Along lake Toya
Normally I would refrain from posting my more personal wanderings on this website. There are those experiences that I have, that I usually choose to keep to myself. But in the week following my recent trip to Japan, I find that the experience has been so transformative, that I simply must share it.
I have traveled to many places in my 35 years, mostly within the US and Canada. I took a brief school trip to England when I was 17, but until 2008 had not traveled outside of North America. But then came Antarctica and New Zealand. For the past four years I've had the incredible privilege of living amongst the wonderful people of New Zealand for various stretches of time as I made my way both to and from the icy continent below. I fell in love with the country and look forward to returning each year. When news of the earthquake in Christchurch broke, it was someone of a personal hit for me as I have grown to think of the city as my second home. I have often spoke about how I could seriously see myself living in this great country later in life and that the citizens there are so much more in tune with my own beliefs and attitudes towards others.
But then came Japan.
My short 8 days in Japan have completely opened my eyes. It is truly a wonderful country. The people exude an absolute sense of kindness and compassion. When I struggled with the language, they were incredibly eager to help and work with me to clarify what I was trying to communicate. I was always welcomed no matter where I went and was always greeted with smiles. Once outside of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, there are Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples that can be found around every corner. There is a constant feeling of calm, an almost perpetual collective meditation. Even in busy tourist areas, it's not hard to make a few extra turns and find yourself down a remote trail and be immersed in a beautiful and peaceful surrounding. No matter where we went, there was always a wonderful little surprise that made it worth it. Putting down the Lonely planet guide, and traveling by instinct allowed us to unearth the secret gems that most visitors never get to experience. I have absolutely fallen in love with this country and her people.
As you walk around from town to town you notice other things too. You notice that you can't find a single unhealthy looking or overweight person (which is reflected in their #1 global life expectancy and unequaled universal health care system). The meals you eat taste natural and healthy. Even "junk" food is healthier. I was eating a lot and still managed to lose a few pounds. Another observation I made is that the entire country seems to be incredibly proud of their science and scientists. While the people are devout in their religions, they don't seem to let that devotion cloud the advancement of their science (something that America could stand to learn a bit about). The technology in Japan is incredible. The cars are extremely eco-friend, the bullet-train rail systems are fantastic, and science is embraced by all. The science museum in Tokyo was bustling with thousands of eager and excited people participating in live learning-experiments. There were "outreach" staff that were there simply to help teach the wonders of science to everyone. Needless to say, there was not a creationist "science" museum anywhere to be found.
Tourism is highly encouraged. Japan actually offers special bullet train rail passes for American citizens that are ridiculously economical. I bought a 3-day unlimited pass for about $120 US. Over the course of the 8 days, I traveled on the equivalent of about 700-800 dollars worth of train legs. The bullet trains are incredibly fast too and can get you from Tokyo all the way up to the Northern tip of Honshu in about 3 and a half hours. I urge anyone reading this to please consider visiting. It will have a profound effect on you...I promise.
Over the 8 days that we wandered around Japan, I felt a constant sense of peace and contentment. There were times when I would just sit and not feel rushed or bored. Just content to "soak it in". I was happier than I've been for a long time. It was truly the best trip I've ever taken and has put many things in perspective for me. Of course what really made the trip so wonderful, was the person I was able to share it with.
When I boarded the plane back to the States, and the rude flight attendant started getting an attitude with a Japanese passenger that didn't speak very much English, it made me incredibly sad. All she was trying to do was order her meal and didn't know how to say it all in English. Why can't our "great nation" show the kindness and compassion that others show us? Perhaps a discussion for another day. For now I will go forward with the memories, experiences, and peace that Japan has given me...and I look forward to the day when I can return.
I could spell out in gross detail what we did and where we went on this trip, but I feel showing a few pictures would illustrate better (my flickr account has more). The majority of the time was spent up on the Northern island of Hokkaido where we saw and experienced wondrous things...
As far as the running, well Badwater is officially a month away. I hope to start posting about my final training regimen as the weeks progress.