under the red gates and turned back.
I was vegan by the time of the trip, so I couldn’t eat the famous sushi and udon dishes, but I still enjoyed the unique freshness of many vegetable dishes. In the more rural areas of Kyoto, like Arashiyama, the famous bamboo forest dishes tend to be more plant-based. Arashiyama, the bamboo forest, or grove, was like a whole other world, undoubtedly unlike any other forest in the world. I took turns being pushed in the chair and just walking while going through the path. There was a unique sense of zen and calm in the grove; although there were hundreds of visitors walking the trail too, I became one with nature — such a breathtaking sight and feeling.
It was this Japan trip that made me truly realize that there is so much more of the world that I had yet to experience and see. Writing about my favorite trips through this mini travel series has allowed me to appreciate just my mere ability to travel, and I cannot wait to continue exploring the world when it’s safe to do so. I’ve been quarantined with my boyfriend, who’s originally from Bostwana, Africa, and we’re planning on visiting his family there together sometime in the near future!