**Japan: a love letter**
Many of my Japanese friends and my students ask me what it is I love about Japan.
When I was a child, our neighbors across the street were Japanese and I was frequently invited over to their house to play with their daughter and to stay for dinner. My elementary school had a large number of Japanese students due to the auto manufacturing presence in my city.
In the fifth grade, I enrolled in a weekend Japanese language and culture class and was hooked. I tried my first Japanese food and we watched Studio Ghibli films in Japanese. I studied Japanese for two years in high school and helped start our Japanese club, and I minored in Japanese from Western Michigan University (there was no major offered at that time).
My essay for admittance to Michigan State University even included those first experiences in the Japanese language classroom.
It had been my dream since childhood to move to Japan. In 2010, I was selected to teach for six months at a language school in Komaki, Aichi. After something like a 15-hour plane ride and weather delays, I landed totally disoriented in Nagoya and had to get myself to Komaki. With no escort or guide until the following Monday, and no cash as I had not managed to exchange dollars for yen, I felt like I had landed on the moon!! Everything was completely foreign; although I can read and write basic Japanese in the three alphabets, my knowledge of kanji characters was limited and there were very few English speakers in my city.
I spent weekends over the next six months jumping on trains and planning my own trips using the Internet (I did not have a cell phone or Google maps at that time). I managed to see a great deal of central Japan on my own, including Inuyama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Toba, and Takayama (I had planned on visiting Tokyo and Nikko, but the March 11 earthquake and tsunami had me reschedule those travel plans).
My love affair with Japan was absolutely cemented on my very first visit to Kyoto Christmas 2010. I have since gone on to visit Kyoto 12 times for a total of 13 visits.
Looking back at those first travel experiences, I am amazed at how much I did on my own.
When I visited traditional Japanese temples and experienced traditional Japanese culture, for the first time, I felt like I had come home. Being in Japan, it’s like my soul resonates on exactly the same frequency. I loved everything about the aesthetics, balance, and simplicity of Japanese culture and design. At that time, I could not really express the feeling in words, but the more I learn about Japanese culture now, I am able to put words to those earlier experiences.
I was blessed to have the opportunity to move back to my beloved Japan in December 2015 and have tried the most to make every minute here count.
Over the last four years, I have traveled extensively, immersed myself in culture (including tea ceremony, pottery making, indigo dyeing, traditional carving, glass blowing, and kimono dressing), Japanese cooking classes, Japanese sports (archery, yabusame and men’s rhythmic gymnastics), and Zen meditation (I am volunteering at this year’s ZEN 2.0 conference and will be doing a Zen retreat at Eiheiji in Fukui).
I have stayed on Koyasan, visited the three main shrines of Kumano Kodo, will do a retreat at head temple Eiheiji, and walk part of the 88-Temple pilgrimage in Shikoku next year if all goes according to plan.
I have written close to 20 articles for several publications in Japan including Metropolis Magazine, Tokyo Weekender, and Pacific Stars and Stripes. I love nothing more than sharing my travel discoveries and photos with those who are similarly interested in discovering Japan. I have had the chance to connect with many online international friends who are also visiting the country.
I am so thankful and honored by all of my new friends who have supported me on the journey, thank you!! 😊🙏🏻
Here are some of my favorite photos from 2010 and 2015-present: