Sayonara, Japan – A Photo Essay
The biggest decision I made in 2013 was moving from Japan back to Chicago. Although I’m looking forward to establishing a career in America, I miss my Japanese friends and my daily life there. Thankfully, I have hundreds of photos to remind me of the gentleness, beauty and challenges of life in Japan. Below are 12 photos representing my year, and many of them were taken in Japan. As always, thank you for traveling with me. I’m looking forward to a great 2014, and I wish you all a prosperous New Year. For the extra curious, see my 2010 in photos here, 2011 here and 2012 here.
I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s holidays in America (overhyped & overpriced) but New Year’s Day in Japan is more like Christmas in America — the days leading to January 1st are meant for reflection and quality time spent with family. On New Year’s Day, many Japanese people visit shrines or temples to pray for a healthy year. I rung in 2013 at Ishite-ji Temple and on January 1st, I visited Matsuyama Castle for kakizome (writing the first kanji of the year).
On a balmy Sunday in early February, I traveled to Gogoshima Island to harvest mikan (oranges) on a steep mountain. We sent 32 boxes of fresh oranges to the people of Fukushima, where the nuclear disaster still impacts so many.
The innocent faces of these two sisters, who were playing drums at a festival in Matsuyama, brightened the day of so many.
I had too many cherry blossom photos to choose from. And while I don’t think this is necessarily my best picture, I couldn’t resist the chance to see sakura up close one last time. The image of thousands of sakura petals falling to the ground every April is something I will always remember about Japan.
I also had too many photos to choose from in May thanks to many travels, but May marked the first time I returned to my Japanese hometown of Toyama. I bicycled to my junior high school on a cool spring day and was awestruck once again by the might of the Tateyama Mountain Range.
I took this photo with my old iPhone, so it’s not the clearest. But to me, this picture describes the dissonance often apparent in so many aspects of Japanese culture.
My friend Tsuneo-san took me to the top of Mt. Ishizuchi to see a spectacular sunrise. I easily consider this one of the most serene views I have ever seen. I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to live in another country other than my own, and to see life from completely different perspectives. This picture reminds me that even through a sea of clouds, the sun always emerges eventually.
As my time in Japan came to a close, Tsuneo-san and another friend took me to see an equally amazing sunset overlooking the Shimanami Kaido Bridges, which connect Shikoku Island to the mainland.
My last month in Japan. In my three years in Japan, I experienced so much — earthquakes, typhoons, confusion beyond expression. And yet I survived it all and loved so much about my time abroad, in particular the gentle people who I met and now hold in my heart forever. I’m not the same person I was before Japan and will never be. I climbed mountains with amazing friends, and always enjoyed the view, even on cloudy days. Japan isn’t perfect, but I couldn’t have imagined a more wonderful time. (Pic is from the top of Mt. Tsurugi in Tokushima, the second highest mountain in Shikoku.)
And so I began my new journey in Chicago. I was delighted to be around family again but also experienced frustrating moments where sometimes, I felt like an alien in a strange new country called America.
Even though I visited my family every summer during my three years in Japan, I have realized that I also missed so much in my time away. So, I’m especially happy to have moments now where I can reconnect with my family and learn more family history. In November, for the first time, my father and I visited the grave of his maternal grandparents, who dedicated their plot to their son, my father’s biological father, who was killed in WWII. Sound confusing? Life almost always is. Read more about the story here.
Footprints in the snow on a sidewalk near my parents’ house. As I write this, Chicago is battling brutally cold, sub-zero weather that has forced schools and some businesses to close for two days in a row. I’m also waiting to hear back about a job that I hope to get. So I’ve been spending more of my days inside close to my computer and phone rather than outside. But as I continue on my journey and new life, I’ll always consider myself a seeker, hoping to leave some sort of positive imprint in the world.