Why you should always go back: Returning to your favourite destination

"Let's never come here again," Scarlett Johansson says to Bill Murray, "because it would never be as much fun."

You know, immediately, exactly what she means. How could you ever recreate that moment in time? How could you experience the joy of discovery and the joy of the person you're discovering it with all over again? You couldn't. 

This is from the movie Lost in Translation, as the pair's characters reminisce about their time in Tokyo, and think about being forced to leave and part ways. "Let's never come here again," Johansson says.

Anyone who's travelled could understand that notion. There's so much danger in going back to places you've loved, in altering the fond memories, in travelling with someone new and seeing if it all works out as well as it did the first time. 

Has the place changed? Have you changed? Have those serendipitous circumstances that all fell into place to make everything so perfect the first time failed to materialise on the next visit? Has the shiny veneer of all that is new and exciting rubbed off to reveal a place that's actually fairly dull?

That's why Scarlett Johansson's character didn't want to go back to Tokyo. Because it would never be as much fun. 

In general, I agree with the sentiment. You're setting yourself up for disappointment if you try to recreate past travel experiences. It's better to just go somewhere else, try somewhere new, and hope to make memories that are even better that those first ones.

There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule. And this is where Johansson's character was wrong – because she was in one of those exceptions.

There are cities where the "don't go back" rule doesn't apply. There's Berlin, which never gets old or boring. There's Rome. There's Buenos Aires. And then there's Tokyo. In fact most of all, there's Tokyo.

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This is a city that you can return to over and over again, with different people, in different circumstances, and still have an experience that's just as amazing, just as surprising, just as fulfilling. You can still experience that joy of discovery, that disorientation that comes from being somewhere so foreign and new no matter how many times you've been, or how many things you've seen.

Tokyo is a city, a country, a continent and a world unto itself. It's an endless cornucopia of buildings and people, a universe of neighbourhoods and communities. 

I've been to Tokyo five times now, and I still have no idea how it all works. Five visits and I'm still not entirely sure which train line I'm supposed to be on to get where I'm going; five visits and I'm still baffled by the system of street addresses; five visits and I still struggle to order a meal or ask for directions.

I have haunts that I like going back to, places like Uoshin restaurant in Ebisu, and Bar Martha nearby; the record stores of Shibuya and Shinjuku; the bars in Golden Gai – but there's still so much left to discover.  

Each time I've been to Tokyo with different people for different reasons and had the time of my life. I've done karaoke in a tiny bar in Roppongi. I've drunk a million glasses of sake in a bar in Asakusa. I've been weirded out by a "maid café" in Akihabara. I've seen a band playing "visual kei" – a bizarre Japanese glam-punk musical genre – at a live house in Shimokitazawa. I've eaten the world's best yakitori in Yoyogi Uehara. I've hit baseballs in Shinjuku. I've wandered around "love hotel hill" in Shibuya.

I've done all of those things, and still I haven't had anywhere near enough of Tokyo. There's still so much more to discover. I could spend a month in just Ebisu, or Koenji, or Shibuya, or Asakusa, and still not have visited every shop and bar and restaurant in that particular area that looks fun or interesting.

But that's not even the main reason why it's OK to keep going back to this megalopolis time and time again. The main attraction, the thing I really love about Tokyo, is that it never stops feeling foreign or different. It's so hard to just get used to this never-ending sprawl of lights and chimes and faces and features. To me, it will never feel normal. 

Every visit is the same experience of being in a place for the first time. I have to try to figure it out all over again. There are surprises. There are shocks. It's a thrill. 

And each time I promise myself that I'll go there again – because it will always be just as much fun.

b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

See also: 20 things that will shock first-time visitors to Japan

See also: Four reasons why Tokyo is the world's best city

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