Sunset Journeys

I feel sad that I haven’t had time to write as much as I would liked to this year.  My job keeps me quite busy everyday, and when I’m not working, I am trying to explore Ehime (and Japan) as much as possible.  Thanks to the help of my gracious students, I recently had the opportunity to see two beautiful sunsets.  The first was near Imabari City, home of the spectacular Shimanami Kaido Bridge, which connects Shikoku with Japan’s main island (Honshu).  The second was from Futami Beach in Ehime, a popular place for tourists and locals, mainly because of the stunning sunset that can be seen from the beach.  I suppose it’s fitting that I post two pictures of sunsets, as in exactly one month, I will be returning to America.  I’ll soon be reflecting more about my time in Japan, and chronicling more “Stories from the Inaka” as I look back on my three amazing years in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Sunset over Shimanami Kaido Bridge.

Sunset over Shimanami Kaido Bridge.

Sunset over Futami Beach in Futami, Ehime.

Sunset over Futami Beach in Futami, Ehime.

A Sea of Clouds

I recently had the privilege of seeing a spectacular sunrise over Ishizuchi Mountain, the highest mountain in western Japan. This picture is from about 1,500 meters above sea level, just as the sun started to emerge. The sea of clouds (雲海) almost looked like an ocean to me, and made having to get up at 2 a.m worth it.  More to come about this amazing experience soon.

A sea of clouds near Ishizuchi Mountain in Ehime, Japan.

A sea of clouds near Ishizuchi Mountain in Ehime, Japan.

Train Stories #11: Between the Rice Fields

Emiful Masaki in Masaki, Ehime-ken.

Emiful Masaki in Masaki, Ehime-ken.

I’m usually sleepy and a little disgruntled on my Saturday morning train rides to work, but on a balmy morning last month, something inside of me was awakened – a realization that in another life, I was probably a Japanese Buddhist nun.

Every Saturday for work, I commute from the city center to a smaller country area just outside of Matsuyama. Smack in the middle of rice fields is Emiful Masaki (エミフルMASAKI), which is said to be the largest shopping mall in Western Japan and is quite the attraction in the otherwise rural Ehime-ken. It’s also home to one of my company’s English conversation schools.

As a result of the location of Emiful, there is always an interesting mix of people surrounding me on my morning train ride, from the J-pop wannabes glued to their iPhones about to spend their monthly earnings on designer clothing to the obasan carrying a rolling “granny cart” because she is going to the supermarket to buy groceries.

On this particular Saturday morning, two young men to my right chatted and laughed while the other young women surrounding me stared at their smartphones. All of the women wore pounds of mascara, covering their eyes like a black web. One proudly toted a Marc by Marc Jacobs purse and the others were admirably well-dressed and groomed with perfectly painted toenails and well-tailored clothing.

When the train stopped at Okada Station, a rural area with only ricefields in the distance, I looked out the window. Directly in front of me, there was an elderly woman probably in her late 70s working on a farm, tending to her rice crop on a cloudy Saturday morning. Like so many elderly woman I see in Japan, she probably walks with a hunched back after years of hard labor on the farm. Her life is her family and the crop she produces and harvests – a stark contrast to the designer brand frenzy that consumes so many of the younger generation in Japan and other wealthy countries.

As the train slowly started to move again, I forgot about the younger passengers surrounding me and noticed a woman sitting directly across from me. For some reason, I didn’t see her before.

I can’t remember anything she was wearing, but I can still see her posture vividly: she looked down at her shoes as she clutched her shopping cart. She never once stared at me or any electronic device, but rather seemed deep in thought, perhaps thinking about what she will cook for dinner or recent medical tests. “It’s the simple pleasures in life that matter the most,” she seemed to say to me, though we never made eye contact or said hello to each other. Every wrinkle on her face and hands seemed to tell a story of strength, survival and wisdom. Even though she was more than three times my age, I felt connected to her more than anyone else sitting around me.

At 古泉 (Koizumi), she and I exited the train along with most of the other passengers. I let her walk in front of me. She gently tugged at her cart and trotted to the grocery store past the rice fields.

I watched her for a few seconds before continuing on my path to work. She has no idea how much I admire her, but I do.

The Fleeting Beauty of Japanese Cherry Blossoms

Spring is my favorite time in Japan, mainly because for two fleeting  weeks, cherry blossoms emerge, luring the young and old outside to appreciate Japanese nature at its finest.  Although cherry blossom season is over in Matsuyama, traces of fallen blossoms remain on the ground, reminding me to appreciate things or people who won’t always be around.  Below are some of my favorite photos from this year’s hanami season in Ehime.

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A couple relax under a cherry blossom tree along Ishite River, Matsuyama.

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The elderly enjoy viewing the cherry blossoms.

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Matsuyama’s famous ferris wheel as seen from atop Matsuyama Castle Park.

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石手川公園松山 (Ishitegakoen train station, Matsuyama).

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Dogo Park.

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The view of the cherry blossoms along Ishite River Park as the sun sets.

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Matsuyama Castle.

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A man rests on a bench after biking along Ishite River Park, Matsuyama.

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Nanrakuen Garden in Uwajima, Ehime.

Remembering Dreams: An Interview with Filmmaker Regge Life

I wrote an article for Japan Today about a new documentary on the two American victims killed in the tsunami two years ago.  The film, Live Your Dream: The Taylor Anderson Story, is directed by Regge Life, who was recently in Tokyo premiering the story.

Anderson, an American teacher living in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, was the first known American victim in the disaster.  The film also includes memories of Monty Dickson, an American teacher from Alaska who was killed by the tsunami in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture.  Both teachers were Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET).

Even though I did not know Taylor or Monty, I felt personally connected to their stories, as I was also an ALT with the JET Programme living in a coastal town during the time of 3/11.  Just like Monty and Taylor, I rotated between several elementary schools and a junior high school; the only difference was that I lived in the northwest of Japan, which was luckily unharmed in the disaster.

My thoughts continue to be with both Taylor’s and Monty’s families, and I hope this film inspires others to live their dreams, just as Taylor and Monty were during their time in Japan.

Life was a wonderful person to interview, and as a storyteller for more than two decades who has worked on numerous Japanese projects, he has a particularly unique perspective on Japanese culture.

You can read the article here, and watch an excerpt from the film below.