For every great mixed martial artist fighter, a friendly fight is a training ground to gauge their motivation, attitude, physical and mentally preparation towards the big game. So in the monsoon season in Kerteh of 2011, I went to Tokyo for a training, to gauge myself if I’m ready to take the big trip on my own. I rarely travel, there were only two foreign stamps on my passport and never been outside Malaysia alone by myself before. I could make few more trips around neighbouring countries but I’m about to ran out of time at the age of twenty eight. I should point out, at that time my plan to travel the world was simple, jumping from hostel or stranger’s house to another hostel or stranger’s house and just doing the tourist stuffs. But of course, at that time it was just a plan, a time where I always talked to all my friends about quitting my job and to travel the world someday. I was in deep ambivalent about mission to Tokyo, whether I should save up my money for the big trip, whether should I finally get the vintage guitar amplifier that I always wanted, I myself wasn’t sure whether I really wanted to travel or not. Lots of hesitation, until I stumble upon Ian Wright’s quote that changed my mind. He said: The first step is in your head. So don’t think about it, buy a flight ticket tomorrow and then worry about it on the plane. This is the hardest step.

The alien language, worm like letters, train lines were like a noodle of ramen, unique technologies, weird technologies, cold breeze weather, closer to home, infinite creativity in fethishism, safe city even though it was just been hit by tsunami almost year before, Tokyo would be decent training ground before I go to wicked places. I don’t know much about Japan. I knew only enough about Japanese culture and history through history text books, Sarjan Hassan, Doreamon and Ian Wright’s television show, beyond that, I knew nothing. The only Japanese words I spoke were Arigato and Konichiwa. But I did like sushi from Sushi King.

I found Nizam on the internet, a fellow Malaysian residing in Japan as system engineer and punkrawker. I crashed in his tiny humble room in Yokohama for ten days, shared the same room, toilet sit, bathroom that was meant for one person only. The toilet sit was awesome, lots of button in Japanese that I’m afraid will transform into a robot if I didn’t press the correct one. One the thrid night, Nizam used his spices sachets all away from Malaysia and prepared chicken curry with an omelette in one of our humble dinner. That was the first time I met his then-girlfriend-now-wife virtually from the video chat. Sometimes, we ate home delivery pizza but most of the time we stop by at any restaurant he dragged me around and we had out meal. We did stop at sushi restaurant, a modern kaizen belt sushi restaurant with his female office mate that trying to improve her English. I ate almost anything, internal parts of giant clam, roes, pickled wasabi stem, fresh seaweed that I could taste deep ocean water. I may had ate a part of whale that they hunted in the Antarctica. It was just till recently that the thought that I should asked him to drag me into the traditional sliding door small shabby-shabu joint where the sushi chef in headbands prepared us food in front of our eyes. Maybe on the next trip.

With NIzam's friend at sushi restaurant

With NIzam’s friend at sushi restaurant

I may had committed a Tokyo faux pas – had a diner in Hooters – but I’m definitely not going to pass that up. I don’t remember how the fish and chips tasted like or the fried pickles that we ordered just to stay they long enough, but I do remember the Hooters t-shirt that I bought was folded on the chest of the Hooters girl. I hand over the t-shirt after checking the size, she lean over just enough for her to use her chest to neatly fold back the t-shirt. When I wore that t-shirt for the fist time at home, I can almost feel that we were connected. I might had leave the shirt unwashed for quite a long time I reckon. Fetishism. Talking about fetishism, before we went to Hooters we just came from maid café in Akihabara. I was excited but acted normal in front of Nizam when he suggested we settled ourselves at sixth floor. We had an ice-cream decorated with cute designs at our table by our dedicated maid, Rin. I got more excited when she asked me to get on the stage, she spoke in her Japanese that I don’t understand but I don’t care. She’s cute, in black and white French maid costume composed with petticoat and pinafore, matching with her hair accessory and on white stocking. She kept talking and this time her hand were moving, pointing at toys. I grabbed the soft toy, Winnie The Pooh on my arms, she stood next to me and asked me to followed her cute hand sign, the other maid snapped a polaroid picture of us. My life in complete.

Nizam and I with Hooters girl

Nizam and I with Hooters girl

Me and Rin

Me and Rin

Tokyo itself was awesome, the giant screaming video screens advertising beverages and cellphones and recording artist, garish sigs in English and Japanese, lines of cars, crowds of people – row after row after row of them, surging through intersections in orderly fashion. Things on the other side of the world were very, very different. I did the tourist stuffs, shopping for souvenirs in Akihabara, managed to watch few cosplay kids at Harajuku bridge, the only I failed to watch is a drunken, wasted, passed out Japanese men in train or any sidewalk of Tokyo. But the thing I like most about my trip to Tokyo, the people I met.

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

Nizam introduced me with his Japanese bandmates, the talkative Rhyme and the shy Ryuta. I jammed with them after they were considering to add second guitarists to their band, I jammed with the amplifier that I really wanted, the Roland JC-120. It has been a really long time since the last time I jammed with my friends, my glory day jumping and screaming had left me behind as time goes by. I strummed the guitar, following Rhyme’s hand, when he goes for solo, I turned to Nizam bass while Ryuta bombs the drum to the punkrawk beat. I walked, ate, joked with them in one of their show at Yokohama. The independent music scene in Tokyo is far cry organised than ours. The discipline, sound check session, time management, event management, stage management blows me away. I love the venue, cold with the air conditioning and clean despite with the alcohol in the plastic cups and smoking is permitted.

Deep inside I was hoping Nizam would asked me to joint his band and I’m ready to leave everything behind and stay started my new life in Tokyo. I wanted to sell my video camera, laptop and my bags for money as I don’t need it anymore. I’m ready to be the co-star of the next Maria Ozawa film to earn some Yen. I was seriously considering burning my passport, disappearing into the exotic East where nobody knows who I am. This was excitement, hope, adventure and new beginning of my new life. I knew I could live here now. I’d learned a few things, not much, but enough to feed myself, get around.

Nizam, Rhyme and Ryuta

Nizam, Rhyme and Ryuta

Jamming session

Jamming session

I happened to attend a monthly meet up organised by the local, I met people from various part of Europe and Asia. Among them, a guy from Belgium that was same flight with me from Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo and we met up again at the airport as we had the same flight back to Kuala Lumpur as well. I’ve to say, it was one of my early travel epiphanies, meeting new people from various part of the world. We were walking from one place to another, crossing the Odaiba bridge entering malls talking about random stuffs. Some of them working as an English teacher, some of them were studying, some of them were on long term travelling. I found a new subculture, whatever label we put ourself in, tourist, traveller, vagabonded, backpacker, trolley dolly, expatriate, local, we all have our own reason why travelling is our drug. I felt a strange sensation, I found a new reason to travel, I go for the people, places and attractions are less appealing.

The people

The people

On my last day I hang out with fellow Malaysians residing in Tokyo, a trip to Hakone watching the Fuji-san and the autumn. There were thirteen of us, with two minivans we ride along the small town and coast way towards the destinations. As new stranger to them, Nizam was also a stranger to them, he joined them by his only mutual friend in the group. I’m a bit gloomy that day, I did not want to leave, I had only begun to start this new subculture. Riding the Hakone pirate ship, watching the Fuji-san, watching the autumn leaves, watching the newlywed on our group that the wife always wrapped her arms around her husband, the husband was clearly uneasy with it but had to play along. I thought I’m the only one noticed the situation but Nizam also does. “Gersang la tu.” The view, I don’t know what to say, maybe I’m not into this kind of activities, but the time I remember most when left Hakone. We were singing lagu-lagu negeri in Malaysia because nobody wanted to listen to the local radio.

“Lagu Kelantan macam ni.”

Che Hazani sang the song.

“Pahang lak macam ni.”

I-don’t-remember-his-name sang the song.

Ha, lagu ganu camane plak?”

My turned to sing.

Wah sedap

Lagu Perak boring, macam lagu Negaraku

Kau tahu lagu Singapura?”

Azizul and Hadyan started to sing along.

Lagu Jepun?” I asked.

Lagu Jepun boring gila, sedih!

Lagu Amerika ok la.” I said.

Lagu Amerika casual sangat.

“Lagu God Save The Queen best tapi…”

Korang pernah dengar lagu Soviet?”

Hadyan searched for Soviet song on Youtube from his iPhone. After the Soviet song, Hadyan played One Sweet Day by Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey, connected to the AUX system of the minivan. A bunch of straight guys listening to One Sweet Day that buffering after few seconds, that was us.

Eh, iPhone kau tak ada lagu ke?

We arrived at Odawara train station, it was already dark, just before Hadyan press play on his iTunes.

With fellow Malaysians in Hakone

With fellow Malaysians in Hakone

With Tenju

With Tenju

We split up, Nizam and I went back to Tokyo by train and the rest of the group continued their night with the next agenda. I had my last Japanese meal at the train station with Nizam, he telling the waitress, in flowing Japanese, a steamed rice topped with assorted tempura served with pickles, miso soup, a Tenju. What ever he eats, I eat. We spent the last hour riding the train talking about life. Nizam shared how he met-lost-met love story between his girlfriend, kinda romantic with a touch of emails auto alert and social media. They got married few years later and now live happily in Tokyo with their beautiful daughter. I shared my side of story, my background, my love and hate about my job, about my planning to travel the world someday. I genuinely said to Nizam that I’m truly envy with his life in Tokyo, particularly his journey with his punkrawk band. I’m still hoping for his invitation to join his band along the ride.

Hour passed, we split up at Shinagawa train station. I’m heading out to Haneda airport and Nizam most probably wanted to be at home video chatting with his love one. I thanked Nizam for his hospitality, hoping that I’ve been a good guest by helping him with some house chores. Ten days seems to much for a stranger to couchsurf, but I really need it.

Mission to Tokyo was a success. I knew from that moment that I like to travel solo and people is the reason for me to travel but I felt I need more than just couchsurfing and hostel. I need to change the essence for my next travel once I get home. I walked, with new determination, I really really really should make my solo long term travelling that I always wanted.

Macam mana?” Mom asked when we met at the airport.

With our hesitation I replied, “Terbaik. Tahun depan nak travel setahun.”

That was the first time I gave a hint to my Mom about my big trip.

Thank you and see you again Nizam!

Thank you and see you again Nizam!