I\u2019ve always been envious of those who are certain about their direction in life. I\u2019ve tinkered with various professional trades and outside of a general love of writing I\u2019ve always hedged my bets, wary of pursuing any one thing too seriously, for risk of spreading myself too thin and giving up on the others. Sometimes it\u2019s novel writing and others it\u2019s journalism or script writing and there\u2019s almost always a lot of marketing to pay the bills. A colleague once described it to me as having a bunch of balloons; popping one meant you had to let go of the rest. I know lots of people can succeed and take enjoyment from multiple pursuits at once. I wish I was one of them, a Donald Glover or a Nick Cave, able to try on different hats depending on my mood and pull them all off. I think my attention span and focus is just too fleeting to zone in on more than one passion at any time.\r\n\r\nSo it was entirely fitting that on my thirtieth birthday - a milestone I\u2019d approached with more than a little trepidation and anxiety, questioning my paths forward and backward - my fianc\u00e9e surprised me by gifting me two tickets to Tokyo, with the news we were headed there the next day.\r\n\r\nAs long as I can remember I\u2019d wanted to go to Japan. It seemed to capture everything that I want in life, which is everything that is different and rare and unique.\r\n\r\nAnd in the same way I\u2019d been dying to see Cuba because of Hemingway, and still yearn for the sounds of New Orleans because of the thrillers of James Lee Burke, Japan was at the very top of my bucket list due to the way that Anthony Bourdain had always spoken about it. The guy who\u2019d seen everything and been everywhere always talked about Tokyo with a particularly naughty sparkle in his eye, like it was a secret only he and a few other Westerners were in on, or a missing key that would open new horizons and forever shift your perspective on the world as you know it.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_166345" align="alignnone" width="900"] An alley in Shinjiku.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nIt did all of that, and a hell of a lot more. And multiple times throughout our trip, as we eyed off an exotic restaurant or a comically tiny bar, the kind where locals were content to lock shoulders and waste away their nights with song and drink and banter, we would look at each other and decide that it was the right choice for us. Because it was what Bourdain was on about. It was strange and uncomfortable and unsettling and something that was completely different to anything we\u2019d experienced before.\r\n\r\nWhich made it even weirder when - at the precise moment we were headed home, as the stewards locked the doors of our plane and told us to shut off our electronics - I snuck one last look at Facebook and saw CNN post that Bourdain had just taken his own life.\r\n\r\nAnd then we took off and I had 9 hours to deal with a sensory hangover from the delight and difficulties of nine days in Japan and to think about what Anthony Bourdain\u2019s death meant to me.\r\n---\r\nThe little seafood ramen place we\u2019ve been promised is the best in Tokyo is nowhere to be found. We\u2019re standing right at the point Google Maps says it should be and yet all we can see is a skinny six-floor electronics shop, an arcade and slot machine centre lit up like Christmas morning, a sushi joint we can smell from the street, and two other ramen restaurants, neither of which come recommended.\r\n\r\n(And before you get on your high horse about how ramen can\u2019t be seafood you can fuck right off. It\u2019s hard enough traveling through the kobe-licious realms of Japan with a pescatarian, and our mission to find and savour this seafood dish of mythical status - whispered to us across the front desk of our hotel by the shy young girl at reception, like it was a secret only bestowed to worthy travellers - was something we were taking very seriously.)\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_166354" align="alignnone" width="900"] Outside the Robot Restaurant, Shinjiku.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nEventually we start circling the streets, further and further from the point it\u2019s supposed to be. Through the naughty neon circus that is the red-light Golden Gai district, through alleyways packed with bars and restaurants so small you could eat the yakitori right off your neighbour\u2019s plate, past crowds of businessmen and tourists shouldering their way to and from the busy Shinjiku train station, until we realise we\u2019re back at the spot our ramen joint is supposed to be. And then, when we\u2019re just about to throw in the towel and gamble on the odorous sushi cafe, we spot two fish hand-painted on a door, the size of a beer coaster, and we head up eight flights of stairs, past toilets and storage cupboards and what look to be accountancy offices (there are calculators, anyway), and line up with twenty others on the fire escape, curling up the remaining few floors slowly, a shuffle at a time.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s a good sign. If our time in Japan has taught us anything, it\u2019s that locals will wait for the best, and anything without a line is either shit, a tourist spot or insanely expensive.\r\n\r\nWhen we finally sit down the seafood ramen is served promptly, with a firm rice cake, and it\u2019s salty and rich and delicious and everything we could have hoped for. We try to stretch it out but the broth doesn\u2019t last long and the crowds waiting at the door are eyeing our emptying bowls with rabid intensity, so we slurp down the last drops of ramen with a cold beer and slip them the bill, less than twenty bucks.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_166356" align="alignnone" width="900"] Our ramen joint.[\/caption]\r\n---\r\nI\u2019ve always thought that there are two types of trips to take. \r\n\r\nThe first is the kind where you dip your toes in scorched sand and read cheap spy thrillers and lather yourself in sunscreen, letting the hot sun burn away the trappings of your life back home, if only for a short spell. I\u2019ve done a lot of those holidays.\r\n\r\nThe other kind of vacation is the type where you never quite relax. Whether it\u2019s a language barrier you can\u2019t overcome or a cultural difference that\u2019s difficult to wrap your head around, you\u2019re never quite comfortable. It\u2019s a search for different, for something that jars your sense of self and makes you question your operating system. I\u2019ve done a few of them, too.\r\n\r\nBut nothing like Japan.\r\n\r\nMore than any place on earth, Japan is uncompromisingly unique. It\u2019s schizophrenic and full of bright lights and caught between the modern world and ancient traditions, brimming with subcultures and weird meats you\u2019d never even thought of nibbling on.\r\n\r\nAnd while any train or city street is packed with tourists wheeling their suitcases around, it\u2019s oddly anti-tourist, or at least apathetic to tourists. Do not expect to find English menus everywhere, or officials to point you in the right direction, or really anything to make your trip easier. It\u2019s refreshing and exhausting and inspiring simultaneously.\r\n\r\n\r\n---\r\nWe spend four days in Tokyo and immediately recognise that it\u2019s a city you could live in your whole life without uncovering half of its secrets. In cities like Paris or Rome that might mean the discovery of museums and landmarks and galleries, but in Tokyo it\u2019s restaurants and streets and parks. There are intellectual destinations that TripAdvisor will tell you to see, sure; but I wasn\u2019t prepared to waste my time on them.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_166365" align="alignnone" width="900"] Shinjuku Gyo-en Park.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nIn Shinjiku, where we spend most of our time, we wander the shining, pulsating streets, past adult stores (supposedly run by the Yakuza) and dime bars and electronics shops that also sell vintage Rolexes and the famous Robot Caf\u00e9 and premium beef restaurants and sushi trains. We find an afternoon of remarkable delight in a sprawling green park tucked in behind high concrete walls, and we sip at tall boys of Asahi in the hot Japanese sun as we look out over a stunning temple, manicured lawns and a foggy-green pond.\r\n\r\nIn Harajuku we wander up Takeshita Street, the cornerstone of youth culture, a place where young girls dress up in schoolgirl outfits and bubblegum pop makeup, where you can pay to sip a latte while thirty cats run around your feet, where vintage and colour and heavy metal and luxury weave together in a tapestry of iconic Japanese weirdness.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_166371" align="alignnone" width="900"] Prayers left by visitors at Meiji Jingu Shrine, Shibuya.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nIn bustling Shibuya we spend a few hours hustling our way through a maze of escalators and food courts and busy streets. It\u2019s a towering, air-conditioned mecca of retail bliss like nothing I\u2019ve ever experienced. We stop for a moment for the obligatory photo at Shibuya crossing \u2013 rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world \u2013 before finding ourselves out the front of a sushi restaurant we\u2019d been recommended, more by chance than designation. We\u2019re showed to our seats at a bench without a word and finger our orders on a touch-screen; it\u2019s delivered to our spot within a few moments via a three-level train track that runs through the whole venue. It\u2019s cheap and quick and impersonal and fucking delicious.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_166368" align="alignnone" width="900"] Tsukiji Fish Market.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nAt Tsukiji Fish Market we savour an early morning feast of fresh sashimi and scallops scorched with a blowtorch in their shell a hundred feet from the busiest seafood auction in the world, a marketplace where over 2,000 tonnes of seafood are moved each and every day.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_166366" align="alignnone" width="900"] Tsukiji Fish Market.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nAnd in Nakarno we go in search of the famous vintage watch scene I\u2019d followed for years, only to find the retailers purveying millions of dollars of antique timepieces from the likes of Patek Philippe and Omega and Audemars Piguet are not camped in marble-floored luxury malls, but are hidden away on the top floors of a decaying shoppig centre. Our luxury-lust satisfied, we find ourselves nursing frosty mugs of Sapporo and dipping freshly fried tempura degustations in sweet sauce.\r\n\r\nI don\u2019t pretend to know the best parts of Tokyo, or to have seen all of the best things to see, but I can say we saw a lot, and what we saw was beautiful. It\u2019s a place I immediately and instinctively knew I\u2019d be visiting for the rest of my life.\r\n---\r\n\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_166363" align="alignnone" width="900"] Arashiyama, or the Bamboo Forest, in Kyoto.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nSatisfied with our first stint in Tokyo we book our spot on a bullet train to Kyoto, a couple of hours away. After the initial thrill of being on a train that moves so fast and looks like a phallic eel we begin to doze off in comfort and watch the miles and miles of rice farms pass us by. Kyoto is stunning, make no mistake about it. But after a few day trips to temples and bamboo forests and monkey parks and towns full of deer (actually pretty cool; thousands of wild-ish deer stroll the streets of this town, believed to be messengers of the gods) I find myself longing for the chaos of Tokyo. I want sak\u00e9, and Kyoto is beer.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_166360" align="alignnone" width="900"] Iwatayama Monkey Park, Kyoto.[\/caption]\r\n---\r\nThere\u2019s a moment in every day of a holiday that I take great pleasure in. I\u2019ve been with my partner for seven or so years now and pretty much all of my holidays in that time have been with her. As you do, we\u2019ve come to understand each other\u2019s travel habits and likes and we\u2019ve worked ourselves into a bit of a groove that keeps us both happy. We head out in the morning and explore a particular area or areas, usually on foot, and then we return in the mid-afternoon, tired and sore and in need of a shower. And then she has a nap and I go in search of a local drinking experience before dinner. I take a book for company but more often than not it stays closed and I find friendship in the strangers around me and in the energy of the city. Occasionally I\u2019ll strike up a conversation but just as often nobody speaks English or they\u2019re not interested in making new friends. Sometimes it\u2019s awkward or lonely but there\u2019s always something authentic about it. And the fact that I do it alone means it\u2019s incorruptible and genuine and without any pretense of show.\r\n\r\nIn Kyoto it was a little craft beer and sak\u00e9 bar hidden behind a curtain, where locals would ease themselves into or out of dinner, and in Shinjiku it was an underground pub, where the bartenders seemed to enjoy pretending not to understand me and cigarette smoke hung like a curtain below the ceiling and crackling Nirvana filled the room.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_166355" align="alignnone" width="900"] A Tokyo sunset.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nOn our last night in Tokyo, though, I\u2019m content to spend it on our hotel rooftop bar. It\u2019s not a fancy place, but the view is pretty exceptional. From the fifteenth floor I\u2019m able to sip at a heavy-headed beer and look out at an egg-yolk sun dropping below the craziest goddamn city I\u2019ve ever stepped into.\r\n\r\nAnd as I savour it all, I am, as always in Japan, served by the staff expertly and politely and generously, even though there is no tipping culture. They look after me because they take pride in what they do and in their city and country.\r\n\r\nJapan is the surest haven of the specialist I\u2019ve ever encountered. The pursuit of excellence in one thing, whatever it is that gets you excited and instils passion and purpose, seems to be a way of life rooted in the Samurai culture. Whether that speciality is serving me drinks on a rooftop or sushi or ramen or blademaking or tailoring or kobe beef, or even a corporate discipline, it\u2019s a relentless and unobstructed commitment to one thing.\r\n---\r\n\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_166372" align="alignnone" width="900"] Sake barrels on display.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nI don\u2019t know what my one thing is.\r\n\r\nI looked to people like Anthony Bourdain as a representation of someone who\u2019d found their purpose. If anything, I thought he\u2019d found the precise success and direction I long for. But if he, with all of his memories and talent and his lust for life and adventure, wasn\u2019t content with the life he\u2019d chosen, what hope do the rest of us have?\r\n\r\nI don\u2019t know the answer. Maybe it\u2019s as horrific and simple as the lottery of mental illness. Or maybe the answers lie in the ambiguities and complexities of a place like Japan. Maybe we just have to look harder, and travel more, and learn more. Not obsessing over our one thing, but rather searching for the many things and people and ideas that ask questions, instead of answering them.