I won a free trip to Japan!…Now what?

Ruth Bleakley the book artist wins a free trip to Japan

“NIPPON NI IKITAI!!” – if you missed part 1, I highly recommend you start from the beginning of this crazy story: Re: Japanese media inquiry, Possible Filming Request

I won the trip to Japan!
…now what?

I emailed the casting coordinator, Naomichi – he said to “wait patiently, and don’t talk about the trip on social media”. I knew my dates were Sept 16-24, but as the date drew closer, I was still missing some information…including things like:

1) what flight I was on
2) where I was flying to
3) who I was meeting at the airport
4) where I was going in Japan
5) airline tickets

When my friends and family questioned me with increasing concern about these somewhat important details, my reply was, “Well, I’ve cleared my schedule on that week – but it’s not like I’ve given these folks any money or anything – so either they’ll send me my tickets, or else I’ll just stay home and take a week off – I get a vacation either way!”

Two days before my trip, I received my flight confirmation number – I checked in online and printed my boarding passes – I was heading to Tokyo!

Now, just in case anyone reading this thinks that I just casually waltzed onto a plane headed for Japan like “no big deal!”, let me set the record straight:


Here are a couple of gifs my friends sent to bolster my confidence when I said I didn’t know what type of reality show I was going to be on in Japan:



“Good thing you’re taking karate” said Ellen. Ellen and I share a talent of coming up with the most elaborate mental worst case scenarios possible – and now she’d added a whole other level. Thanks Ellen.

So needless to say while I kept it together pretty well right up until the night before my flight, I was an absolute wreck that night, didn’t sleep and even TOTALLY BARFED from nerves! “Uuugggggh!” I groaned to Ryan, “why am I so anxious right now?” “Well, probably because tomorrow you’re flying all by yourself halfway around the world to a country you’ve never been to, where you don’t speak the language, and where they’re going to film a reality TV show…starring you!”

I may have laughed or cried, or both. Thanks husband!

Anyway I did what any good psych major would do, and ARMED MYSELF WITH SELF-HELP BOOKS TO READ ON THE PLANE:

Two books to give you heart and bolster your courage

These two books, in all seriousness, are excellent tools for dealing with anxiety: Amy Cuddy, the author of Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges is better known for giving the TED talk that’s been viewed 37 MILLION times called Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are - for example, standing like Wonder Woman actually boosts confidence in a measurable manner! (So does owning a lasso of truth)

The Worry Trick: How your Brain Tricks You into Expecting the Worst and What You Can Do About It by David A. Carbonell is one I thankfully read earlier this year, and I think using tools from that book helped me diminish 90% of my anxiety leading up to the trip, as well as kept me even keel throughout. He suggests tackling worry using action rather than overthinking – like keeping worry appointments (more details on his site, but I highly recommend the book).

As I read these two books on the plane I felt my nervousness diminish, at least to a non-vomit-inducing level. I love flying, and this was the longest flight I’d ever been on – from Detroit to Tokyo, nonstop for 12 hours and 30 minutes! Since most of my hobbies involve sitting, and I had my books and a seat back in-flight entertainment system with like 1000 movies (thanks Delta!) I was pretty content! Pro Tip: get yourself some saline nasal spray and use it constantly, it’ll keep your nose from painfully drying out.

However, as we drew closer to the Tokyo airport, a question still loomed – who is meeting me at the airport?

The true story of one book artist's trip to Japan to be on a reality TV show - flight

I looked out the window as we approached Tokyo airport, the ground looked like a patchwork of green fields (I later found out they were rice fields) and the coastline reminded me of home with all the beaches. We disembarked from the plane, and my first impressions of Japan included:

1. everyone here is short, like me (I’m 5’4″)
2. everyone has black hair (not half purple…)

Other than that, it looked like any other major airport, albeit the signs were half Japanese and half English. I followed the flow of passengers toward the baggage collection area, looking around for anyone holding a sign with my name on it…nope!
I headed toward Customs – if you’ve never traveled internationally, Customs is where a stern-faced person asks you random questions to determine whether you’re secretly smuggling drugs or attempting to illegally emigrate. A stone-faced Japanese man asked me “how long is your stay?” “one week” “where are you going in Japan?” (I have no idea…) “Tokyo” “What will you be doing on your visit?” “sightseeing…buying souvenirs” (probably true)
I’m pretty sure they’re mostly looking for my body language to reveal I had a suitcase stuffed with endangered animals or more than $10,000 of cash, so I didn’t feel the need to go into much detail. They just want to stamp your passport, not hear your life story.
“Thank you, please enjoy your trip to Japan”
“Thank you!”
I guess I’ll just walk the same way everyone is walking…and now I’m outside!

…all by myself

…in Japan!

Lining the walkway from the airport was a wall of people, and I slowly scanned the handheld signs that are mostly written in Japanese, feeling like someone who has stopped on the Red Carpet and is closely scrutinizing the paparazzi. I don’t see my name…hmmm, well what do I do now? I don’t even have a phone that works…


All of a sudden I hear my name, and I turn, and there at the far end of the line is a whole GROUP of people waving and shouting my name! A small handheld sign says “WELCOME RUTH BLEAKLEY”… and as I approach, talk about Red Carpet – I notice there are already TWO cameras pointed at me!

“Welcome to Japan Ruth San! How was your trip?! Are you excited to be here?” Aware there is a camera a foot away recording me, I muster all the enthusiasm possible after a sleepless night, 16 hours of travel (I also had to fly from Florida to Detroit first…) and a rollercoaster of emotion – “I am SO happy to be here! Thank you!”

And there on the spot they do an interview! “Where do you want to go in Japan? What do you want to see? are you hoping to visit a certain person?” I did the best I could on those, honestly it was all a blur. Good thing I stopped to fix my hair and brush my teeth inside the airport!

I was introduced to the whole film crew – Marie, Susan, Ken, Tet, Yuka and Tomoe (poor Tomoe, I couldn’t understand or say her name for like 3 days…it’s “Tomo-eh” like Canadian style).

Did you catch all those names? No? Me either. But I tried hard to remember Susan’s name at least, since she was translating for me.

We hopped into a van and set off for Tokyo! Through the translator, the director told me “this van ride will take about an hour, so feel free to look out the window, or sleep – we’ll just have a camera filming you to capture your reaction of Japan”. Ok, so no sleep then!

The true story of one book artist's trip to Japan to be on a reality TV show - film crew

I snapped this photo so that I could send it back to Ryan to show how friendly my Japanese kidnappers appeared to be. I mean…film crew…

I remarked to Susan that I was very excited for this trip, but that some of my friends thought I was downright crazy for volunteering to go on a trip I knew nothing about, or even to travel internationally by myself. “But why?” she asked, and I said “Well, you know, like the movie ‘Taken’.”

“I’ve never heard of that movie – What’s it about?”

“Um, it’s about a young woman from America….” (Susan starts translating my story to everyone in the van)
“and she goes on an international trip…and then she’s kidnapped…” (Susan, still translating as the other rider’s faces grow concerned) “…at the airport?”

Haha, if I hadn’t been so tired I may have reviewed the way that would sound to a van full of foreign strangers who just picked me up from the airport, but like a runaway train I just kept going with it:
“and the kidnappers sell her into slavery, but then her dad is like, an ex CIA agent, and then he comes after her and kills all the kidnappers”

(Susan finishes translating and everyone now just has full on frowns)

Your friends told you to watch this move? I’ve never heard of that…”

All of a sudden, Ken from the back of the bus speaks up and everyone starts laughing – “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh With Liam Neeson! Yes! We’ve seen that movie – it’s just called something different in Japanese – ha ha ha ha – have you seen Taken 2 and Taken 3?”

The director Marie, while laughing, says “Don’t worry! We are not kidnappers! We are not part of the syndicate!”


“But then, would we tell you if we were?”


To be continued…


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