Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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October 16, 2002

The Mountain are Lovely
So I finally got into the mountains this past weekend. Lovely! The best part was a found a few places where all I heard was nature. The wind in the trees, running water, birds, etc. I always seek that out, and rarely find it. Well, below is a view of the mountains from my apartment. Obviously, it's actually two photos next to each other - a cheap version of a panoramic photo. But it gives you a general idea of my view. In the morning I love laying in bed looking at the mountains for a little while before I get up. I start work at noon, so I can wake up sloooooowly. I hate waking up quickly. I prefer to read a little, think about what I'm going to wear, maybe snooze a bit. I don't mind one bit that I work until 9pm, because I can wake up slooooowly. :-)

I rode up into these mountains this weekend on my little street bicycle. I think it was one of the peaks in the middle. Anyway I was dying because I'm out of shape aerobically. (I'm going to need more aerobic fitness if I'm going to get my rear up Mount Fuji in the spring.) Plus the bike is too small for me, so that means not all my leg muscles could work since my legs can't straighten. AND it isn't a mountain bike by any means. Anyway, I kept going up and up and up. The plan was to keep going until the road started to go down again. It always seemed like I was nearly there, but then there would be another turn and more upward road. Eventually it was getting ridiculous - I was stopping every 50 yards for rest. And I was walking more than riding the bicycle. In a sense I was pushing the bike up the mountain. So I turned around and headed back down. On the way down I stopped and asked a man about where I was on my map. He smiled, and chatted away in Japanese and pointed to different things on the map, including the highway back. I think he thought I was asking how to get back to Nagaoka. At one point he turned and pointed back from where I came, said something and smiled. I have learned enough Japanese to know he asked a question (his phrase ended with "ka"). So I think he asked if I got to the top of the mountain, so I think I was close, real close. Oh well! I found what I was looking for - fresh air, sun and a good workout. AND I took some neat photos, including some of a beautiful spider in its web. OH, and I got a shot of a small valley - the light was just right to highlight all the dragon flies buzzing around in it. I hope it turns out. If any of them turn out, I'll post them here.

TWICE I was Mistaken for a Japanese Person
I know, sounds crazy, but I had sunglasses on when I was bicycling. On the way to the mountain, a guy made a surprised sound as I came towards him and his group. Everyone in his group turned as I passed and one said "gaijin!" (foreigner - pronounced "guy-jean"). And again in the mountains as I was going up and up... an elderly couple was standing at a particularly nice vista point. The man said much more than "Good Day" (Konichiwa) as I came near them. Of course I was pedaling slowly, and panting like a dog. Anyway, I think he assumed I was Japanese and he was trying to start a conversation. I just looked at him, smiled and nodded. He still looked confused so I said "Hello!" Then his face brightened with pleasant surprise and said to his wife, "gaijin!" Then they both smiled and nodded at me as I went by. Made me think foreigners don't ride bicycles into the mountains very much.

The experience made me think of the time I got mistaken for a French person in Paris - I was in a historic cemetery. A man came up and started whizzing out French as fast as you please. I knew enough to know he was looking for directions - but he was talking much too quickly - I think he was in a big hurry. When I answered in French, "sorry, I am American..." he walked away angry, before I could continue on to say "if you speak slowly, maybe I can help you.". The irony of it all is I had a map of the cemetery in my pocket - a map that was difficult to find. I probably could have helped him - I'd already helped a few other tourists. Oh well, interesting comparison though, huh? Hey folks, next time you encounter a foreigner there in the USA, please think of them as another me - and be patient.

There's a lot of nodding here in Japan. It's sort of an informal bow. Oh, on the topic of bowing, I feel rather awkward every time I try. I usually do them "on the move" as I'm trying to escape from the culturally awkward moment. But that's not right. You're suppose to stop, put your hands at your sides, bow, and then leave. But they are very patient with westerners. Actually, sometimes people will stop and turn and bow multiple times before actually leaving. It's almost like a competition to see who can get the last bow in. But it's actually a sign of respect to be the last one bowing. At school I don't bow very much because the school is suppose to be a small, informal pocket of western culture. They want us to be as western as possible. There was a book here in the apartment when I arrived called "Learning to Bow." At first I was excited, I thought it might help me learn when and how to bow. But it turns out to be a book about the Japanese educational system, and how difficult it is for students. I'm still going to read it, but I guess this means I'll be fudging my way through for quite a while.

Changes are Happening
Before I left for Japan, I read somewhere that it's important to share personal growth changes with people back home, as they're happening. That way the changes aren't sudden when I come home. It makes sense, doesn't it? And already there are changes happening - after only two months. Unfortunately, I only have a vague sense of them at this point. Here's a list of a few thoughts in no particular order. I hope they make sense.

  • My understanding of humanity is increasing and my view of humanity is broadening. I'm learning some things are common in us all, regardless of culture. At the same time I'm learning how much culture molds us into the individuals we are. Interesting duplicity.

  • I'm learning some challenges are with you, no matter what culture you are in - and, more importantly, how to better deal with those challenges.

  • My geography knowledge continues to increase - eventually I'd like to be able to look at a blank map and know all the countries. Ambitious goal, I know.

  • I'm reconnecting with nature - I kinda got away from it for a while.

  • I'm learning to appreciate all the people in my world EVEN more. :-)

Have You Ever Just Sat Alone and Watched the Sun Set?
I never had, but that's what I did this evening, and I plan to do it more often. A week or so ago I discovered a lovely park right on the Shinano-gawa (Shinano River). I've been going there on my "lunch" breaks. That's why I haven't been emailing as much. I've been feeling like I have to get as much fresh air as possible before winter comes - I hope you understand. Anyway, the park is on the side of a small hill. There are many benches, and a small path that goes along the river. People walk their dogs. (There are some adorable dogs here! - They make me miss Julie.) The park faces directly west, across the river to the newer part of the city and past that to another small mountain range. It's a perfect place to watch a sunset.

I took a book this evening and sat on a bench and read - occasionally looking up to see how the sky had changed since the last paragraph. And then all of a sudden the bottom of the sun was touching the horizon. I put down my book and watched. It seemed to be only a minute or two before the top of the sun disappeared behind the mountains. It was about 4am-ish in the USA. I thought of all of you asleep in your beds - resting up for the coming Monday morning. As it disappeared, I felt like I was sending the sun over to you all. I hope you enjoyed a little of it. On the left is a photo of the sunset I watched. This photo doesn't really do it justice though. The photo on the right was taken on a different day, closer to mid-day.

Dewa sono uchi ni
"See you in a little while"

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on to October 23, 2002