Japan

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It started in China, at the age of 16. It was my first time to travel abroad, and to travel without my family and only a few friends. I was there for a six-week study program, and I learned that I grew up with possibly a different way of doing things, and some people, friend or not, are not always okay with that. Moreover, I learned that I can meet more people and make more friends by stepping outside of my comfort zone.

 Then, I was 21-turning-22, supposed to graduate from college that very year, but decided to take a chance on a year-long student exchange program to Japan. It was my first time to truly travel alone—at least until I got there and my natural sociability came out, whence I learned that I may be able to see people day-in and day-out, but traveling with them is a different matter altogether.

 In between then and now, I took another trip—my first backpacking adventure around mainland Southeast Asia, with one friend, both of us twenty-four. What I learned from that was to make myself heard if I wanted something. There’s no room for compromise when only one option is given, after all.

 Then, this year alone, I’ve taken several short trips around my own beautiful Philippines—more than I have in any year that I’ve been living here—and I’ve learned that there’s a lot to see if I make the effort to look.

 Until now, I’ve been to many places, and there’s no doubt that I’ve learned a lot. And, in each place that I stepped foot, I’ve since realised that I left a part of myself behind. A bad habit, perhaps; a misconception; a lesson I once learned, only to realise it’s one better undone. But, for every part of myself I found to lose, I gained much more than I thought I’d find. Each place, each lesson I’d learned—or unlearned, as the case may be—helped to chip away the old clay of my being, freeing the deeper, better me to form the person I am meant to be.

 After all that, it would be easy to credit all that I learned to myself alone. However, I can’t, in good conscience, say so. You see, the irony of learning independence is that one cannot learn it on his/her own. Each lesson I’d learned on my various travels was one I could have only learned by interacting with someone else. That is to say, while I may have reached a certain resolution through my own reflections, such reflections were the result of experience with a good or bad example.

 After getting sick—both physiologically and homesick—within the first week of my being in China, I found that I couldn’t stand not taking a shower, as was the suggestion of my roommates-cum-friends. A bit of what I thought to have been harmless teasing that they were “bullying” me with their own methods of dealing with sickness and I found myself estranged from those I came to China knowing—but it led me to leave China knowing so many others.

 In my first few months in Japan, I spent practically every waking moment with this one friend—we were dorm mates, classmates, kitchen-mates, and hung out in the same group of friends. As summer break came up and we’d decided to take a four-day trip together, it didn’t even occur to me that we could have any problems between us. I quickly learned I was wrong. We found that we could rub each other the wrong way, and apparently, those few hours spent alone in our own dorm rooms had helped us “recharge” to face each other again the next day. Without that slight barrier, we very nearly destroyed what took us four months to build.

 While my friend and I were in Thailand, the first stop of our backpacking trip, we agreed to go check out the Full Moon Party of Koh Phangan. We barely stayed an hour or two before my friend decided it wasn’t our scene—and for the sake of amiability, I gave in. Ironically, my regret afterwards was what almost ruined the good atmosphere.

 That was certainly not all. But, from all this, I can say that I’ve learned more about myself, as well as more about others. In the end though, the greatest thing I learned was what I’d been saying earlier: that all these experiences, all these lessons, belong not only to me, but to everyone who had been with me on the road. For as independent as you may like to think you are, no one is ever truly alone.

 About the Author

Dominique Samantha has two nicknames: Dom and Sam, both of which can be used for either sex. This is indicative of how she views other people as well, as she is a firm believer in equality and anti-discrimination. She enjoys travel as a way to broaden her horizons and learn more about the different cultures, beliefs and perspectives to which each of these people belong.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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A few weeks ago, my toddler and I decided to take a trip into the city of Sendai. This would be special in that it was the first time we would go that far from our house without the comfort of a stroller. At almost two years old, my daughter has grown to a point where the stroller can be nice to have if she’s exhausted or a burden to keep track of while chasing her down. This day would be an experiment to see how far and how well we could do without the wheels.

On the train, she seemed more interested in staring out the window at things she can’t usually see when strapped in, stationary in the middle of the car. Because we were stroller free, this time we could take the giant, two story escalator from the platform level all the way to the main exit for the Japan Rail lines into Sendai Station. How exciting!

Julia showed no fear of the escalator and marched dutifully by my side as we made our way toward the exit. With every step, her adorable red shoes let out happy little squeaks, annoying at first but reassuring after a while. It is harder to lose her when her shoes are squeaking. Though I would never have bought the things, I usually feel the need to make use of presents, especially presents from sweet grandparents. The noise can be grating, but over the din of the other trains and passengers, it didn’t seem likely to be too disturbing to anyone in particular.

Or so I thought.

Just as we came to within ten feet of the exit, an older woman of 65 or so turned around, whip-fast on her heel, to glare at me and declare, “Urusai!”

In Japanese, the word means loud, noisy or annoying, though in a culture that prides itself on being harmonious, an action like this, to swivel and yell in another person’s face, is akin to a hard open palm slap in the west. The vast majority of the time, if someone dislikes being in my presence, they blank me, meaning they pretend that I am not even existent in the same realm of space or time. Occasionally, older men in particular will cast a grimace in my direction. These odd encounters with xenophobia in Japan have become fewer and further between since my daughter’s birth. A baby is a rare site in this country of the aged and somehow her presence and cuteness excuses my roundness and foreignness. Babies are magical, apparently even if half Caucasian.

If I had thought about it, I could have said something to this angry older woman, letting her know that people from her country bought these adorable squeaking things for their granddaughter or perhaps that I know the sound is tiresome, but it beats the heck out of listening to either a nearly two-year-old scream her head off because she would rather walk than be carried or her panicked foreign mother searching for the baby who ran too far, too fast, and in an unlikely direction. These squeaks may be loud, but compared to the alternatives, they were downright soothing.

The lesser of three evils the squeaky shoes were, but odds were against this argument going favorably. If I had worked up the best way to convey my message, she would likely have feigned ignorance and pretended not to understand me. People who feel the need to yell about a toddler’s choice in footwear hardly seem patient enough to listen to less-than-perfect Japanese.

Of course, during this shocking encounter, I hadn’t thought any of this through. Instead, I chose to respond with the warmest smile I could find. A smile that said, “Hello! No, really. To you. Today. Hello!” Not a hint of malice or condescension lay in my features as I intended the gesture only with kindness, the type a lady so unnerved probably needed on a day like that day.

I didn’t have time to judge any reaction on her part because she spun around just as fast as she had before, lurching ahead through the exit to disappear into the crowd on the other side.

Upon later recollection, I began to wonder if she got it, the great cosmic joke. Out of her frustration, I created harmony, even if only for myself and my daughter. In the land of absolute politeness, I won this round.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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The rental car cruises at a safe speed down a long and winding road as I sit squished in the backseat, sandwiched a nearly ten-year-old boy next to a car seat carrying my sleeping toddler. In the front, Elvis is blaring his heart out through the CD player, and we are making good time to the fox sanctuary in Shiroishi, a small town in southern Miyagi, Japan. As we push up a hill into denser forest, something occurs to me, and the smile beaming across my face cannot be stifled. We finally did it.

For most of my life, I’ve been noticing these communities of happy families. These parent-friends and child-friends always meet regularly for play-dates and positive social encounters. They all have lots in common— same school, same church, same hobbies, same interests.

And they were never us.

My family was different, and with my mother too busy for church or PTA involvement, the chance for those parent-friend relationships to develop just never happened. The assumption I made and held onto was that we just didn’t fit in. As the weird kid at school, I would of course come from an equally weird family. That social environment I so idolized would never be open to me, for that was just not how my family interacted with the world.

Twenty years later and 6,000 miles away, I would find out how wrong I had been. Here, I am surrounded by a fresh and fantastic supply of wonderful friends— a social environment made richer by the weirdness my peers in Texas avoided and by the fantastic differences between us all as well as the similarities. Most of the friends I have made are from the same continent if not the same country as I am, but we all have different backgrounds and stories. I have learned more about what it is to be American, and Texan, in my time abroad than I ever could have back home.

As the devious, funny, and wicked-smart kid next to me shows no reservations toward playing puppet games with my freshly awoken daughter next to him, I have confirmation that I’ve made it. In front of my sits his mom, one of the best friends I have made in my life, another girl from Texas with a family labeled “other” who didn’t let the small-minded kids destroy what made her special. Both of us have Japanese last names to match the men we fell in love with years ago— more than a decade in her case and a little less in mine.

Motherhood without community support is terribly challenging, and I don’t know how I could have managed the last year without the constant assurance, assistance and support of my friend, a mom-in-the-know.

I had thought as a child that community was like a puzzle, where all those happy families were pieces from the same box with a picture of blue skies and white clouds while my family, if fit perfectly together, made chiaroscuro patches of shadow too dark and bright beyond comprehension, held tight together by sheer will alone.

It turns out community is more like a quilt, with different textures, colors, patterns, shapes, and thicknesses coming together for the mutual benefit of creating something beautiful and warm.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Belongings and Belonging: American Hoarder in Japan

“You don’t belong here,” says the voice. “This place is too fancy for you. A condo? By the ocean? Did you forget living in a trailer? What are you even doing here?” It demands. “What kind of a joke is this?”

And I don’t always have an answer. Yes, I do. I think. Sometimes. I belong with my husband and daughter. I belong where I am happy. I deserve to be here. A lot of hard work got me here, and it’s not for nothing.

This doesn’t really help the part of me that still feels like a kid up past her bedtime, as if there is something secret or forbidden happening here and if I leave, I’ll never find out what it is, like the end of a cheesy late night horror flick. I’ve seen apprentice geisha dance, watched fake ninja fights, stayed in numerous love hotels, hiked the Nakasendo (Ancient Samurai Highway), practically bathed in sakura petals, and explored enough castles to have serious opinions as to their quality. Yet there is more, so much more, waiting somewhere to be found. Only this month did I see a festival I had never seen before and enjoy a fried pork bun for the first time.

Going “home” is unthinkable— that’s admitting defeat! Giving up on fun! How could I do such a thing as ending my adventure early?

Early, though, no longer applies. Seven years abroad has eaten the remainder of my twenties and left me with a family I never imagined having here but would never want to be without. Regardless of belonging, I can’t leave, and wouldn’t have any reason to uproot what we have here. Life is more complicated than it was when I landed on these shores, but even with these new complications, the same old urges arise.

When I get a surge of what I call “Gaijin-itis” or “swelling of the foreigner” in which I feel utterly lost in this place I’ve called home for nearly a decade, I really want to shop. I want to spend enough money for Japan to accept me purely due to my economic impact, filling the whole of this tiny, fancy condo with knickknacks, kitch and clutter until only I can find my way around.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a problem with stuff. I always want more, even if it’s worthless, especially if it’s free. Anything and everything; even without a purpose, I want it all.

Moving Japan did nothing to cure this wanton appetite for acquisition, though it did put some nice limitations in place. Now, I can clutter a room with around one fourth as many possessions as I left strewn on the floors of the rent houses we departed in my youth. After a lot of soul searching, I have come to realize it was all about the departing. Moving so often as every couple of years meant that we weren’t like the families on TV with height markers on the door frame and memories breathing life into the house. There were no pictures taken in the rooms where we were standing, hanging on the same walls and reminding us of times gone by. Every place was new, and every move erased a little more of our history. Every new home had the potential to be our forever home, I seemed to think, and maybe if I just made it messy enough, we wouldn’t be able to leave.

Somehow, that never worked. Most of my possessions were lost every time, and I would spend months unintentionally putting together a new waist high clutter-maze. Whether this was to keep others out of my room or keep my family in the house, I am not quite sure, but likely both have some truth to them.

Now, at the age of thirty, I’m managed to confront some of those inner demons, and while my house is unlikely to win any cleanliness awards, it’s not so bad. The condo is cleaner than I thought I could keep a home and most importantly, it is safe for my toddler. It’s not perfect, but it’s mine. Organizing and storing are ongoing processes, but acquisition is not. The Gaijin-itis fades over time, and a good hug for my partner is usually as much as it takes to set my brain to right.

I’ve hung pictures on the wall and scattered ceramic versions of my college mascot around the house. Finally I have laid claim to a space without turning it into a landfill. The journey was long and arduous, and it’s far from over, but at long last, I live in a safe environment.

And I am keeping it that way.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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The Late 1990s

Fort Worth, Texas

Coerced by my father to spend time with him during his league night at the bowling alley, I found myself thoroughly bored. There are only so many times you can watch overweight, middle-aged men throw heavy balls down the lane before you start calculating the average turn time per person (thirty seconds per ball with ball return, shorter for a strike) and translating Beatles songs into Latin (Ea te amat, yeah yeah yeah), after which it is obvious to all involved that you need a break.

With a buck from my dad, I headed to the arcade. For all that money, my only options were one round of the racing game Cruisin’ USA, one attempt at a shooting game that only gave instructions in Japanese, or the claw machine. Of these, the most time consuming was the claw, so there I went. For two quarters, I was in for a grab, followed by a chance to get additional grabs by stopping a wheel at the right spot to earn up to three extra attempts. Having timed that out too, every fifty cents was worth four grabs, and that dollar could kill a half hour pretty effectively.

The prizes were lame and not worth my time or money. I told myself it was physics, that I was learning something, that it was a skill worth having, but when league night was no longer a problem, the usefulness of the skill died away.

2010

Sendai, Japan

I had moved to Japan two years earlier, to a tiny mountain town with no foreign coworkers. Eventually I relocated to Sendai, one of the largest cities in Northern Japan, and took a job with another company. This time I was working at the head office with several other foreigners, but having never mastered the ability to work well with others, I struggled to find common ground. They went out drinking after work. I lived with my probable future in-laws who expected me home at a decent hour and sober. They ran off for weekends elsewhere. My boyfriend worked more than 24 days a month. We didn’t have weekends.

Boring, I called myself, and in that little misery I decided to do what made me feel better earlier in life. I headed to the arcade.

The arcades in Sendai were expansive things with claw machines lining the front and ranging in difficulty from tiny machines with cheap and easy prizes to massive monsters that charged 200 yen per play with a claw about the size of a human torso. I opted for some of the middle-grade machines and found them fairly easy. I came back to work that day with some gloomy bears, stuffed animals made adorable yet bloody in a juxtaposition that is so indicative of modern Japan that most foreigners love the things.

Two of my coworkers realized my skill, and together we went on arcade raiding parties, trying to find new toys and new ways to win. I wasn’t always perfect, and sometimes lost up to ten dollars worth of yen in pursuit of an item that moved slightly once, but my colleagues were forgiving. After all, we were fighting the same machine. Soon, we were laughing or commiserating. The excitement of winning a prize or frustration with failing to do so formed our common ground.My hours at the claw machine finally paid off, only in friends rather than trinkets.

2015

Still in Sendai

My life has changed considerably since those lunch break prize grabs. I’m now mostly a stay-at-home mom with a toddler to show for it, and budgeting is significantly more severe, but still sometimes I find myself at the machines, trying to win a BayMax, a Rirakuma, or even a gloomy bear. I still see my raiding buddies from time to time, but we don’t spend as much time at the machines for lack of funds and necessity. For the most part, we have the prizes we need. Anything we find now is just for the sake of entertainment.

 

Here I am, on the other wide of the world— still a girl with a game, winning toys to amuse myself.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Since a young age, I have had an odd relationship with fear. During the day, I would revel in light and ward off my irrational fears with rays of lazy sunshine. However, the night would bring with it the worries I had shoved away into the shadows. Due to my experiences with the deaths of loved ones, I would dwell on endless scenarios and possibilities of losing the small amount of people I had left. I would console myself desperately by telling myself that death would never befall my remaining family- though I knew just as well as anyone else that it was an inevitable transition, always lurking in the shadows. I still managed to convince myself of this for years- until the day of March 11th, 2011, when the largest earthquake to hit Japan in years shattered my sheltered complacency forever.

I had always loved visits to the ocean. The cerulean waters were always so sparkling, so calm and innocuous. Although I am an incompetent swimmer, I felt I could surrender myself to the tender arms of the waves and relax with the assurance that I would always be delivered safely to shore. As I watched the news, a sweeping feeling of despondence passed over me as I realised that the ocean I had once trusted was no longer recognisable. The once kind waters were now ceaseless walls of waves- black with debris and bodies- lapping without clemency at buildings and their inhabitants. My head snapped as I heard the name of a familiar town and I realised it was the place I had once visited- where I played with the local kids in summer afternoons. I stared at the unrecognizable carnage on the screen and wondered where they were. The reporters announced the rapidly growing death toll as images of destruction appeared. They weren’t statistics; they were real people- people who had families, identities, and lives. People just like me- yet they had lost everything. How long would it take to rebuild? Years? Decades? I found out only a few months later just how wrong I was.

I was given the opportunity to travel with a small team of my schoolmates to one of the most heavily affected areas to serve. As we drove into our destination town on that frigid December morning, I was perplexed. Yes, there were signs of the terrible catastrophe that had occurred months ago- yet the town bore no resemblance to the pictures of the utterly defeated places in the news.

“Amazing,” a teacher remarked. “They’ve cleaned everything up.” We all murmured in agreement, gazing out the windows with wide eyes as we drove on.

We passed through a different part of town and finally witnessed the full extent of the damage that had been done. On either side of us were massive lots the size of three football fields, piled with rusted, broken cars- each stacked on top of one another. Every single one of those cars had once belonged to someone- be it an individual or a happy family of four. For the first time that day, a somber mood slipped over us and we were completely silent. We drove on past the grave of cars and into a residential area.

Then, I saw it: a newly built shop, standing proudly in the midst of the empty, destroyed shells of houses. It was a nondescript building that I normally would not think to look twice at. Yet, in that very moment, it sparkled under the golden rays of morning sunlight and I remember feeling the oddest sensation of pride and hope in my heart. This one little building that would be otherwise insignificant in a world of normality embodied the very spirit of the Japanese. I began to see similar buildings popping up like survivors amongst the skeletons of deceased houses, all bathed in the crimson glow of the rising sun.

When I feel consumed by fears of the inexorable, I remember how these people had witnessed the betrayal of the ocean on their towns and continued to exist, even while surrounded by reminders of their tragedy. They know that the darkness could return at anytime but still rebuild and live their lives without succumbing to the fear of being destroyed again.

On that day, I learned the true meaning of the rising sun. There are heartbreaks and misfortunes, just as with the tragedy that had befallen these brave people. There will always be times of darkness, but the light will return and wipe your fears away in the blink of an eye. The sun surrenders itself to the lonely night everyday- yet, it pulls itself up from the depths of darkness to ascend proudly to the sky and cast its rays of light over the world once more.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

 

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Since a young age, I had an odd relationship with fear. During the day, I would revel in light and ward off my irrational fears with rays of lazy sunshine. However, the night would bring with it the worries I had shoved away into the shadows so carelessly. Due to my experiences with the deaths of loved ones, I would dwell on endless scenarios and possibilities of losing the small amount of people I had left. I would console myself desperately by telling myself that death would never befall my remaining family- though I knew just as well as anyone else that it was an inevitable transition, always lurking in the shadows. I still managed to convince myself of this for years- until the day of March 11th, 2011, when the largest earthquake to hit Japan in years shattered my sheltered complacency forever.

I had always loved visits to the ocean. The cerulean waters were always so sparkling, so calm and innocuous. Although I am an incompetent swimmer, I felt I could surrender myself to the tender arms of the waves and relax with the assurance that I would always be delivered safely to shore. As I watched the news, a sweeping feeling of despondence passed over me as I realised that the ocean I had once trusted was no longer recognisable. The once kind waters were now ceaseless walls of waves- black with debris and bodies- lapping without clemency at buildings and their inhabitants. My head snapped as I heard the name of a familiar town and I realised it was the place I had once visited- where I played with the local kids in the summer afternoons. I stared at the unrecognizable carnage on the screen and wondered where they were. The reporters announced the rapidly growing death toll as images of destruction appeared. They weren’t statistics; they were real people- people who had families, identities, and lives. People just like me- yet they had lost everything. Would they rebuild- even after this? I found out only a few months later.

I was given the opportunity to travel with a small team of my schoolmates to one of the most heavily affected areas to serve. As we drove into our destination town on that frigid December morning, I was perplexed. Yes, there were signs of the terrible catastrophe that had occurred months ago- yet the town bore no resemblance to the pictures of the utterly defeated places in the news.

“Amazing,” a teacher remarked. “They’ve cleaned everything up.” We all murmured in agreement, gazing out the windows with wide eyes as we drove on.

We passed through a different part of town and finally witnessed the full extent of the damage that had been done. On either side of us were massive lots the size of three football fields, piled with rusted, broken cars- each stacked on top of one another. Every single one of those cars had once belonged to someone- be it an individual or a happy family of four. For the first time that day, a somber mood slipped over us and we were completely silent. We drove on past the grave of cars and into a residential area.

Then, I saw it: a newly built shop, standing proudly in the midst of the empty, destroyed shells of houses. It was a nondescript building that I normally would not think to look twice at. Yet, in that very moment, it sparkled under the golden rays of morning sunlight and I remember feeling the oddest sensation of pride and hope in my heart. This one little building that would be otherwise insignificant in a world of normality embodied the very spirit of the Japanese. I began to see similar buildings popping up like survivors amongst the skeletons of deceased houses, all bathed in the crimson glow of the rising sun.

When I feel consumed by fears of the inexorable, I remember how these people had witnessed the betrayal of the ocean on their towns and continued to exist, even while surrounded by reminders of their tragedy. They know that the darkness could return at anytime but still rebuild and live their lives without succumbing to the fear of being destroyed again.

On that day, I learned the true meaning of the rising sun. Just as with the tragedy that had befallen these brave people, heartbreak comes with life. Still, though there will always be times of darkness, the light will return and wipe your fears away in the blink of an eye. The sun surrenders itself to the lonely night everyday- yet, it pulls itself up from the depths of darkness to ascend proudly to the sky and cast its rays of light over the world once more.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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          The Meriken Park in Kobe, Japan’s port area is a lovely place to enjoy an evening or pay a visit to the iconic red Kobe port tower. It is a place filled with tourists and locals enjoying the view of the ocean with ritzy hotels and a mall surrounding them. However,  in a smaller area of the park, there is a section of the wharf covered with crumbling concrete, its rusted streetlamps still clinging haphazhardly to their foundation. This is part of the Earthquake Memorial Park, which has been left unrepaired in order to serve as a reminder to everyone of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. This earthquake, which left approximately 6,400 victims and 100 billion dollars of damage in its wake, is a very major and devastating part of the city’s history.

            I took the picture you see here as the sun dipped below the distant, latticed structure of the Kobe Maritime Museum and, beyond it, the newly-constructed Umie Harborland mall. This striking view resonated deeply within me because of the way the dilapidated ruins of the wharf’s streetlights juxtaposed with the thriving park. I was inspired by the fact that the people of Kobe left this area in ruin as a reminder to themselves, and everyone, of the hardships they overcame. It shows that even though the city suffered this much destruction, they could still move forward and prosper: it is as though Kobe uses this terrible part of their history to show themselves and the world how hard they worked and how far they have come. They do not want to forget this terrible part of their past; instead, they use it to propel them towards the future.  Before moving to Kobe in August of 2014, I hardly knew anything about the city, much less the disaster that rocked it to its core. However, I soon learned its importance to the people who live here. Many of its citizens still remember the terrifying tragedy that changed their lives on the early morning of January 17, 1995.

            I have always held a distant dream of someday coming to Japan, but it seemed as though it would never become a reality, as I lacked the courage to actually take action and realize my goals.

            However, one of the reasons that I am in Japan right now is because of a tragedy that occurred in my own life: the passing of my father. Losing him made me realize just how true the age-old cliché is: life is short. Especially considering that my father himself had so many dreams left unrealized, so many parts of the world left unexplored—I knew I had to act while I still had the chance.

            So, as a senior in college in the fall of 2013, I applied to a teaching program in Japan. I graduated college that winter, worked hard and nailed the interview, and moved  to Japan in August, 2014. I was overwhelmed with happiness, but also scared, sad, and nervous at the prospect of leaving my beloved family and home for many years. But, I also knew how important it was for me to do this for myself—and for my father—who never got the chance.

            A few months later, as I stood looking at the scene you see in this picture, the decrepit wharf area mutilated by the earthquake struck a chord with me. I realized that we all carry scars—some visible, like Kobe’s, and some not, like the loss of a loved one—but we must all be brave and continue with our lives. As Chris Brogan says, “Bravery is about moving forward, because we can never go back.” Everyone has choices. No matter what happens, we all must be courageous and “use whatever past [we] come from as part of the origin story that shapes the hero [we] will become…” (Brogan). If you feel the pull of distant worlds, go explore them. Find places far and wide that inspire you to be brave.

            Although the picture here is quite simple, it is still one of my favorites. Whenever I look at it, I am reminded of the deep connection I felt with the city I now call home. The peoples’ resilience and bravery reminds me to keep working towards my own future—whatever that may be. We must all use our pasts to move us forward, just as the people of Kobe have done. I will continue to search out places far and wide as my source for inspiration. I beg you to do the same.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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The storm raged outside.  Okinawan typhoon, Jelawat, raged furiously, equivalent to a category four hurricane.   We felt safe and snug inside: warm, dry, blissful, behind sturdy, solid concrete walls.  We’d spidey wrapped 100 pound test-cord and seven bungees all around the satellite dish, to stabilize the disc from moving against the mount, bolted to that hefty wall.  Our labors paid off handsomely.  In the past, storms half as fierce knocked out our signal.  But not today.  And, AFN showed a few great flicks for once.  We watched movies and mindless sitcoms.  We played backgammon like crazy.  I was actually becoming quite good, for a beginner.  I probably lost nine games out of ten; but, Nasser has been playing nearly fifty years.  I was learning from the master.   We worked on the computer, cooked, baked, played music.  What a wonderful, uninterrupted, fabulous four days.  We made seafood pasta to die for, loaded with fresh scallops, crab, shrimp, squid and octopus. 

Tiny tentacles randomly pierced through the thick, creamy sauce and miniscule tangerine colored fish eggs brightly studded the delicious concoction.  I’d added fresh cream, sweet garlic, tangy shaved parmesan and a little turmeric to the sauce.   Absolutely divine.  We created culinary masterpieces as we waited out the worst typhoon in ten years.   Most pleasant case of cabin fever I’d ever contracted.  We were finally able to venture out the third day.  The morning was warm and fresh.  Sun seekers were out in droves: dog walkers, entire families pushing strollers and coaxing along straggling children mounted on razors and little bikes.  We sipped fresh coffee, basked in the delicious morning light, skyped our families, surfed the net.  I spotted a spalted mango ukulele I wanted for Christmas.  He was a bit shocked at my sudden inclination to the quirky musical instrument.  I clucked, “Oh, no, it is quite a charming piece of musical gear.” I played him a delightful Hawaiian melody on YouTube.  Then, in my internet ramblings, I ran across a Jack Johnson song; though it is an acoustical guitar piece, it was along that honey sweet style:  “We’re Better Together”.   We danced in the sweet morning sunlight on the Persian carpet, every few steps mindlessly catching a glimpse of waves behind the swaying palms; completely lost and enraptured in the moment.  We finally set out, he to retrieve Hunter, and I to the store to pick up a few necessities, and to drop of the movies, which were hopelessly late because of the typhoon. The kind old Japanese store owner gave us a freebie on the late fees.  We had a most pleasant afternoon. 

We all set out for a walk at sunset, and then settled into our favorite local restaurant.  I had veggie crepes, and some of Nasser’s festive platter full of raw delicacies from the sea: octopus, squid, and an extraordinary variety of fresh fish in vivid colors.  Hunter had some sticky bean sushi thing.  It was tasty as well, but for some reason, it always formed a tense, persistent string from the plate to your mouth (I discovered this particular dish is notorious for this).  We returned home to watch a movie, something about a drug that allows you to utilize 100% of your brain capacity (yielding a “four digit IQ”), very interesting concept… attractive, seductive for intellectual types, but as with all drugs, came with tremendous consequences: untoward side effects and scary, life threatening  withdrawals.  Anyway, it may be sexy to some, but it did not entice me in the least.  It was, however, very thought provoking.   We retired to bed after the movie.  The next day, Hunter parted ways, setting out to explore a remote Okinawan village with Yuan and her sister.  Nasser and I worked on tiling a table, studied, went for a run (which was not easy after so many days off because of the storm).  Along the way, we spied a huge fruit bat clinging to a tree as we jogged by.  His fat head rotated smoothly, his enormous eyes locked on us, following us along the path…kind of creeped me out a little.  They don’t bite, but, they do have claws and teeth, and he was merely feet away.  I could have touched him as we brushed by.  We don’t usually see them hanging upside down like that, adjacent to the path, but so many trees had been spoiled by the fierce storm, it must have affected their nesting places.  We witnessed the destruction of a multitude of trees along our running path.  But the China sea seemed nonplussed, unaffected, untouched, impervious to the effects of storm. The sea remains constant, a deep molten azure, pristine, full of life, undaunted by the recent fury.  I love the sea.  I love this life.

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Before the main course, we feasted on spicy calamari rings, dipped in warm, homemade marinara, I’d created myself.  I never imagined myself standing in the kitchen, dancing to Persian music with my prince, feasting on fresh calamari, in the middle of a tropical, Japanese island paradise.  Nasser slipped in and out of the kitchen snagging a morsel of calamari as he returned to the balcony to grill fillet mignon and fresh vegetables.  Nasser has broadened my horizons: opened my appetite to succulent liver, gizzards and hearts flavored with turmeric, onions, garlic and olive oil, fresh baked salmon smothered with milt and shitake mushrooms, or grilled button mushrooms stuffed with sausage.  My eyes have been opened, as has my palate, but mostly my heart.  My life is full of happy moments and fascinating experiences.

Earlier in the day, I visited Shuri castle and the royal tombs as well as the holiest place of worship in Okinawa with my son, Hunter.  We traipsed up the side of the mountain on an ancient stone path, to see a beautifully lit cavern, over-looking the ocean and the countryside.  Two stalactites dripped into small stone pots; Hunter slipped his fingers into the clear water, which had been considered holy in ancient times.  Hunter remarked that the enchanted place, with its cascading greenery and intricate root systems, reminded him of Fern Gully.  The atmosphere exuded peace.   I had a wonderful time with Hunter.  I wished Nasser could see what I had seen, but he had given me this special time to share with my son.  We had already shared many precious moments in this wondrous place.  We had even visited an untouched beach, just as I had with Hunter today.  How sweet to share these experiences with each of them.  Today, my feet sank in the soft, moist sand as I sauntered down the beach after Hunter.  Then, the surface of my boots scraped against the sharp coral stone and slipped on the green slimy moss.  Hunter remarked, “Mom, you can’t come around here, it’s only for boys”, he teased.   He correctly deduced I could not mount the dangerous, sharply inclined coral island, but I did navigate the less treacherous periphery and joined him round the other side (he had mounted the island and slipped through the opening in the center, whereas I had gone around).  The lilt in his voice belied his genuine surprise, “How did you get here?”  Never underestimate the power of a middle aged woman challenged by her strong, young adult son.  The satisfaction that spread across my lips may have been lost on him as I was out of his line of sight, but I savored the moment, then slipped back around the sharp, rocky face and met him back on the other side.  He collected beautiful coral specimens to create treasures for his friends as I plucked up brilliant pieces of sea glass, surfaces rubbed smooth by the gritty surface of the ocean floor.  The sea mist played with my hair and kissed my skin.  A brilliant blue Ryukyu sparrow played on the sea wall nearby.  Though I had slipped down the concrete wall to the beach, my sore shoulder hindered me from mounting it to return to the car; so, we made our way up the beach to a concrete stair way, collecting treasures along the way.  What a delightful time I shared with my sweet son.

            Back at home, we joined to collectively create a fabulous dinner.  I made the salad: fresh, bright greens, crisply baked pecans, slivers of yellow, red and orange bell pepper, bright red tomatoes, shiny black olives, topped off with tiny, deep red, sweet and sour zerescht that Nasser prepared for me.  He and Hunter grilled fish, chicken wings, eggplant, okra, veggie patties for Hunter, and mushrooms stuffed with spiced tofu.  We enjoyed a sweet Riesling with our neighbor, Loryn, who’d joined us.  Later, Hunter and I would walk her to her friend’s house.  The brisk walk in the fresh, cool Okinawan air awakened me.  Everyone went to bed as I put away the food and washed the dishes…a rarity.   Hunter, Nasser and I usually argue over who “gets” to do the dishes.  How different.  How refreshing, from what I hear of many other families.  But my family is not typical… It is unusual, beautiful…abundantly lovely.

How precious to share these moments from such an extraordinary place, this island paradise.  We have traipsed around, visiting farmer’s markets, peaceful remote villages, desolate beaches.  We have danced at midnight, stopped off at noodle shops, treasure stores, sacred temples, botanical gardens. Life is beautiful beyond imagination and this place is ethereal.  I wish all could see what I have beheld with my eyes, held what I have with my hands, felt and experienced what I have.

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