Echizen, Japan, Week One: Lessons From A Mountain, A Paper Goddess, A Bike, A Crow, Water, Silence, and “Let It Be”, The Song

“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be” – The Beatles

Tuesday morning (tomorrow, for me) will mark my first official week in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture, Japan. It’s been 11 days since I landed in Japan and I think I’m getting closer to feeling adapted. I’m still tired, but I think that’s from all the emotions I’m processing along with all the changes made this past year.

Tuesday is a holiday for the Museum that I’m studying/working at, so I’ll have an afternoon all to myself tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it. I have lots of writing to do and some design projects I need to work on as well. Unless I ask for a day off, I work six out of seven days a week. It’s a bit weird. Alas, I am slowly getting used to things and the way of life around the wonderfully small Echizen-City.

Now why does my title have a list of things and then I promptly share the lyrics to The Beatles, “Let It Be” song? Well, they’re all part of my first week of adapting.

The Crow. The Museum is a 10-minute walk from the house I’m staying at. The house is an old Japanese-style house that is cold in the morning and at night and is right across the street from the Paper Goddess Shrine. I’m working on a blog post (to be posted later this week) all about the Paper Goddess Shrine because it’s important not just to Echizen, but to me, too. The walk is a quiet and quick walk downhill. Except for when my friend, Mr. Crow decides to cry out and let me know that he is here and I should be aware of his existence.

Now, I know that crows don’t have a positive meaning behind them, but I have a good feeling about crows. They have never bothered me before and considering that today, Mr. Crow (maybe a different one?  I don’t know!) pooped on me as I was trying to score free wireless from outside of the cafe during my lunch break, I’m feeling quite an affection for the Crows of Echizen.  (BTW, I always feel bad that I stand outside and use the wireless connection without coming in during my lunch break, but being that I come to the cafe every night during the week to use the internet and pay (coffee is expensive in Japan!) almost $12 for a drink to sit until 7pm and use my computer, I can’t afford to come and pay twice. I know, I know. The good news is that my coming every night is good for business for the little cafe and I am forming a relationship with the owner, who is so nice and kind and sends me off almost every night with sweets.)

“Let It Be.” The song also comes from today. See, before the incident with Mr. Crow, I was sitting at the Museum peeling layers from kozo (the plant we use to make paper) when I heard “Let it Be” playing on what sounded like an organ. It could have simply been a Casio keyboard, but I heard it. It was real. I think. I didn’t ask anyone, mostly because I still can barely communicate with my Japanese Artisan friends, but as I scrapped away, where ever the organ was, played two full renditions of the song. I was shocked, but appreciative of hearing a song I know and enjoy.

Later in the afternoon, after the pooping incident with Mr. Crow, I got back to work and was sitting at the fiber checking station with my hands full immersed in water when I heard the song played again by the same organ. Not lying to you! This was around 1pm/1:30pm. I smiled and went about working knowing that there was a reason that THIS song was being played. (Signs are everywhere!)  During our ocha (tea) break at 3, we were sitting down, talking (well, they were talking, I was nodding like I understood, but didn’t) and the song came on again.

I share the lyrics with you above because they are so simple and so true. Not to mention, I haven’t been to a Catholic Church in many months now. I loosely wear my Catholicism on my sleeve because I only half believe in the organization that is Catholicism, but I was baptized and confirmed Catholic and I therefore respect that I am Catholic. I also seek out Catholicism when I’m in most need. It is my comfort zone. Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect or even look to other religions, because I do.

Japan has a combination of Buddhism and Shinto religions and I have prayed at MANY, MANY temples in the last 11 days, including the temple/shrine for the Paper Goddess that sits behind my current residence. I take my praying to her and on these grounds as sacred as attending a Catholic Church. However, as I listened to “Let It Be” and hummed the words I know, including “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me/ Speaking words of wisdom, let it be/And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me/ Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”  

In my home, Mother Mary is the Queen Bee. I haven’t been praying to Mother Mary, but she found me today and so I know her words of wisdom are “I am here, please let it be.” Thank you, messengers McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, and Starr.

A Mountain/A Paper Goddess.  As I’ve mentioned already, I reside in a town that is known for it’s Paper Village. It is a small town with paper studios that make some of the best Washi paper in all of Japan. It is a gorgeous town nestled in the mountains. It gets crazy dark here at night and I’ve been instructed only to worry about bears and wild boars, not crazy people out to kill strangers. Okay. The people are incredibly friendly and kind and have welcomed me for the most part although they all wonder what I am going to do after I learn paper making. I keep telling them that’s the million dollar question!

The woman I am staying with is a huge nature and paper lover. She’s incredibly nice and kind. Yesterday, we hiked a mountain right outside of her back door. We had to go through the Paper Goddess Shrine to reach the point of entrance to the mountain, but it connects. See, the Paper Goddess lives in the mountains and only comes down twice a year when the village holds festivals for her to celebrate her and her annual blessings.  When you get to the top of the mountain, you are in fact at another temple and shrine for the Paper Goddess. It is her mountain location.

Now, I love nature and I was looking forward to hiking, but I’m pretty sure that Mountain was out to kill me. The path is steep, extremely so that my heart never stopped beating fast the entire climb up. Additionally, it is not clean; while the path is easy to follow, there are tons of loose rocks lending to unstable terrain. It didn’t help that it started to rain as we came down (water is coming next).  Being that I don’t have insurance and I don’t want to injure myself, I did my best to take small steps and not step on rocks, but the mountain would not allow for that.

There were several occurrences where my feet slightly slipped, but nothing bad happened, I just skid and kept walking.  But then it happened. My right foot stepped on a wet rock and I came crashing down. I don’t even remember slipping, I just knew that my right hand holding my glass water container came down heavily on the rock to my right (it didn’t break!) and I was butt on the ground. I didn’t even feel a sting, I just was on the ground.

I was reminded while on the ground that the mountain has more control than I ever will. All I can do is pick myself up.
The water reminded me that it does make an impact, even when you’re trying to go slow and not make one.
I’m not sure what the Paper Goddess was saying to me with the fall, but I’d like to believe that it is something along the lines of, sometimes you fall, but you have to pick your self up again and keep on going. Doesn’t seem like something the Paper Goddess might say, but as I have struggle with making paper the past two attempts, I think that was her message. “Stay strong, keep climbing, keep falling, keep doing. You’ll get there. I’m here.”

Water and Silence.The last three months now, I’ve been dealing with a silence I’m uncomfortable with. As my best friend told me just before I left, “to some silence says everything you need to hear, and they’re right, but silence between two people means nothing. Silence is nothing.”

My response to the silence has been to find silence within. To test the ideas of silence and nothing and understanding. It’s been hard and frustrating and reminds me of adding mileage on to a marathon training schedule. In some ways though, being in Japan has helped with the silence because I am more silent then before. Being that I am unable to communicate has allowed me to appreciate non-communicative language, as well as listening. Good stuff, si?!

Anyhow. the silence has brought me more aware of water and the power of water. Water in Echizen is like gold. It is the power of every paper studio. Every day, I find myself wearing white wellies to protect my feet from the gallons/liters or water we use every day to soften and clean the kozo and to mix with the adhesive (not glue) and pulp fibers. Everything has to be cleaned down with a good rinse of water at various times during the day. Everything is about water here and I get it. I understand just how important water is not just for the product, but for the tradition of the product.

How this all ties together is that water only rounds when it is moving about rapidly, right? But even in it’s craziness, it is soothing and relaxes the human soul and can change the course of anything and everything, much like how the rain yesterday made us want to finish our hike faster and resulted in a visit to the laundromat to dry my clothes that had been put out on the line before the rain started during our hike .

Think about the way we listen to the waves at the beach and are relaxed, yet how one powerful wave can remove you from the shore. We have fish tanks and pools and when water is calm it is quiet, although just as powerful.

I have never seen myself as water and yet, many things, especially in the last week have reminded me that I am like water and like the silence. That I am powerful in ways I hadn’t imagined before.  I know this not just because of paper making and the hike yesterday, but because two Sundays ago, I was in Tokyo walking around with two good friends and we visited the Meiji Shrine. It’s a huge attraction in Tokyo and I was told I had to go see it. About 10-minutes after arriving, praying, and getting a fortune, it started to rain.

My fortune from Emperor Meiji read the following:
“Such is the force of water
That it will with gentle pressure
Shape itself to every vessel
And yet pierce the very rock.”

I’m taking all of this as good fortune and awareness. arigatou gozaimashita, Japan!


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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

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