Another Blog post… another Tinder Match
I first connected with Kosta on Tinder, a few weeks back. He informed me that he had quit his job in Australia and was cycling across Asia for about six months. He would soon be taking the ferry from Nagasaki to Amakusa, so we decided to meet up when he arrived. It’s not often other foreigners come to this island, so I jumped at the opportunity to meet one.
Leading up to his arrival, we chatted here and there, but I tried to keep conversation to a minimum as I think it’s always better to save the getting-to-know-each other questions for time spent in person. Without knowing a whole lot him, I was so excited to meet him. This is an unusual sentiment for me when it comes to meeting strangers off Tinder, but I had a really good feeling about Kosta. I just knew we’d get along. And I was so curious to hear more about his journey.
After postponing his arrival in Amakusa serveral times due to bad weather, Friday rolled around and he informed me that he had finally made it. We planned to meet once I was off work, at the café near my house. He mentioned that while in Nagasaki he had run into two other cyclists, Julien and Antoine, a pair of French-Canadian cousins who were also journeying across Asia. I urged him to bring them along so I could meet them too.
I had been invited to a Christmas party that evening in Kumamoto City, and had planned on leaving about an hour after getting home from work, leaving myself just enough time to make some food to bring to the potluck. I was already a bit stressed about getting there on time and I didn’t really have much time to spend with these guys. In addition, I was pretty exhausted, as I hadn’t slept much the night before. Part of me wanted to call off the meeting for these reasons, but another part of me knew I should follow through. So I did.
They weren’t difficult to find, as any non-Japanese have the tendency to stick out like a sore thumb here in Amakusa. The instant I met them, I liked them..all three. That kind of instant connection is such a specific feeling, which doesn’t happen often. I’m sure anyone reading has felt it before. It’s as though you’ve known the person for months when you’ve only just met; conversation flows effortlessly and you feel open; you become your ‘best’ and most authentic self, and it leaves you wanting more, ergo, wanting to continue the interaction..which is exactly what we did.
They came back to my place where I offered them a shower and washing machine, which they graciously accepted. We wasted no time getting to know each other and sharing stories.These boys were great. They were kind and friendly and easy to talk to. They all shared a keen sense of fun & adventure that was plain to see, and they were full of wisdom. Plus they were hilarious. We spent the majority of our time together just laughing.
I have always admired people that can drop everything and travel the world on a shoestring, especially by bicycle. So there was no shortage of questions from my end. I’ve lived in both Australia and Quebec, too, so we also had that in common. And I took as many opportunities as I could to converse in French with my new Francophone friends.
It quickly became clear that we were all quite similar. We ‘vibrated on the same frequency’ if you will. We effortlessly became fast friends.
Having lost track of time, I looked down at my watch and realized I was already running late for the Christmas party, to which I had to drive 3 hours to get to. But I was enjoying the company of my new friends so much, that the party seemed less and less important in my mind. I felt this interaction had only just begun, and if I were to leave, they would bike off and that would be the end of it. While I felt guilty about it, since I had made a commitment, I decided not to go to the party. I announced my decision to the boys when Kosta suggested ‘Why don’t we all go to the party?’
I called the host, Sheridan, to ask if it was ok if I bring three strange boys to her place. She didn’t answer. I texted her and waited a few minutes, but to no avail. Eventually I thought ‘screw it, lets just get on the road.’ I figured if she wasn’t ok with it we’d simply forego the party and find somewhere else in the city to go. We didn’t know where we’d all sleep, either, but I wasn’t worried. I knew that the friendly, fun-loving cyclists would do nothing but add to the festivities of the party, and sleep arrangements would sort themselves out. So the boys left their bikes behind and we piled into my little car.
Since this was a Secret-Santa party, we stopped at the mall along the way to pick up presents. I allotted 15 minutes for each of us to run in, pick out a $10, unisex gift and meet back at my car. Antoine didn’t know what to buy and ended up opting for a pair of chopsticks, to which I jokingly commented ‘I’ll be pissed if I end up with your gift.’
We arrived at the party pretty late but with gifts and food in hand. Everyone including the host warmly welcomed the boys. They were indeed a wonderful addition to the party. We did our gift exchange, which was great fun. And of course, I randomly ended up getting Antoine’s chopsticks, which we found pretty funny. As it turns out, they’re gorgeous and so ‘me’. I’ve never loved an eating utensil so much in my life. It was clearly meant to be 😉
The evening continued and we all moved to ‘Sanctuary’ to dance. Good times were had by all. My friend Eleesa, from Australia, was kind enough to let me plus the three cyclists sleep on her floor- what a doll! We didn’t get to sleep until about 5:30 though… oh boy.
The next day, the five of us went for a stroll around the city in search of food. It was a gorgeous day and we were all just happy to be in each other’s company. We spent the majority of our day just chatting and laughing. It was so nice. I had an ALT Christmas party that evening back in Amakusa, so we eventually had to say bye to Eleesa and get back on the road.
We had the loveliest drive home that day. The scenery itself on a such a sunny day as that is enough to put anyone into a state of calm and appreciation. But it was further enhanced by beautiful music (much of it French.. which I loved) and conversation. The conversation was deep and honest, the very kind that drives my soul, and that I often find I’m lacking in my day-to-day life in Amakusa. We talked in depth about our families and lives in general. The boys knew that I too am interested in embarking on some long-term travel, similar to theirs, so they told me all about their trips, as well as their regular lives back home.
Kosta, an engineer, quit his job about a year ago to travel. He backpacked all over the world and then decided to hop on a bike and continue his journey on two wheels. He was not a cyclist by any means, but went for it anyways, learning the ropes as he went along. He had only planned on being away from work for a mere six-months but that deadline came and went. His current plans involve finishing his bike trip and setting back home to start in a different line of work that will make him much happier. What a freakin’ champ.
Antoine has a job back in Quebec that only requires he works in the summer months, so he has made great use of his winters for the past three years, cycling around the world. His cousin, Julien wasn’t happy in his job either and recently quit and decided to join his cousin on a limb.
Their lives absolutely intrigued me. What a beautiful way to live- seeing the world, moving from place to place via the power of their own endurance, sleeping in tents or with people they meet along the way, living without Wi-Fi or the weight of a lifetime of ‘stuff’, not being bound by a schedule. I’m sold!
We arrived home and it came time for me to go to the Christmas party. I was so tired from 2 nights without adequate sleep and feeling the affects from the whiskey the night before (which, I’ve since learned is full of gluten, as are other alcohols. I had no idea. No wonder my hangovers sometimes feel like death) so I didn’t exactly feel up for a party. But I arrived and was pleased to see that it was very relaxed. We sipped on tea and had delicious food and just chatted. I could handle it.
I later went back to rejoin the boys at my apartment and our lovely conversations continued. We took turns playing some of our most favorite songs, and the songs that we would want to be played at our funerals. My choice was Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You, which I’ve classified as my all-time-favorite song…pure poetry.
At a certain point, one of the boys stood up abruptly and left the room and went to the kitchen, shutting the door behind him. I didn’t think much of it, until twenty minutes had passed and he still hadn’t returned. I walked into my kitchen to find him there, crying. His father had died a year ago, he told me, and from a preventable cause. He was still working through it, and sometimes experienced breakdowns like the one he was in the midst of.
I had had no idea. Despite having talked about his family in depth not long before, he had left this part out. My heart ached for him. We had a long, tearful but beautiful hug.
It would have been natural for anyone in his position to have a breakdown at that time. We had been listening to music and speaking about our funerals, after having talked about our families in depth. He couldn’t hold it back any longer. And it didn’t finish with our hug. There was still more he had to work through. So the two of us rejoined the others and we listened as he told us about his father, and dealing with the loss. He explained that his cycling journey was like his therapy.
The three of us listened intently and offered wisdom and support when it was needed. It was an incredibly raw, human moment…one that I won’t soon forget.Losing a parent is not something I can ever understand at this point in my life, but I know it has the power to really alter someone and change the way they look at the world. It had clearly done this to him.
By the time we fell asleep it was nearly 3am and I awoke at around 6:30 the next morning, as I often find it difficult to sleep soundly when there are others in close corners. That was my third night in a row without nearly enough sleep, and I was really feeling the affects by that point.
Kosta and I awoke at around the same time and decided to meditate together, as he also meditates daily. After our session, we shared about our meditation practices and techniques/programs that we use. It felt really nice to talk about such things with someone. My meditation practice is usually something I keep to myself, as I’ve encountered my fair share of people who can be turned off or possibly intimidated upon telling them that I meditate. I’m aware that some people think it’s utter ‘bologna’ or a bunch of ‘new-age hippy stuff’ and that’s honestly totally fine. I don’t judge their ideas about it, especially since I was once someone who didn’t believe in it either. But I often keep it to myself upon meeting new people as to not turn anyone off. So it felt really nice to open up to Kosta on the matter. I was inspired to hear about his personal practice and how it’s changed him.
The French boys awoke and we decided to go for a little drive and find lunch somewhere. They had planned on leaving that afternoon so I wanted to show them a bit more of beautiful Amakusa before their departure.
We had a curry lunch, stopped at the free ‘foot hot spring’ and then a beautiful beach where we played ‘who-can-find-the-coolest-rock’ and the boys decided to go for a swim. Brave souls, they are!
They came to me after their swim and asked if they could stay one more night at my place. By this point, my body felt like garbage. I was so sleep deprived and my stomach was feeling off, plus, I had to get up for work the next morning. In their presence though, it was easy to ignore how ‘off’ I felt, as my spirits were so high and I was laughing so much. (Afterall, laughter is the best medicine) “Of course” I told them. I would have let them stay for another week if they had wanted to.
We spent the rest of day/night just hanging out and talking..what we seem to do best. Time slipped away and it was about 3am before we actually went to bed. Good golly. I knew my body was going to make me pay for this.
When it came time to actually fall asleep, I was so sleep deprived/feeling ill that I could not sleep. Have you ever been so tired that you can’t sleep? This has happened to me once before and both times were pretty scary. My brain was buzzing from having worked overtime for so long and shutting my eyes brought about hallucinations and dark, inexplicable images. I was even hearing things that I knew weren’t there. Plus, the added pressure of knowing I had to wake up in less than 4 hours for work made everything worse. Sleep just didn’t seem like it was a possibility…an anxiety attack seemed much more plausible.
I was feeling uncomfortable and bit panicky. I wanted to get up and turn on the light to write in my journal or read to take my mind off things, but the boys were sleeping on the floor all around me. I went to the bathroom to try and meditate but it was a no-go. I knew I needed support so I called my sister and one of my best friends from home, but no answer.
My dad and I hadn’t been speaking much in the past three weeks or so. Or I guess I should say, I hadn’t been speaking to him. I wasn’t giving the silent treatment or anything, but I wasn’t as open and warm towards him as I usually am and I had been declining his phone calls. I was holding onto some resentment towards him for something silly that had happened weeks ago.
But I swallowed by pride and called him that night and he answered, thank goodness. Holding onto such silly resentment towards someone I love seemed ludicrous after having heard about my friend’s tragic loss. We ended up having one of the most honest conversations that we’ve had in a long time. It felt really nice. I explained how I had been feeling and apologized for my behaviour. He forgave me and proceeded to help me through my sleep deprivation anxiety. Life would go on whether or not I fell asleep, and I would be fine. Plus, I didn’t have to fall asleep. Simply laying and resting was doing my body good, too. My dad has a way of always putting things into perspective.
After hanging up, I felt a weight off my shoulders and my mind felt more at ease. I watched some of my ‘security-blanket’ show Sex & the City on my phone and was finally able to fall asleep.
The boys left the next morning and I was sad to see them go. There was a big part of me that wanted to leave everything behind, jump on a bike and join them. I envy their absolute freedom.
My apartment felt particularly empty after they left. And despite my body being in terrible shape by that point (I ending up missing three days of work a stomach flu that came in full force after the boys departure) their visit left me feeling inspired and invigorated on a soul level.
Once they left and I was able to get some sleep, I reflected on the few days we spent together. I felt so close to them after our few days together, closer than many of the friends I’ve been living on this island with for months. Their visit really took an affect on me, and altered me as a person in a positive way. You meet people when you ‘need to’ meet them, and I reckon I needed to meet them. I also believe wholeheartedly that you are brought together with people with whom there is maximal learning opportunity. This was certainly the case here. I learned a lot from those three.
It’s become clear to me that my soul is longing for something. Well, a few things…adventure, connection, freedom, spontaneity, and self discovery being chief among them. I know, deep down, that these are the kinds of things that I need to REALLY put myself out of my comfort zone to find. And that means leaving everything and travelling.
I don’t mean taking a weekend trip to a nearby town to explore and be back by work on Monday. I mean traveling, for months on end, living out of a backpack and sleeping in tents…the whole 9 yards. Doing so would encompass so much of what I love about life.
I think i’ve known this for a while, but I’ve stored taking a trip of this nature in the back of my mind along with other things I want to do but figure I can’t, for various reasons.
These boys helped me to recognize that, despite what I tend to tell myself, I can do this. And I can do it by bicycle, if I so wish. They pushed me to stop dreaming about a trip of my own and actually taking the steps towards doing it.
For now, I shall remain in Japan and fulfill my contract for an additional year. However, travel plans are being put into place in my mind. This is a huge and potentially life altering breakthrough, so I am forever grateful to them.
That Friday night, I had to catch a flight out of Kumamoto City to Tokyo for my Winter holidays. The three cyclists happened to be there, too. They were staying at Eleesa’s apartment, actually. Not surprisingly, meeting them had a similar affect on Eleesa. She too shared a deep connection with them and learned a lot from their interaction.
Since I had the day off school, I decided to head up to the city early to spend one last day with them.We had another fantastic day of walking around, eating, laughing and chatting. It was lovely.
Christmas was two days away and I didn’t want them to wake up on Christmas morning with no gifts to open, so I put them each together a little gift bag, filled with things from the Japanese dollar store (which is seriously the bomb & way better than Canadian dollar stores.) While inexpensive, most of the things inside were thoughtfully chosen for each of them, based off what I had learned about them, and with a little note explaining each item. It was a small inexpensive gesture on my part, but meant the world to them. The thanks I received from them on Christmas morning was enough to make me tear up. Man, it feels good to give someone a gift they love, doesn’t it?
I will remain in touch with these three fantastic men, and plan to see them again sometime in the future. Whenever that’s ‘meant’ to happen.
Christmas in Tokyo
I arrived in Tokyo the evening of December 23rd and was picked up by Yosuke, my former exchange student. (I always refer to him as that, however, he didn’t actually live with our family. He was the boyfriend of Hitomi, who lived with us in 2005, so he was always at our house. They met and fell in love in Halifax and now they’re happily married in Tokyo.) He brought me back to his apartment to join Hitomi and their daughter Kaede (which translates to maple in English. Cute.) and we went to sleep.
The next morning day, we piled into the van and drove off to Yosuke’s parent’s house, who live just outside of Tokyo. Their daughter (Yosuke’s sister) and her Canadian husband also live with them. Not long after, my cousin Al (who also lives in Tokyo) joined us and we had a big Christmas Eve feast. And man-did we ever indulge. It was so delicious. We had a range and Japanese and Canadian dishes to choose from and no shortage of alcohol. They even pulled out the fancy Canadian ice wine for the occasion.
The next morning (Christmas day) I awoke and opened the lovely package that my parents had sent from Canada. It was full of little gifts for Hitomi, Yosuke, Al and I. My favorite part of the package was the painting of my dog, Hannah, that my sister Alex painted, entitled ‘It’s Whatever.’ She really nailed her indifferent nature.
Christmas day was spent chilling at Yosuke’s parents house. We sat around and chatted, ate and read our books..a very relaxing Christmas day with good vibes all around. It felt very similar to Christmas at home, actually. It was so lovely to be surrounded by friends and family that day.
Here in Japan, Christmas isn’t really celebrated. In fact, it’s a workday. Leading up to the 25th, it’s common to see Christmas decorations around, and some stores play Holiday tunes, but not much else. It’s just a regular day for most Japanese, unless you’re a young couple, for whom it’s treated as a romantic holiday or ‘date-night.’
There is one traditional Christmas food though… Kentucky Fried Chicken, of all things. Thanks to some clever marketing back in the 70’s, KFC has become a Nationwide ‘must’ for Japanese families on Christmas day. The grub must be ordered in advance, otherwise one can expect to wait in line for hours in order to get some. (According to my observations, waiting in line is not something Japanese people seem to mind doing.)
So for the month of December, I didn’t really even think about Christmas, nor did I feel the sometimes-intense pressure of the Christmas build up. This tends to begin shortly after Halloween back home. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the holidays as much as the next gal, but man- they can be tense. And to be honest, I didn’t miss the typical holiday season that I’ve become accustomed to one bit. I was able to skip all of the Christmas build-up and simply enjoy the 25th with family and friends in a much more relaxed way. Loved it.
That evening, we returned to the city where I went to dinner with my cousin Al and his cousin, Jackie, from the other side of his family. Jackie, her husband and their three kids stopped in to Tokyo for two nights on their way to Bali. We ended up spending the whole next day together as well, doing some of the more touristy ‘must-see’ things in Tokyo, since their time in Japan as so short.
We went to Meiji Shrine, walked the famous shopping street in Harajuku and went to Ooedo onsen. (A hot spring/theme park. Difficult to explain but probably one of the coolest places, ever.) They were a fantastic bunch and open to having me join their Tokyo vacay. Even though we weren’t technically related, spending time with them along with Al still felt like family time. I really enjoyed it.
I spent the next few days with my cousin Al, and stayed at his apartment. We explored Tokyo, did some shopping and just hung out. We even ventured out to a gluten free restaurant, where we met up with my friend Caitlin from Kumamoto, who was also spending Christmas in Tokyo. There, I got to eat some of the delicious Japanese yummies that I normally can’t eat like gyoza and ramen. And for dessert we had custard, chocolate marshmallow pizza. It was to-die-for. I was like a kid in a candy store.
One night, Al and I decided to hop on our bikes and go for a drink. We stopped at a little ‘hole-in-the-wall’ Irish Pub and were pleasantly surprised to find that friends of his would be performing that night. A Japanese duo with a phenomenal set list, complete with all the classic rock tunes one could want.
We sat near the bar with our drinks and sang and danced along. Al even got on the microphone to join them in singing ‘Stayin’ Alive’, a real treat. From where we were sitting, we had a good view of the little area where a few people were dancing. There were two young foreigners dancing joyously and a very drunken Japanese man dancing with them, attempting to teach them his moves. It was too cute. I watched and laughed along with them.
I found myself fixating on these two foreign gals. (Creeper? A little.) Partly because it’s still a bit shocking for me to see other foreigners, but also this is just something that I tend to do all the time… observe strangers and wonder about their lives and stories. The Dictionary of obscure sorrows would call it ‘sonder’
(Sonder: the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.)
Did these girls live in Tokyo? What brought them here? Where are they from? What kind of jobs do they have? Do they feel the same ‘outcasted’ feelings that I sometimes do as a foreigner in Japan? What were their inner most fears and secrets? (hehe) I watched them dance and just wondered.
The duo finished their set and the bar began to clear out. One of the patrons started a ‘one more song’ chant and we all joined in. So they went back to their instruments for one more song, and the only slow song of the evening, the late Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ It immediately made me think of Al’s mother, my aunt Mary, who passed away at the end of October, 2016.
When my parents were visiting Amakusa, my mom showed me a video on her iPad that she had taken two prior to Mary’s passing. She was no longer verbal and had been lying in her hospital bed, dull and unanimated. My mom and my aunt, Terry, decided to turn on some music. The result, as shown in the video, was amazing. You see Terry alongside Mary’s bed singing Hallelujah, with the track playing in the background. Mary’s face is lit up and she begins singing along with the melody, to the best of her ability. It was so moving to watch. How’s that for the transformative power of music??
So listening to the Japanese duo’s gorgeous rendition of Hallelujah while sitting next to Mary’s son, Al, was rather poignant. It brought about a slew of emotion and I almost felt as though I could feel Mary there with us. My eyes teared up. I tried to just sit with what was coming up and breath through it. It was a beautiful little moment that I’ll probably never forget.
I’ve made up my mind about Tokyo…
This had been my third trip to Tokyo, and I’ve finally made up my mind about the city- I love it. It’s probably the most amazing/unique city I’ve ever visited. It absolutely blows my mind when I think about it’s population- about 30 million people (not far from the population of Canada) live and work in there yet, somehow, the city is not utter mayhem like you might think. Contrarily, it’s extremely well organized and clean. Everyone is just doing their thang and going about their business. While some areas are definitely busier than others, I was amazed by the amount of calmness we were able to find in the streets. Al and I biked in the middle of the roads and J-walked when it was safe to do so, which it often was. And even without trashcans in the streets, it’s unbelievably clean.
One can find anything one might want in Tokyo, plus plenty of other things they never knew they needed. (Like an underwear vending machine) It’s so interesting for me to spend time there after having lived in Amakusa for five months. It blows my mind how two places in the same small country can be so completely different- like night and day.
It was also extremely refreshing to feel anonymous for a change. Tokyo is full of foreigners so people didn’t stare at me or treat me in any particular way. This is a far cry from Amakusa, where people can’t help but stare, as they’re so unaccustomed to seeing foreigners…and where I always have to be mindful of what I do and say as my business can spread across town, fast.
All in all, Tokyo was a blast. I have Al and Hitomi &Yosuke and their family to thank for that. They were the most generous, gracious hosts. I can’t thank them enough.
New Years in Kyoto
On the 28th, I decided to head to Kyoto for the remainder of my vacation. Kyoto is one of Japan’s former capital and one of its most popular tourist destinations. Untouched by the war, there is no shortage of natural and historical beauty in Kyoto. It seems to be the place that people are always talking about and telling me ’I have to go.’
To get there, I took the Shinkansen, Japan’s famous high speed train which reaches speeds up to 320km/h. The trip was lovely and I got there in no time! Traveling in Japan is like a dream. So organized, timely and comfortable.
I arrived in Kyoto and got settled into my hostel. Three other Kumamoto JETs were staying there as well, with another staying at another place just down the street (3 from the U.K. and one from the U.S.) They’re acquaintances of mine, whom I’ve spent time with here and there at orientations and conferences, etc. I had kind of planned on doing the trip on my own, but heard through the grapevine that they would be there and decided to join them. Lucky for me, their hostel still had a vacancy even though I booked it very last minute.
Upon arriving, I was placed in a different room from my friends. They soon called me to tell me that they had spoken to the front desk and received permission to have me move to their room, since they had one extra bed there. I was keen to do so, however, I ended up changing my mind and decided to stay in my original, larger room.
I had missed staying in hostels amongst strangers. I have fond memories of doing so while travelling around Europe and Thailand. It’s always a bit exciting because you never know who you’re going to meet. So I explained to my friends that I had a feeling I may meet some cool people in my room, so I would stay there. And I did indeed! I made a few new friends, two from Korea and one from Japan.
On my second day in Kyoto, our 8 person room was to receive 2 new guests. Lo and behold… it’s the two dancing girls from the Irish Pub in Tokyo! They ended up being from Montreal. We became friends and they were able to answer most of the questions I asked myself about them in ‘sonder.’ What are the odds of that though, really? Out of all the bars in Tokyo, the biggest city in the world, and all the rooms in all the accommodations in Kyoto… it was incredible I ran into them again.
We woke up on our first morning in Kyoto and travelled by bus to the famous Kinkaku-ji temple. We were sure to arrive as early as possible, as this was one of Kyoto’s most famous temples, and it was a busy time for tourists.
We were right to do so, as even at 9:20 (just 20 minutes after it’s gates opened) it was flooded with tourists. The temple and surrounding areas were gorgeous and picture-perfect. I’m really happy I got to see it. But it didn’t interest me to spend much time there. I’ve come to realize that ‘touristy’ things have become quite a turn off to me. And while gorgeous, this particular landmark was very touristy indeed. People everywhere taking photos, selfie-sticks, lineups and souvenir vendors kind of take away from the experience, in my opinion. So for the remainder of the trip, I vowed to do my own thing. The others certainly saw more of Kyoto’s ‘must-see’ destinations, which were amazing, I’m sure. But I’m ok with having missed them.
I had a really nice few days in Kyoto. A friend of mine, Ricardo, from Columbia has been living in Kyoto since April. I met him briefly in Amakusa at our English day. He was one of a group of International students that had travelled from Kyoto University to teach the students about their country. Ricardo and I met up on two occasions and he took me to some of his favourite, less-touristy spots around town. He was a fantastic tour guide who seemed to understand exactly what I was hoping to experience while in Kyoto… nature and authentic beauty, away from the crowds. And that’s exactly what I saw! He also taught me a lot about the city and answered all of my questions as we went from place to place.
We visited a few temples and shrines, most of which were totally quiet and free from other people, but still gorgeous. We spent time in a couple of parks, rented bikes and went for lunch, too.
Kyoto is known for it’s beauty and it’s especially beautiful in the fall and during Cherry blossom season. Neither of those were present during my stay, so as Ricardo put it ‘there are no leaves or Sakura to enchant you so you will see the true personality of each place.’ I was still totally enchanted though, even without the beauty from the trees. Kyoto is a really special place. I now understand what the hype is all about.
Ricardo I were walking along the famous ‘philosophers path’ one day. We were on a more secluded section of the path, away from tourist, when we stumbled upon a performance. A band was set up on one side of the river, with a singer/dancer in a big bushy, red tutu doing her thing on the adjacent bridge. This was like no singing or dancing I’ve seen before. It was downright bizarre, to be honest. She was kind of screaming and yelping, while making tumultuous movements and contortions with her body. But it was absolutely enchanting and beautiful, nonetheless. The few people in immediate vicinity couldn’t help but stop and watch, and a small crowd formed.
The performance seemed very unexpected and un-Japanese. In a country known for being shy that respects tradition so highly, it’s seldom I’ve seen Japanese people completely let loose and express themselves in such a way. So seeing this made me really happy. The performance was short and after thanking their small audience, they began to pack up. Ricardo and I were so lucky to have been walking by in that very moment…what a treat!
The Anticlimactic Strike of Midnight
After going out for an Okonomiyaki and all-you-can-drink dinner, our Kumamoto ALT gang spent New Years Eve at a temple in true Japanese fashion. While Christmas passes by almost unnoticed, New Years is a big holiday in Japan. It’s very different from the West, however, as it’s much more spiritual. It’s about reconnecting with family, visiting shrines, praying, sharing traditional meals, etc. We did add our Western touch to the evening by wear party hats; a simple addition to our ensembles which made it really easy to find each other amongst the huge crowd. Nailed it!
We were in line amongst hundreds of other people at a big shrine for the actual countdown, which, surprisingly, was not much of a countdown. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, we were like “OH!? 3..2..1.. It’s midnight?! Really?” The Japanese seem more concerned with what happens after midnight than the actual stroke of midnight. Their first shrine visit and the first sunrise of the New Year, for example, are very significant.
After throwing our money into the shrine, ringing the bell and making a wish, we continued on and went to our new favorite French bar in Kyoto called ‘FSE’. It was a great little bar, and they had warm mulled wine.. quite possibly my new favorite beverage. After having spent a couple of nights there, we had made some new friends. It felt very homey and there was opportunity to practice my French as well. Good times!
On New Years day, while riding our bikes in a park, Ricardo and I met an 80-year-old man named Kozo who stopped us to ask a question. He had taught himself English and was reading a book about Donald Trump for practice. He had gotten into the habit of writing down phrases from his books that he didn’t understand on paper, for moments like these when he ran into English speakers. He pulled one out of his pocket. ‘Let bygones be bygones’ it read. After double-checking my answer on Google, we taught him what it meant (let’s forget the unpleasantness from the past and move forward) and gave him some examples. I thought it was a rather fitting expression for New Years Day!
We exchanged contact info, and Kozo has since e-mailed me asking for further explanations from his book on Donald Trump. His latest inquiry “Think big, but keep your feet on the ground and your fingers on the till.” hehe
By my last day in Kyoto, my body was hurting. I hadn’t been sleeping enough, I had been drinking alcohol, and I hadn’t been keeping up with my daily yoga practice. I needed onsen (Japanese hot spring) and I was craving some alone time. So I hopped on a train to visit the tiny nearby town of ‘Kibune’ which has it’s own beautiful shrine atop a mountain, a vegan cafe and a traditional Japanese onsen. It was a ‘me’ day well spent, in nature. I needed that.
That night, I was to board the night bus back to Kumamoto City, where my car was parked. The bus left Kyoto at 8:25pm and arrive in Kumamoto at about 8:00am. I could have taken a 3-hour Shinkansen instead, but wanted that night-bus experience. Each person I told about the night bus I was going to take bus seemed to wince and take pity on me for having to endure such a thing, but to be honest, I was looking forward to it. I love travelling. And I don’t just mean visiting new places, I mean, I love the actual act of being in transit.
I recently read a quote on a blog (www.riskeverythingdearnothing.tumblr.com) that seems to explain my love for travelling perfectly. It reads..
‘One of my favourite parts of traveling is exactly that. Traveling. Whatever form that forward movement takes, I like it. I don’t sleep. I sip on coffee, and sit with myself. It’s my time for me. Time to process the footsteps that got me there. Time to plot and plan the path ahead. The length that plane and bus rides generally entail are perfect for this practice. It’s my time to catch up on the world.’
The night bus experience was awesome. I was able to write in my journal and reminisce on my trip, read, listen to my audio book, window gaze and SLEEP! It was actually thoroughly enjoyable and I plan on using this method of travel in Japan in the future. Tickets are cheap and you save money on accommodation, too! Win, win.
Antoine, the cyclist, felt similarly about travel, which is why he loves cycling so much. “Movement is the perfect state for dreamers like us” he said. So true. My consideration for a cross-country bike trip is furthering more and more…
Arriving back in Amakusa felt strange. I was certainly happy to be back and sleeping in my own bed again. But after my encounter with the three cyclists, and adventuring around Kyoto and Tokyo.. I felt like a bit ‘changed’ and my life in Amakusa felt a bit empty. Settling back in has taken some time. Sitting here and writing about is making the process a bit easier, though. Writing has such a way to put my mind at ease.I’m sure I’ll get back into the swing of things soon.
Snail Mail Gratitude
This week, I’m grateful to everyone who sent me Christmas mail ❤
I arrived home to a mailbox full of Christmas cards and goodies. Not much makes me more happy than receiving snail mail so I was STOKED.
Julianna, Sasaki-San, Jane & Bill, E-Mills, Hitomi & Yosuke, Mike Whalen, Meg the goddess, Shanny, Miss Julia Spriggs: thank you for your thoughtful Christmas cards. I could feel the love radiating through the cardstock! They made me smile and continue to do so on a daily basis from their new home on my fridge. Thank you, thank you, so much.
Aunt Jackie: Thank you for the gorgeous ‘Silver-girl’ bracelet. It’s been on my wrist since the moment I opened it. And the delicious Mexican balls, too. How thoughtful of you! You are the best and I miss you. XO
Putty: Thank you for the beautiful Nova Scotian mug, which, by the way, is so ‘me!’ You nailed it. I have been drinking my morning tea from it every day. And the adorable photo of you and me is up on my fridge where I can see it all the time. Pound it. ❤
Heath & Mikey: Thank you for the coloring book/planner and pencils! I love them and have already made good use of them. I am so down for this new ‘mindful coloring’ craze, and I’m happy to be a part of it. I miss you guys! Wishing you a Happy 2017.
Norma & B.C. family: Thank you for my beautiful ‘Headband for Hope’ It’s so precious! And what an amazing idea for a gift. I’ve bookmarked the website and plan to buy one for someone as a present in the future. I’ll think of you every time I wear it. Thank you so much 🙂
Mom, Dad & Family: Thank you again for the thoughtful package. It was so nice to have something to open on Christmas morning. I loved the Christmas poem and all the little quotes and poems you wrote on the wrapping paper, too. Too cute. Gracias!!
Thank you, thank you, thank you! Y’all sure know how to make a gal feel special. I really appreciate it.
In other news:
-I’ve resigned my contract for my second, and most likely final year.
-My Japanese friend, Naoko, owns a café and said she’s sell whatever jewelry I make there. So I’ve been back at it! I bought a bunch of beautiful beads in Tokyo and I’m making some cute, simple, bracelets.More to come on this.
-I never wrote about my road trip to the nearby prefecture of Miyazaki, but it was great. One day, we were at a vegan café and I ran into the Canadian yoga teacher that I met and who taught me yoga at the music festival back in October. Crazyness. We all ended up going to a traditional Indian ‘Kirtan’ ceremony that night at her yoga studio. It was the coolest thing.
-I’ve decided to go for it and get Lasic Eyes surgery. Everyone I know whose had it claims it was ‘the best money they’ve ever spent.’ So I shall do it here in Japan, where it’s cheaper.
-I’ve been attending art club at my Junior High School on Wednesday afternoons, and we’ve been doing ‘8-minute life drawings.’ They’re great practice! I always find myself wishing I had more time though… but I suppose that is part of the practice. I’ve been modelling for them too, hehe. They enjoy it when I do because I’m not in the same uniform as all the rest of the student models.
Someof my drawings turn out pretty good, while others are horrible. Here are a couple of the better ones.
Once again, this post has ended up far longer than I had intended
Maybe that’ll just be my thing? I’ll be known for my tiny scroll bar.
Either way… please comment if you read this! I would appreciate it and it’ll keep me motivated to write more 🙂
I would LOVE to hear feedback on my writing, structure and or picture choices too. Anything I should work on? All tips and criticism are welcome. I can take it 😉
Thank you in advance.
All my love,
Aka Mary Ellen