Read a travel book or watch a travel show and it’s usually more about people than places. The Lonely Planet is anything but lonely with listings of bustling markets, bars, entertainment venues and hostel dorms. Tours, treks, cruises and holidays with extended family and friends. Travel connecting people with others.
I was attempting to watch Lost in Translation again the other day. It’s about Americans feeling lost and alienated in an unfairly stereotyped Japan. The viewer is supposed, I guess, to feel sympathy for Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s characters at their inability to connect with their environment and lives.
I have some precious memories of interactions with locals, but I have realised what sticks in my mind are the quiet, isolated places of serenity and solitude. The empty city, the ghost town, the hiss of wind across the plains unspoiled by the voice of others. A meditative temple, beautiful landscapes unsullied by the chatter of humanity. The hiss of a wind through a tea house. Dreamy and decaying places, nightscapes of neon but nobody else. Airports late at night, old factories, universities of work behind closed walls. Cruising high in the air an anonymous passenger unattached to the world below. An empty restaurant. The lonely hotel. Places where stories exist as unsaid potentials, where the mind can fill in its own tales uninterrupted.
Occasionally, even in a crowd you can be alone. I love that as a western visitor to Japan you are outside of their culture and there is no expectation to interact with it beyond politeness. In so many other countries a tourist is a walking source of income and you cannot dream. At the end of the day I like to close the door of my hotel room and shut out the people outside. A hostel is an impossibility.
So, sitting in an office, a noisy train, a busy city where the hum of people constantly fills the air it is no wonder I so often dream of escape.