A couple weeks ago, I went to Japan for the long weekend here in Korea – a five-day long weekend! Yes! It definitely helped make up for having no Labour Day long weekend. Here in Korea, this long weekend was due to Chuseok (추석), otherwise known as Korean Thanksgiving. During this harvest holiday, family members from all around get together and there’s usually a lot of food involved, as well as the thanking of their ancestors.
The traffic was nuts, since people were leaving town to visit family, and vice versa, so it was a good thing my fellow English teacher friend and I left the country during this time.
It was definitely a ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ trip. First a cab, then the KTX train, then a subway, then another cab, then an overnight stay in Seoul for my flight the next day, then a bus, then a plane, then another train, then the Bullet train, then 3 different subway rides, then walking. Well, there was other walking too, but wow! I’m now realizing how much that actually was.
My friend and I went to Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, where there’s a lot of history. And I mean A LOT. Since this friend invited me along with her months ago (one thankful introvert here! Not that I never invite people anywhere, because I do ), I knew we’d be heading for the many old temples, gardens and palaces that make Kyoto so famous. It was pretty fascinating to see all that history, to see those gardens maintained so meticulously, and to see all the school girls and boys crowding the same places with us. I’m pretty sure it was a field trip day or something at a couple of these sites since we were the only ones on the bus (aside from the driver) who weren’t under 17 and wearing school uniforms. I have also never smelled so much incense, of which there was always some burning at the many shrines in Kyoto – sometimes they were a part of gardens or palaces and other times the grounds were specifically dedicated to the shrine itself – such as the famed Fushimi Inari-taisha. You know, this one:
I spent some time just sitting on a rock at that shrine, catching my breath and my cool (it was still quite warm there, as well as more humid than Korea was at the time). And, I actually managed to get a solid WiFi connection! That was one part I was really surprised about: the lack of available, decent WiFi in Japan (mind you, I only visited two cities). While I had some, I also wanted to catch some Pokemon since I hadn’t been able to do yet that in Korea. I managed to catch 6, I’m pleased to report.
Sitting there for a while, it was interesting watching what was happening around me: lines of people (both local and foreign) taking their turn tossing their money in, ringing the bell, clapping their hands together, bowing deeply and praying. Wishing. Hoping.
I have to say, at first visiting these shrines made me somewhat uncomfortable – and not just from the heavy smell of incense. Soon, though, it just made me feel glad.
As a Christian – one who believes and knows with all my heart that Jesus is the lover of my soul, that only through his sacrifice of his perfect life am I saved from all my heaping imperfection, and because I have chosen to accept and live out that gift, first for the rest of my life, then for eternity – I felt immensely glad that I didn’t have to wish and hope. I mean sure, I can wish and hope with the best of them when it comes to some parts of my life, but I don’t have to when it comes to what happens to what happens to me when I die. I just don’t have to, because I already know (and this eternal life requires no time travel, cryosleep, vampirism, or special sci-fi serums).
It allows so much freedom for me: freedom to live, freedom to not live in fear of what could happen, freedom to not panic over whether my plane would arrive in one piece, freedom to not throw myself in a tizzy about the last few small earthquakes in Korea (and I do mean small, though one of them was the largest one recorded on Korean soil), freedom to talk to Jesus like a friend throughout my Monday (because goodness knows I need it!), even when a poor, sick third grade girl starts losing her cookies on her desk in front of me, and freedom to simultaneously keep both my Bible and my lightsaber in places of honour at home (though, unfortunately, I had to leave the lightsaber back in Canda).
There’s also freedom for you to disagree with me. And that’s okay. It’s your choice, and this is mine.
So anyways, I was talking about Japan, right? Right!
Being someone who is a fan of Anime, Manga, and other aspects of Japanese pop culture, I had a fantastic time there! For years I have heard so much about the country and culture, seen it portrayed many different ways and times, and wondered what it was like. Friends have asked me, “What was your favourite part?” Honestly, I think it was just a lot of little things put together. Seeing the anime style so commonplace, seeing arcades everywhere and manga advertised, watching the beautiful kimonos and yukatas being worn with those clompy wooden sandals, eating ramen and teriyaki pork and rice and gyoza that makes me smile just remembering how delicious it was (seriously, guys, I have never felt that way about food before then), going to the International Manga Museum and wishing I could read Japanese, seeing faux ninjas hanging from the ceiling in the airport, with a Pokemon store in the background, and just, well, seeing things. Taking it all in. Thinking, “Hey! I know what that is from _____ (name of anime).” “Man, those monkeys are grabby.” “Hey, there’s a ninja hanging from the ceiling.””Ah! I have to take a picture of ____/try ____ because my brother and I watched ____ where they had that thing, and OH MY GOSH why is this teriyaki sauce and gyoza so good?!?!”
This trip was also the first time I’d had a trip where I was responsible for making most of the reservations and such. I travelled to Korea alone initially, but my parents helped me book the flight (since I’d never done something like this on my own), and I was picked up by the government-affiliated organization that brought me to Korea. For this trip, I booked my own tickets, made the hostel reservations, and researched the crap out of how to get around Japan. We also asked people for help when we needed it, and I asked my own heavenly sources for help. And you know what? It all worked out. Fancy that.
For the last day and a half of the trip, my friend and I went our separate ways (literally, seeing as how she was flying from a different airport) and I travelled by myself to another hostel, explored the city of Nagoya for a while, and made some new friends playing Dutch Blitz and other games that night at the hostel. The next day I did the whole planes, trains and automobile circuit again, and came back to Korea.
I travelled by myself, internationally. And I had the freedom to not worry about it. So I didn’t. Hakuna Matata.
After I got home, it hit me again even more. “Hey, I’m travelling around the world! Hey, I did it solo for a while. Hey, I can do more than I thought I could. Hey, God’s always with me. Hey, that’s awesome! Hey, it doesn’t matter what happens! Hey! Hey! Hey!”
I learned a lot of things in Japan, I saw a lot of things, and I bought a lot of things.
Mostly? I learned I had the freedom to be more confident.
And so I will be.
Especially when I bust out my brand new lightsaber chopsticks that light up.