These Feet Are Made For Walking

Around the end of my freshmen year of high school I found myself becoming friends with a group that initially confused me. I would see this group of guys walking around our school campus, not sitting by the pool or in the cafeteria, but walking constantly- at lunchtime, afterschool, occasionally even before class in the morning. It turned out that I had French class with two of them and began to chat with them at lunch and after school. Eventually, I joined this odd group of walkers, talking and hanging out without realising I was walking. It felt like the most natural thing in the world. There were no awkward silences staring over a cafeteria table, there was just a seamless flow of conversation that would go from the most bizarre physics questions to inside jokes, to solving our own problems and seeking advice from one another.

The end of my sophomore year meant leaving this school in India and returning back home to London. Yet, despite the sudden change, the enjoyment I got from walking didn’t wane. I found myself walking around London in order to rediscover my childhood city, albeit as a teenager. I got to absorb centuries of history, feel a sense of exploration and discovery as I stumbled upon the famous “blue plaques” on houses that show where famous people have lived in the city. It was like taking an accidental historical walking tour every time!

As I moved to university the walking didn’t stop. It was a kind of meditation to walk and notice the changes with seasons, to leave your daily environment and see something new. During exams and deadlines a quick walk was the perfect break to clear my head and feel refreshed before heading back to the library. I took an unprecedented number of walks at times when I had a lot to mull over, especially when I was going through the year abroad process!

Image: Odaiba Beachfront, Tokyo (Credits: Anoushka Raval)

Predictably, as an exchange student in Tokyo, the walking has continued! In my first week here I saw the view of Tokyo from the Skytree and wondered where the city stopped. Tokyo seemed endless and made London look like a small town in comparison. However, after exploring the Waseda area and smaller offshoots around the university I began to branch out, by foot of course. Walking around without any particular end destination in mind is a pleasure when in a new city. As you stumble over an unexpected station, getting a better sense of your direction comes naturally. While the metro is of course useful for very long distances, there is a strange disoriented feeling that comes from popping back up to ground level in a completely new area of town with no idea where you are.

I also decided not to get a sim card on my year here so I have the added adventure of not being able to solve all my directional mishaps with Google Maps. While this has resulted in getting quite dramatically lost or turning up rather late to events a couple of times, my sense of direction has improved dramatically. This in turn has resulted in a greater confidence when travelling around Japan and turning up in new cities over the country.

While a lot of these practical experiences have served me well and are ones that I will likely continue to gain from in the future, the exploration and orientation factors are not the only things to gain from walking. Taking a stroll with a friend, whether you know them well or not a lot seems to bring down divisions. It’s easier to be frank and honest, to discuss all manner of topics and talk about whatever pops up as you’re walking. The wonderful thing is you can just keep walking until your question is answered, the idea you were playing with has taken shape, the drama seems less important, and the problem you were struggling with has been put into perspective, and oftentimes, a solution has been thought up.