I have been back in the good old United States of America for a week now. Last Monday was an oddity because I spent a full day in Tokyo and then arrived that same day with 11 hours to spare before the end of the day in California. I essentially experienced the future and then came back to the present. I’m not sure how else to explain that. Either way, it was a long day, one that was exhausting, but leaving one side of the world with good friends, for another side of the world to be welcomed by good friends, is quite a way to time travel.
I’m not sure where to even begin in this posting. It’s odd to think that three months worth of travel is over, that whatever I experienced I won’t experience again. Or rather, that the next time I visit Japan, it will be on a completely different mission and the experience will be absolutely different. Next time, I won’t be so shocked by the cold or my inability to read (heck, I may even be able to read something! That’s a goal.), or the exchange rate.
Just before I left for Narita airport last Monday, I ate lunch, rechecked my bags to make sure I was comfortable with how I packed them and then walked down to the Meiji Shrine for one last prayer. I had already visited that shrine on New Year’s Day with thousands of others to pray for a happy and healthy New Year, but still, six days later, I walked back for one last prayer and to thank the Gods for letting me have the experience I had.
When visiting the Meiji Shrine, you walk for a good five minutes through a dense forest of tall tress. Upon entering the inner sanctum of the Shrine, you wash your hands to be clean for prayer and then enter the Shrine itself. The area surrounding the Shrine is absolutely beautiful. You can smell clean air and all of the tension and negative feelings that one might be carrying with them seems to suddenly evaporate as you walk along the pebbled path to the gates of the Shrine.
During my first stay in Tokyo, my gracious host, took me to the Meiji Shrine and opened me up to the world of Shintoism and the Japanese way of believing. I learned only at my last visit to the Meiji Shrine the value of it, thanks to a leaflet I grabbed on my way out:
Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine. Shinto is called Japan’s ancient original religion, and it is deeply rooted in the way of Japanese life. Shinto has no founder, no holy book, and not even the concept of religious conversion, but Shinto values for example harmony with nature and virtues such as “Magokoro (sincere heart)”. In Shinto, some divinity is found as Kami (divine spirit), or it may be said that there is an unlimited number of Kami. You can see Kami in mythology, in nature, and in human beings. From ancient times, Japanese people have felt awe and gratitude towards such Kami and dedicated shrines to many of them.
My entire time spent in Japan was deeply rooted in a connection to Nature. It explains why I found a Native American themed coffee shop named Pueblo in Mikuni, Japan on Thanksgiving. It explains why I saw the painted Native American wall in Shimo Kitazawa (see below). It explains why I was surrounded by the mountains in a small town named Echizen. It explains why I cried when I heard Aki-san sing the songs to the Goddess my first week in Echizen. It explains why I spent so much time in the mountains while traveling around Japan. It explains the finding of the bunny symbol in my first full month in Japan. It explains my deep connection and love for the paper making process that I learned in Echizen. It explains why I enjoyed listening to the flow of water and the rain and wind and thunder on certain storm nights.
I’ve shared before that in my youth I wanted to live with Native Americans. Of course my idea was more romantic. I wanted to hunt buffalo and wear moccasins and do rain dances. I wanted to sing to the spirits around fires and learn from the oldest members of the council. I learned as I grew up that I might never have that experience because the lives of many Native American Tribes are much different. Not to mention their youth are moving from these traditions to more Western lifestyles.
Oddly enough though, my days spent in the countryside of Japan made me feel like I was almost living my Native American dream. Being surrounded by people who deeply practice Shintoism and rely on nature for their livelihoods struck my soul hard. It was during these days that I learned about prayer and about my deepest self. I’m not just talking spiritual BS here, I’m talking true self-discovery. It was important for me to learn so that I could shape and grow my business in this new year, but it was also important so that I could guide myself in the various shades of light and darkness in life.
My first week since Japan has found me in both Southern and Northern California. I’ve stayed with two good friends and have been surrounded by various degrees of nature. Along the train ride to San Jose from Los Angeles, I was able to see part of the Coast and then into the farms and red rock/mountainous areas of the state. On Saturday, I was able to walk on Baker’s Beach and then did a small hike with another good friend to a point where we were able to view the Golden Gate Bridge. It was breathtaking! On the walk on the beach, a woman and I were able to throw a baby shark (not sure what kind) back into the water (I hope he survived!). During the weekdays, I’ve taken walks, mostly to various stores around my friend’s apartment, but I’ve noticed lush and gorgeous plants and flowers along the way and of course, the beautiful skies and changes in temperatures as well. Although, these are not quite the same as what I experienced in Japan, I know that they are a small way to extend what was a big and necessary need during my trip.
How all of this will change in the coming days and weeks, I’m not sure. There’s a lot to be figured out, but I know that I’m focusing on my business (yay!), my relationship with my Mom and grandfather, and in continuing finding my own sense of peace. I hope to get back to NYC in the late Spring/early Summer of this year, but know that a lot hinges on these first days and weeks back on the East Coast (I arrive Wednesday night).
Back to the Meiji Shrine last week…When I offered my five yen coin into the well at the Shrine last Monday, I prayed for similar things I had prayed for throughout the trip…peace, happiness, success and growth as an entrepreneur and a business owner, continued faith, for some special people in my life, and for all that I had learned. I thanked the Meiji Shrine for being a huge part of my journey, and for my time in Japan which was relatively painless, the people I met, and every moment that caused me to smile, reflect, and appreciate life.
My trip doesn’t quite seem like a dream at this point because I am committed to remembering the lessons I learned during the trip, but it does almost seem like it never happened. I’m torn between missing Japan and not missing it at all. Maybe I don’t miss it because I know that I’ll return again? I don’t think that Japan was ever meant to be a one-trip wonder. I feel it was meant to be a deep, strengthening connection and because of it, I look forward to my next trip.
So I suppose that “sayonara” is the wrong word to use in saying goodbye. Sayonara implies a long goodbye. Instead, I should use Dewa mata, which is a formal, but informal way of saying “see you later.” So Dewa mata, Japan. Thank you for my first, wonderful experience in Japan. I can’t wait to see what comes next!