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Published: April 7th 2014
Blossoming in Onomichi.
Sakura Season, the Onomichi Trip, and the Return Home
Well, I returned from Japan on Tuesday, April 1, and have been meaning to finish up the blog with one last post. It’s a bit late, but here it is now.
Towards the end of my last week in Japan, the cherry blossoms came out, and so I was able to do some flower viewing. The pink ume blossoms had been out for a while, and they were beautiful, so I didn’t fully appreciate why people kept anticipating the cherry blossoms. When they came out, it was spectacular. Lining the Nikokawa (river) in Kure, a formerly bleak winter scene, rows of cherry blossoms exploded with life, and with the blossoms, people began returning from their winter hideaways. The river banks were lined with old men playing crochet, and families spread tarps and blankets under the trees, drinking and picnicking beneath the blossoms. While the days had been warming while I was there, it wasn’t until the cherry blossoms came out that I knew that spring had arrived. Wherever I went during the end of my stay (Hiroshima, Onomichi), I witnessed this spring blossoming of the both the flowers
View of Onomichi Straight
Islands across the water.
and the Japanese people.
Ellen and I went on one more trip to Onomichi during my last weekend there. It’s a couple hours by local train, closer to Mihara, where one of Ellen’s friends drove us after we went to “Bunny Island” (Okunoshima) soon after I arrived. The city consists of a mainland harbor and an island archipelago, and you can take ferries to the small islands. Due to time constraints, we stuck to the mainland part of the city and walked the “old temple walk,” following stone markers that guided us through the densely packed residential neighborhoods. There were a number of temples and shrines on this winding and sometimes steep route through the neighborhood build on a hillside. Having traveled by myself mostly during my time here, I started off too fast, wanting to see it all. However, I soon learned a valuable life lesson in that when traveling with others, the pace will be slower, so you should just appreciate the journey with the people you are with. Ellen was not too excited about the climb to the top of the hill, so we took it slow. On the way we saw another couple where the
On the Old Temple Road
woman was not happy about the hike and said something fierce in Japanese to the man she was with. It was a funny moment of cross-cultural connection.
The shrine on top of the hill was actually a lovers’ sanctuary, dedicated to couples. It was the first go-shuin that I got with Ellen, and she was excited to see the process, having only heard about it from me. We burned incense at a place that overlooked the city. Nearby, there was a rock-climbing course intended for couples to do together. It cost 100 yen for a couple to scale rocks using iron chains fastened into them. Suddenly not tired anymore, Ellen wanted to try, so we climbed up the rocks to find a little shrine there.
After that, we spent time at the observatory on the top of the hill and had mikan (orange) ice-cream there. We took a gondola down the mountain (maybe should have taken that up), which took us further into town, and we went to a few more temples before the sky darkened with both evening and a coming storm. At one shrine, we ran into a charismatic cat that played
Town of History
A memorial sits behind the old, tin-roofed houses along the Old Temple Road.
with a string hanging from Ellen’s coat, leaping and pouncing at it. At another temple, we ran into a dog that we had seen earlier during the day. Strangely, it seemed as if the dog was following the old temple path. It even knew to walk on the path and not in the sand gardens. Overall, Onomichi was a fascinating old town, full of history and a close-knit community, yet accessible to visitors by land or by sea.
Ellen took nenkyu (paid time off) on Monday, and we spend the day in Kure, which is actually a pretty cool town in its own right. We had previously visited a submarine and mine-sweeping museum near the port with Ellen’s friends, but on Monday we went to the downtown area, full of interesting shops and home to a local shrine. I completed my go-shuin-chou at the Kure Shrine, a fitting end to the book of my travels. I asked the man there if he could write my name on the front cover, which is customary, but he told me that I must write my own name. Later that night, I wrote 和田弘on the cover of my book using calligraphy
Decked in Red
Along the Old Temple Road.
supplies from the dollar store. I enjoyed practicing calligraphy, and the Japanese written language made more sense in terms of the brush.
Tuesday came and it was time to go home. I traveled by bus to Hiroshima airport, which isn’t a very large airport at all. Before security, there were a few omiyage shops and a display of Itsukushima-jinja (the major shrine on Miyajima) made out of confectionery. Once you go through security, there’s only one big waiting room that you sit in before your plane is called and you walk out onto the tarmac to board the plane. While I waited, I watched baseball with some older men and ate a bento lunch that Ellen made for me.
Taking off from Hiroshima, the landscape made sense with what I had experienced. That part of Western Japan is a landscape of hills rising out of the water, ancient forests clinging to the precipitous slopes. The distances that had seemed to far to me as a stranger in an unfamiliar land now seemed small. The cities and towns that I visited seemed closer together, the paths through or around the mountains more definite. As we sailed through the clear
Roof Architecture of Housing
Some houses had tiled roofs, right next to others with tin-roofs. Different time periods and aesthetics meshed in the old town.
skies away from Western Japan, I fell into a peaceful sleep.
When I landed in Narita when I just came to Japan, the brownness of the landscape made an impression on me. The soil was raw and bare, patches of earth-toned brushstrokes. When I arrived in Narita from Hiroshima, the brownness still dominated, but there was a hind of an undertone of green. It made me appreciate that I was able to experience the changing of seasons during my month stay in Japan. The cyclic nature of the seasons reflects the cycles of our lives. For every arrival, a departure.
I later learned from Dad that Obaachan was born in Okayama before moving to Wakayama. It was interesting that I was able to visit both places, and in that order. I knew why I was going to Wakayama, but I just ended up in Okayama on a whim. It was after the earthquake and I was curious what was there. I ended up really liking the city, and the go-shuin I got there turned out to be particularly beautiful. Intentionally or not, with or without my knowledge, I ended up returning to the places that our
Flowers on a Roadside
On one of the narrow alleys leading through the town. The Old Temple Road is made of roads like this.
ancestors knew and left. I am beginning to think that these invisible connections running through our human history must be stronger than we realize.
On the long flight home across the Pacific, I could not sleep, but the morning came early as we flew towards the dawn. The sky was speckled with friendly, white clouds for most of the way. However, as we approached San Francisco, we ran into a wall of dark, rainy clouds. The transition was sudden. When we landed in the airport, the social transition was just as sudden. I’ve heard it said how rude Americans are, but I didn’t really think of us as being that bad. Compared to how polite public social interactions are in Japan, though, I was really shocked. Passengers were rude to the staff. The airport staff were rude to the passengers. It was a little bit unnerving. However, my flight to Salt Lake was delayed as the plane we were supposed to be riding was hit by lightning, burning a hole in the elevator shaft and scarring the exterior fuselage. So despite my better judgment I decided to buy an overpriced burrito in the airport. The staff there were so
Sakura bloom above a wall along a staircase leading through the old town.
friendly, though, that I was relieved that decency was alive in the United States. It was probably just the delays that had people on edge, but I will miss the mentality of Japanese public civility.
Luckily, I returned during Brandon’s spring break, so we were able to go skiing, play tennis, and hang out together. Brandon learned to play shogi, a Japanese chess-like game, some time ago, but I couldn’t really play with him because I couldn’t remember how the pieces moved. I bought him a set in Japan that has little arrows on the pieces, so we’ve been able to play.
I’ve readjusted to life here. My circadian rhythms are a bit off, and I wake up in the middle of the night, but I’m starting to get over the jetlag. It’s springtime in the valley, and it’s beautiful here, too. It’s good to read that Uncle Ron is back at home now, too, returning from his long trip to the hospital. All around, everything seems all right, full of things to come. Sakura blossoms burn bright in my memory, along with an unforgettable month of adventures in Japan.
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