Essay #16: Shoes
So around the time this newsletter reaches you, I expect to have returned to Japan after ending a one-month trip alone.
All by myself, for an entire month, traveling by rail, picking whatever destinations I feel like visiting…. Since this is my first such trip, to be honest, it is filled with questions I can’t answer unless I go. If I were to start counting the things I feel uneasy over I’d never finish, but even if I laid out a detailed plan beforehand, I have no expectation that things would go that way. Thinking won’t help, so for now I suppose I’ll start with an outline. And so being the “spur-of-the-moment backpacker” I am I picked up a bag that both works as a backpack and has wheels attached so I can pull it behind me as I walk.
The thing that worried me the most about starting with an outline was my shoes.
I imagine I’ll end up walking every day, and likely more than twice as much as I do when in Japan. And this is Europe. The stone pavement will be tiring. And there are hills everywhere. I have memories from when I was young of our teacher telling us over and over to wear “comfortable shoes!” on field trips. But the shoes I feel comfortable in all have high heels. The sneakers I have are all the semi-fashionable type, so they’re either too big or flat and cushion-less. It looks like I have to buy a new pair before I leave.
But for some reason I hesitate to enter that particular brand of mega-stores in and around Shibuya which sell every type of sneaker under the sun. It seems to me as though they have the sort of atmosphere that admits only those who know the ins and outs of limited editions, new releases, vintage styles, and other sneaker fashions.
With this preconception in my mind as I stepped with some trepidation into one such store, I found the vastness of the selection dizzying. Locating my vital traveling companion in this haystack of shoes is a too high a bar for a first-timer to clear. Thinking I should get the opinion of an expert, I stopped a passing clerk and mentioned I wanted to “find some shoes that first of all won’t leave me tired after several hours of walking.”
From there, thanks to the clerk’s kind and accurate advice, I was able to find my companion quite smoothly, and today I put them on and tested walking around town for the first time. Less than a week is left before I depart, but I thought I should break them in at least a little.
Still, the professionalism of that clerk was something else. I could have fallen in love with the way he went about his work. You have to admit that when someone performs his job with the utmost care it shows right away. When I mentioned I didn’t know much about sneakers, he explained all kinds of things simply and clearly. I walked the way back home with new shoes in my hands and a warm feeling in my heart. In the end I feel like a large part of why I bought these shoes was strongly influenced by how that person assisted me. That’s how it always is. It all comes down to People.
On a trip, you meet many kinds of people. Sadly, not every meeting is a good one. Some discriminate against you just for being Japanese. Some try to deceive travelers unaccustomed to the area. And there are times when differences in language and culture keep you from communicating freely.
In these sorts of times, I become discouraged over every last thing. All despite knowing in my head that these things happen, and that they’re not worth worrying over.
But in these times, there to rescue you are again people. Years ago, walking around London alone for the first time, I ran into language barriers over and over, and I began to fear any interaction with people. That didn’t keep me from feeling hungry, and so I bought some juice and bread at a local store where I could avoid talking with anyone as much as possible, but when I sat down to eat I realized the straw that came with the juice box had fallen off after I left the store. I can’t drink it like this, but explaining things is going to be a hassle, I thought, but in spite of my worries I went back to the store again, and when I told the clerk about the missing straw, she replied with the kindest of words. “I’m so sorry about that! Let me get a new one for you! First time in London? Enjoying it?” In that moment my heart, which had lost nearly all its warmth, gently thawed, and I was able to set out once more with a spring in my step.
That’s why I thought that if I’m wearing these shoes which I found in such a pleasant way, even supposing I should go through something on this trip that leaves me feeling blue and downcast, the moment my gaze falls on these shoes I may just cheer up again.
And not only while traveling; on average days too, the same is always true. I cannot live without interacting with people, and this has sides both good and bad. But however much I am blessed with Things, they rarely give me a happiness that surpasses the times when I am blessed with People. So I have no intent to run away from building relationships with people as I live my life.
“There are times when I feel down, but I’m well.”—whenever I recall this line from “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, one of my favorite movies, I reflect on how life is the same way.
Now then, I’ll share the report from my travels in the next issue.