Apart from this simple synopsis of my current affairs, I wanted to post a few photos of my whirlwind tour of Honshu. It was originally a trip to Kansai, but I incorporated a side trip to Yokohama for a job fair, which turned out to be only somewhat worth the trip. I'm still uncertain where I will be in 4 months, when my JET contract expires and I am a free agent, so to speak. I keep looking back on these four years and wondering where the time went. On one hand, I feel like I've been in Okinawa for centuries, having lived what seems like a millenia ago on Ishigaki Island. On the other hand, I haven't accomplished all of the things I had originally set out to do and now I'm trying to pack them all into these last four months. I know I should just focus on my next move at this point and let go of the time line I had for myself. We never know where life will take us, or when it's time to do the things we dreamed of doing. Sometimes external forces prevent us from accomplishing these goals. For me though, I think internal forces had a much stronger influence. But, I believe I've matured emotionally and perhaps, spiritually (and of course, physically since I'm now on the verge of leaving the "young adult" age category, which I believe is 25-34, though sometimes 35 is added). I know, age ain't nothing but a number, and I do feel like I'm much healthier and way more comfortable with myself than I was 4 or 5 years ago, and certainly much more so than 10 years ago. So there's that.
But what about that chapbook I wanted to complete and publish? And how about my goal of reaching JLPT N3 before leaving Japan. Those seem to be sitting out there on a distant, though not impossible to reach, horizon. I've been studying 日本語 as much as I can, and taking time to speak it with my Japanese friends at least 30 minutes-1 hour a day without using English. One of my close friends here is so kind and helpful when it comes to this. He knows that I feel a bit down about my speaking skills, though I'm happy about my reading skills (although he says they are rather elementary, literally...maybe 六年生小学校). But I'm mostly self-taught, so I have to give myself a bit of credit I guess. But I have wasted large amounts of time not studying and not trying to better my Japanese skills, and not writing when I knew I should have been. Well, I can get back on the regret horse or I can just accept things as they are and keep moving forward. I've opted for the latter. We can only do so much. I'm happy with some of the things I've accomplished and am still working hard to get the others completed as well.
Now that I've gotten all of that out of the way...
My trip to Kansai - which may be the only chance I get to see that area of Japan, though I hope not -- was amazing, even though it was still in the dead of winter in mid-February. I really loved Osaka. I could see myself living there and having a great time. I loved the energy that I felt there. It was so unlike Tokyo, which I find rather corporate and cold in so many ways. Osaka was gregarious and in your face. I didn't spend enough time to explore it in depth, but I got a welcoming feeling from the city. I did have enough time to visit Osaka-jo and the Umeda Sky Building, both of which I recommend to anyone visiting the city. Unfortunately, due to my dietary issues, I can't enjoy Osaka's famous culinary delights, which I have heard are amazing. 残念ね。
Yokohama felt very new and reminded me of places in the USA I have either lived in or visited before. It was a very clean city, though it didn't feel particularly Japanese. I didn't have a chance to explore it much since I was job hunting, as I spent most of my time near the convention center and Yokohama Bay. Another friend, who lived there about 10 years ago, said it's a very fun city and told me not to overlook it. He grew up in that area so he's rather partial to the culture there. I don't know if I would go back to Yokohama though, unless I had a particular reason to do so. I didn't have time to go to Kamakura unfortunately, though I would go to Kanagawa just to visit Kamakura.
In traveling between Kansai and Kanto, I splurged and took the 新幹線 return. I loved being on the のぞみ. I felt like I was really in Japan while riding it as a passenger. Unfortunately, no one reminded me that I should ship my luggage ahead -- which you can do so conveniently in Japan -- so I ended up having to scrunch myself into my seat with the suitcase in front of me since it was too heavy to lift and place above the seats. That was a bit painful and rather embarrassing, though I felt like people would just write me off as a ばか外人 and not someone doing it intentionally to just be a space-hogging jerk.
My favorite part of the Kansai trip was after Yohokama, when I returned to the area -- since I had a return flight to and from KIX -- and stayed a long weekend in Kyoto. I would LOVE to live there. There was something so wonderful and refreshing about that city. It wasn't overwhelming, nor was it as snooty as I imagined it would be. Of course, I am sure it has its own sense of superiority since it is the center of traditional Japanese culture, but it wasn't pretentious or so refined that it lacked a fun-loving spirit. In fact, from my interactions with people there, I felt that it just the opposite of pretentious and snobby. Everyone I met was rather welcoming and neither intimidated nor turned off by foreigners. Kyoto has such a large expatriate community there, and it seems that they don't feel animosity towards foreign people. I ended up at one point, after visiting Ryouan-ji in Northwest Kyoto, getting lost in some residential area and not one person stopped to stare at me or make me feel unwelcome while I walked around looking for the train station.
As for my favorite places in Kyoto, apart from the Hotel Anteroom, which was fantastic and which is some place I would stay again and again and again anytime I visit that city (since the chef went of her way to make a wonderful, gluten-free organic breakfast especially for me every morning), were Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera, Kinjaku-ji, Ryoan-ji, and the Arashiyama area. I love the mountains, so being in a city that has mountains surrounding it is a dream of mine. Okinawa really does not have any mountains, though they do have elevated areas that could be considered mountainous, but there aren't really any mountains. Arashiyama, especially the bamboo forest, Okochi-sanso, a famous silent screen actor's the mountain villa, and the garden in Tenryu-ji, were my favorite places to explore. I'm sad that I had to try to put all of these areas into my trip at such a fast pace. Kyoto has such breathtaking beauty all around it and the city itself is alive and well, rather than being an antique place without a pulse. If I could have a dream come true it would be to live there happily with a nice job.
So, there you go. I had a fantastic adventure last month. I am hoping that my future will include more trips to Kansai and elsewhere in Japan, though God only knows where my destiny is going to take me. I'm hoping that my next job (and where I live next) will be the best yet.