Trusting Japanese Crosswinds


My trip to Japan was a total blast, no big surprise there.

My friend Benjamin (a Tokyo 'insider', according to CondeNast Traveler) showed us a fabulous time… complete with hip boutiques, design events, tasty takoyaki (fried octopus balls with mayonnaise… mmm!) and the tiniest two-story kitsch bar in the entire world. (I had to remove my backpack to squeeze up the ladder-like stairs.) Only in Japan would I find myself being asked to pose for a magazine's cameras at some trendy art opening within hours of my arrival.

What did surprise me, however, was the sheer trouble I had in actually relaxing on the vacation I worked so hard to arrange for myself. Granted, Tokyo isn't the world's most relaxing destination; it's like turning the volume up on NYC, but with less noise and more lights and crazier buildings. Still, in the self-reflective zone of 'time away', I found myself squarely facing off with a potentially villainous piece of my personality—Mr. Control Freak. And he refused to keep his damn mouth shut.

Disclosure time: My natal Moon in Capricorn doesn't like when I'm not in control (or under the illusion of it)… even as I repeatedly tell myself, 'Let it all go. You're on vacation.' When there's no place you have to be a certain time (and therefore no need to rush), it shouldn't matter if you miss a train and grab the next one fifteen minutes later. And when you're a stranger in a strange land, wandering your way into eye-opening foreign experiences, there's really nothing you can do that's wrong. The whole thing is the adventure, right?

Well, tell that to Mr. Control Freak, who'd rather (for instance) spend his sightseeing hours secretly obsessing over the subway card in his wallet… which, due to some flummoxing train-transfer snafu, had been left with a technical glitch that needed to be resolved by a real-life station employee (rather than the countless machines most train riders use for ticketing).

Though I had about $10 left on the card, I actually considered ditching it altogether and purchasing another one, rather than trying to awkwardly explain to a Japanese civil servant why my card was messed up. But what a stupid waste of money that would be! I'm embarrassed at how much internal energy I expended on this anticipatory dread, before finally needling Benjamin, who's fluent in Japanese, into handling it for me. All this over a subway card.

Another time, I almost lost it over an error I made in reading the guidebook map. I'd been to Tokyo once before, unlike my travel companion, so I of course was hogging the responsibility of navigating us around. But because I mistook the #3 orange triangle (indicating a nightclub) for the #3 pink square (sightseeing attraction), we couldn't find the museum we were looking for. Luckily, in the midst of the swarming Shinjuku crowds, a kind Japanese gentleman stopped and offered his assistance.

Within seconds of glancing at the map, the man pointed out our destination—and I realized the mistake I'd made. I tried to thank him while politely letting him know I could find it from there, but he eagerly insisted on walking us all the way to the museum (about 10 minutes from where we were), then launched into friendly conversation about his trip across the US back in the '70s (and his opinion of President Bush). My companion took obvious delight in this spontaneous exchange, while I hung back, quietly flagellating myself for not having been able to locate the museum on my own… and for how stupid I was for reading the map wrong.

I kept sheepishly trying to interject that I now knew where we were and he didn't need to take us all the way there, but he clearly wanted to take us all the way there. And my companion seemed to be getting a kick out of the whole encounter. So here I was, missing out on the opportunity to connect with a kind local who'd gone out of his way to help a couple lost gaijin (like gringo in Japanese)… because I wouldn't let myself stop feeling stupid.

The best way to travel is to go with the flow… a behavior that flies in the face of everything Capricorn Moons are about. The Moon is especially on edge in Capricorn, the sign of its detriment, and isn't particularly welcoming to unplanned detours and unsolicited assistance. It likes to feel in charge, rather than prone to tide changes. And it absolutely hates to feel stupid. (Or so I've heard. Ahem.)

My personal self-inflicted purgatory (it wasn't nearly bad enough to be a 'hell') was only worsened by the fact of traveling with a companion… if only because he was so cheerful and accommodating and satisfied to do whatever. My Capricorn Moon is placed in my natal 7th house, which points directly at my tendency to emotionally grab for the 'authority figure' role in relationships—much to the chagrin of those in relationship with me, who usually don't ask for (or want) me to behave as such.

If I'd been alone, I might've blindly acceded to Mr. Control Freak with hardly a notice. In typical Capricorn fashion, I'd have repeated inside, 'I'm just fine taking care of myself.' (And I certainly wouldn't have allowed a stranger to inconvenience himself on my account, unless I absolutely had to.) But with someone else around, my neurotic need to have it all together—to know my way around a strange city, to master the subway system, to memorize the currency exchange rate, to always understand ahead of time just what I'd need to get what I wanted without help—rose to the glaring surface. I felt so seen in my dysfunction. Mercifully, my companion cherished me anyway.

In the end, my favorite part of the trip was an overnight excursion out of Tokyo, to the mountain resort of Hakone, without our Japanese-speaking 'insider' along… and with absolutely no knowledge of the area. Ahead of time, I quelled my budding anxiety by following my own horoscope's counsel, which directed me to 'trust the crosswinds'—a most un-Capricorn-Moon piece of advice. I did just that (not without having to perpetually remind myself to do it), and it worked like a charm.

photos by Ricky Johnson