If it wasn't for Reo Fukumoto's summer outfit, it would have been hard to remember whether this photo was taken on March 4th or on June 1st. Our 90 day trip through Japan both started and ended at Reo's doorstep.
After a relatively smooth but tiring flight to Narita and a couple of trains that took us into the greater Tokyo area, Ane and I found ourselves in the back of a cab at Nishi-Arai station in Adachi. We showed the cab driver the address that Reo had written down and we were off. Dazed from the travels we stared out of the window trying to take in the surroundings, the silence only broken to agree that we would have gotten hopelessly lost if we'd gone by foot to Reo's house.
While the distance between us and the station grew, it became increasingly difficult to not freak out, out loud, at the fact that I did not understand the address Reo had sent us, nor have a clue where we were headed. Gesturing to the street in front of him the driver slowed down the taxi to a halt and asked us if this was our street. Following his hand I looked out onto a street that I had never seen before and told him that this was our street. During me paying the driver my brain worked overtime trying to come up with solutions on how to identify Reo's house.
Right after the cab driver had left us standing in the street and right before the unknown would have become too heavy for my confused mind, a familiar voice called out to us. A voice that I had come to recognise over many trips that Reo and I have done together.
Coming up with what to write for Reo's portrait was more difficult than I expected. Whenever I started thinking about what to chose as his story my imagination had me reliving the countless adventures Reo, Ane and I shared during our trip. I'd find myself back in his home in Tokyo, playing cards with his friends. I'd be seated in Saitama stadium again rooting for Urawa Red Diamonds during my first live soccer match. We'd be screaming our lungs out in a karaoke room. I'd find myself explaining the rules of Rummikub to Reo's parents. Or any of the other adventures in Tokyo or Okinawa. While all of these memories filled my heart with joy, the vivid memories over flooded my mind with words and none made it out on the paper.
Thinking back to the start and end of our trip, I realised the one thing that all of our adventures had in common is Reo's talent to open a door, say hello to the unknown and step right into the room. The first day we jumped into a tiny restaurant that Reo had not been before but he thought looked interesting. After entering we were greeted by the old owner and chef who had a smile that was as warm as his words were many, his infectious laughter soon had us laughing along. During a brief pause we asked Reo to translate what was said and with a big smile he told us that he didn't fully know as he couldn't understand the chef but that he did love his interesting character.
Reflecting on what inspires me in Reo brings me back to this talent. While bravely opening doors is extremely handy when going out for food or drinks, it is even more inspiring when applied to other aspects of life. When I first met Reo he was on his year long around the world trip. After that he jumped into the unknown with his work, leaving his job in Tokyo behind to start as a photography assistant for Yusuke Murata on Okinawa. This time Reo had taken another plunge and moved back to start his own photography career in Tokyo. Soon he found himself shooting for the Urawa Red Diamonds, his favourite football club, and currently he is working on travel projects for different embassies.
Already knowing the answer to my question I still asked how Reo managed to get all these jobs. His ability to simply jump into the unknown by grabbing onto even the littlest hint of adventure, combined with his warm heart and talent will surely continue to open many doors for him. This is something that I deeply respect in Reo and serves as a constant reminder to take more chances and not give into the fear of the unknown.
To end this story with a story, I will tell you that from our final night together I learned that you don't always need to travel far for adventure. Reo stopped us in front of a small place with closed curtains with a flashing sign, that even after our 90 days in Japan still told us nothing more than how beautiful the script was. He told us that he had no real idea of what the place was but said we should try it. By following his instincts we ended up being the first foreigners, let alone young people, to ever set foot in the old izakaya. What followed was an unforgettable evening with the owner, two other guests, Reo and Ane.
One that could have easily not happened would we not have jumped into the unknown.