It’s 1998 and my family from Chicago are visiting. One of my cousins is obsessed with Pokemon, which is the current must-have toy in America, he is collecting cards and all sorts and at first, I think they are talking about Tamagochi’s which were a thing in the UK but I am quickly educated in the world of Pocket Monsters. That was the moment where everything changed. In 2000 I went to visit Chicago and came back with a Bulbasaur t-shirt, a Bulbasaur backpack and a red Pokemon t-shirt. I recorded the cartoon every Saturday and Sunday morning on ITV. I was totally too old for this but I just can’t get over this world. I play the games, I don’t collect cards but I have like 100 of them somehow. I love Pokemon but that starts to stem out when I find out about Toonami.

So late 90’s/early 00’s Cartoon Network had “Toonami” in the evenings. It was a bunch of Anime and from here I saw Tenchi Muyo, Gundam Wing, Sailor Moon. Nickelodeon had Cardcaptor Sakura and Digimon. I was buying all these giant phonebook sized manga publications that I would obsess over the art in, trying to recreate it myself. By 2001 I’d joined an anime forum (big up all the A4 crew) because I just didn’t know anyone near me who liked Anime as much as I did. This led to the making of some very awesome lifelong friends, and my love of Anime being really cemented. I learned a lot more from people on those forums, I started to watch a lot more online and honestly for someone who didn’t really care much about school and was stuck at home a lot because of Pakistani parents I was pretty happy in my little online bubble of Anime and friends who liked Anime.

I think what I loved about Anime was the ability to blend reality and fantasy so seamlessly. Most worlds aren’t that out of the ordinary but they have twists that just make them so interesting. You could totally imagine yourself living in Sailor Moon’s version of Tokyo, or in the FLCL universe. I loved how animation could push more boundaries than film at the time, you didn’t need the special effects to create effective demon monster things in Evangelion, they were just animated so well. Up until I joined A4 a lot of the anime I watched was aimed at kids but honestly most anime seems more adult orientated once you dive in. Animation as a serious mode of storytelling was just something I thought was fascinating, it gave you limitless possibilities in what you could create.

This trip to Japan was booked when I was depressed. Although I am happy to be back in the UK, it’s great to be around my family and friends again, it did feel like going backwards a little. I moved back in with my parents and Ilford seemed to be repressive. My biggest anxiety moving home was that I’d end up stuck again like I was 6 years ago. It took a while to adjust back into things, for a month or so I just wasn’t sleeping at all. My mind would just run over my worries again and again. So I woke up one morning and decided I had to take things into my own hands, hence the decision to book this trip. I knew if I continued my solo traveling while I was stuck in limbo in the UK I would still be working towards something and growing as a person. I am not the same person I was in 2015 when I left the UK, and I’m glad of it, but to continue to make gains on myself I need to push myself. This trip is pushing me to go somewhere I’ve always wanted to go but totally out of my comfort zone.

I am so excited. I think 16 year old me would have just run around weebing out in cities, 35 year old me will do that but also I want to see mountains and forests and every waterfall and eat everything ever. I booked a tour with a YouTuber who I think is super cool around Akihabara to check out gaming and anime stuff. I am going to at least one show and one all-day festival with a friend of a friend (Thank you, Dave Campbell, for introducing me to new people!). I am always super stoked to meet new people and make new friends. Also to see some awesome Japanese bands. There’s going to be a lot of hiking, a lot of eating and a lot of Bulbasaur merchandise. I keep joking that I will return with a suitcase of JUST Bulbasaur stuff. I am staying in a mix of hotels, Airbnb and Ryokans. I am even going to meet an old Anime-Forums friend for the first time, which sort of seems like a coming together of all things anime to me. In combination with my new job and actually driving in the UK, I am beginning to feel like this isn’t a step backward but just another path that has benefits, as well as pitfalls, and I can grow just as much from this as I would have done staying in Chicago.

I’ll be documenting my journey on my blog, hopefully daily but we’ll see. There will be pictures and ramblings from me that will be more of a diary but I am excited to push my creativity. There will also be videos of my Japan adventures on my YouTube channel SoloYolo. Video is such a new means of creative expression for me and I’m still getting the hang of filming and editing but I am pushing through and trying to create content I enjoy.

In between writing this post I have been planning a Bulbasaur cosplay for the MCM Expo in May because who says being in your mid-30s means you have to stop having fun? To quote the wisest Lower Elementary kid I ever knew “You’re never too old to do something, you can do anything when you’re old, you can only ever be too young.”