Yesterday I took a bath with a cherry blossom bath bomb.

It was a rainy day in Japan.

Photo: Sarah Menkedick

I work a mad Monday-Friday 7-7 schedule, between the commute and a lunch “hour” that inevitably turns into a photocopying extravaganza with bites of supermarket sushi thrown in. Don’t get me wrong—I’m enjoying the job, my colleagues are great, and I seem to constantly be throwing myself into situations in which I’m over-stimulated, over-caffinated, and operating on a massive adrenaline rush.

But that said, work only leaves me Saturday and Sunday to explore Japan, and those two days seem like a giant candy store of possibilities. Orchid garden? Comic book café? Train to the countryside?

Yesterday, the candy store was closed. It rained. Poured. A friend and I tried to go out exploring, but peering at driving rain through an umbrella with wet shoes and wetter pants didn’t turn out to be an illuminating experience. So I sat in my apartment virtually all afternoon, feeling guilty for being closed off in my little bubble on my one free day, while Japan went on being Japan outside.

And then I took a bath with a cherry blossom bath bomb. Sakura is the Japanese term for cherry blossoms. The water turned a satiny pink. I sunk into the deep bathtub, the sides going up past my chin, and thought about Japan, travel guilt, and details.

It’s obvious that the best way to get to know a place is to roam around, see things, talk to people, eat things, be out and about and, in a word—immersed. And it’s natural for travelers to feel a sort of guilt for not doing so, or for not doing enough or doing it in the right way.

Yet at the same time, so much of a place seeps into a traveler through osmosis, through the slightest details that jar one’s memory years down the line.

Photo: Sarah Menkedick

I thought about this in the bath. The shower in my Japanese apartment is softly lit and perfectly designed, closed off from the rest of the apartment by folding glass doors. The bathtub is deep, like traditional Japanese baths. The room fills up with steam as the bath is filling. That day, the steam mixed with the fragile scent of sakura petals.

Japan’s in my bathtub, I thought. Yes, I’d love to be able to walk around and roam into temples and yakitori bars, but Japan is here, too. In the details. In smells and bath bombs and the depth of the tub. In the view from my balcony and the smell that hits me when I open the door and step outside—the smell of trees, with industrial overtones and hints of Asian spices.

Photo: Sarah Menkedick

All of this is part of what attaches me to this place and teaches me about it. And it’s not so much about doing what I think I should be doing—chasing the shoulds and the pressure and the guilt—as it is about creating the mental space to see.

How do you do it, travelers? What are the details, unexpected or sought out, that have etched out places for you?

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