Yet another month of my time in Japan has quickly passed and just like every other month it was full of ups, downs and adventures. This month I returned to Japan from a trip back to America over the holidays, made a big decision about my time here, experienced my first snow in Japan, and traveled to two new places.
The Winter Slump
Before even coming to Japan, many alumni had warned of the challenges of winter in Japan. In addition to coping with the bitter cold (and lack of central heating), homesickness tends to kick in accompanied by the requirement to make a decision about whether or not we want to stay in on in Japan. Going home for the holidays was a wonderful way to spend my break, but as was warned, it definitely amplified some homesickness. I came back sure of my decision to stay in Japan only for a year, but as I settled back in I had my doubts. Transitioning back into work was difficult, mostly because I wasn’t working much in the first two weeks with left me with too much time to sit and think (the idle mind…) After much emotional turmoil and soul searching, I, in the very last hour, submitted my decision to leave Japan in August. It was easily one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make, but I also realize how fortunate I am to have had to make it.
Knowing that I only have 7 months left definitely has lit a fire under me- which is needed in these cold months where staying at home in blankets watching netflix is all too appealing. I was able to experience waking up to snow two mornings, though unfortunately it melted by noon and thus not many pictures were taken to capture the beauty of my small town under a light blanket of snow.I have used some of the time snuggled up at home to my advantage and started making some plans and dreaming up the possibilities of what adventures come next.
On January 9th, a few friends and I took a day trip up to Art Island, or more formally Naoshima. It’s a small island between Honshu and Shikoku filled with museums and sculptures on the island. We ferried into the island, stopping to play on the big red pumpkin sculpture by the ferry gate.
After that, we bused to the other side of the island (which we realized we could have easily walked to when our bus ride lasted about 10 minutes) to see the Art House Project where we saw a statue of liberty in a house, got deep with symetrical same-but-different rooms, and followed the light. Unfortunately, photos weren’t allowed in the houses. After time ran out to see the houses, we trekked in the cold to the famous yellow pumpkin.
January 23 through the 24 (Happy birthday Mom!) we ventured to Nara. Nara is one of Japan’s first capital cities, and served as such during the 700s (which is really crazy to think about!) We headed up for a weekend to check out the Wakakusa Yamayaki festival- a fire festival where the top of a mountain is set on fire and Shinto and Buddhist faiths come together to pray for peace and happiness and burn the wreaths of the new year. In true Japanese festival fashion, there was a long procession and a lengthy fire works show before the mountain was set ablaze. Well, ablaze is a bit strong. Unfortunately this year it rained so the mountain didn’t catch quite as spectacularly as we’d hoped it would. But it was still a sight to see and a great experience nonetheless. (Unfortunately my camera battery died so not as many good pictures as I’d hoped.)
After a long trek through the ruins we went to the garden grounds which have been reestablished. There we encountered an older Japanese man working as a volunteer on the site. He took us around the garden and explained the space, using some English and some Japanese. He was incredibly friendly and it was nice to have an unexpected tour guide. As we set out to leave, taking a brief wrong turn, we ran back into the man who asked us where we were going, then upon learning we didn’t have a car (and likely because of the freezing temperature outside) he gave us a ride back to our place! It was a wonderful experience of Japanese kindness at its best.
After we packed up we set out to Todaiji Temple, which houses Nara’s famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha). Before entering the hall that houses the Great Buddha, there are two great wooden sculptures, the Nio guardians.
And of course, the Nara deer must be mentioned as well. They were everywhere, in spite of the cold, and though we didn’t buy any senbei to feed them, there was no shortage of them walking up to us just the same.
Although I’m sad to think of leaving Japan, I’m happy that it’s kicking my butt into gear to see as much of this place as I can before my time is up. Next stop, Hokkaido!.