JOURNEYS

Mata-ne

Saying good bye to Japan after a multitude of experiences there

Japanese geisha break open a sake barrel to celebrate the new year. Everything here is done with such artistic display. © Adam R. Cole 2007

A scene known as 99 islands at sunset - pure beauty. © Adam R. Cole 2007

The affect that one particular place can have on an individual is hard to measure/hard to pin point, though if I were to box it in a concept it would be peace and harmony. The signs of this utopian essence are exhibited everywhere you look in Japan, from the pleasant greetings (people here are ever-so cheerful in expressing good morning [ohayo gozaimasu], good afternoon [koneechewa] and good evening [com bon wa]); to the soothing green tea, so pure, so natural, and a welcomed contrast to the ‘sweet’ tea that piques America’s taste buds; to the artistry in culture, things like kendo and kimonos and the making of green tea, which is an enchanting choreography of movement; to even the use of chopsticks during meals, a type of eating utensil that slows down the eating process and one can savor the food a little more. I was able to experience this essence firsthand in two particular cities, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, cities that have recovered from the effects of World War II to be thriving cosmopolitan centers and peace’s largest promoters; I was able to symbolically contribute to this peace effort by delivering 1,000 origami peace cranes, tied in strands, at the Nagasaki Peace Park. People here act as perfect examples of peace: they are extremely polite, seemingly to have not a bit of anger to them, and they display a willingness to race after you to return a forgotten item (like a cell phone or jacket) or to go out of their way to walk you to a destination you are searching for.

My experience in Japan has been one filled with absolute wonder, a search-and-discover process that has been vibrantly never-ending. I was able see so many different places (Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Shimabara, Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo…just to name a few); be a participant at several different Japanese festivals, known as matsuris, where tradition, culture, and local flavor meet at an intersection that brings forth the community together for a very festive celebration; had the delicious opportunity to eat so many of the dishes (sashimi, tempura, udon) in endless array of restaurant settings; and was able to contribute to the community through visits to Japanese foster care homes, where with groups of Sailors, we were able to literally light up the lives of Japanese children for a day. The rewards of discovery were an understanding—through direct experience—of the richness of Japan (and its people) and a feeling of fullness in my heart.

I came to know Japan in its present form by knowing the Japan of the past, because this fertile land is founded in its history and heritage. That history and heritage is portrayed in the film “The Last Samurai” (which I watched shortly into my stay in this country). The movie focuses the fictional ‘last stand’ of a samurai people, led who historically engaged in a rebellion, the Satsuma Rebellion, in1877 led by Saigo Takamori ; the movie, based on real life, paints a picture of the samurai who see their way of life and importance of existence fade away to the infusion and implementation of a Western-inspired army. The movie is symbolic of the culture at a cross roads that defines Japan, as ‘the West’ continues to work its way into Japanese society while Japanese customs/traditions face the risk of fading away. But the samurai, or the Japanese customs/traditions, will never become extinct, because culture is displayed vividly in representations like the castles that remain and the periodic festivals. Festivals here are such a prime example of Japanese culture’s resilience, as each one tells a story, in a uniquely localized way, with everyone wearing kimonos, enjoying festive foods, and watching fireworks together at the conclusion. It’s a time of true celebration, of past and present.

Toward the end of my Japan journey, I was led away from discovery process in culture and into the discovery of the true beauty of Japan, the landscapes, seen via various hikes, a cross country run and even a camp out experience, all done in the last few months in-country. The lush landscapes of the land, seemingly endless green everywhere you look, captivated my soul even from the get-go, and had become even more powerful when I immersed myself in that landscape. By the end, it all seemed to be one big playground (God’s playground) yielding peace of mind and peace in the heart.

The real beauty of Japan, very clearly, is not the culture or the land, but the people. In their relationships with others, they exude an honesty, sincerity, generosity, and curiosity, showing an eagerness to learn about you and your ways, and showing a genuine respect for friendships. I was blessed to have for much of my time in Japan a loving companion (Yoko), who shared her world and her heart with me; though we parted ways about four months before I departed Japan, the memories of our experiences together will stay with me for a long time, as will all these memories. Some of the best Japanese friends I met were from the Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF)—the equivalent of Army—whom I had English conversations with every Friday; the soldiers I spoke with were part of a 13-week English course and the weekly conversations were sponsored by the Navy base. I got to know individuals from about seven courses throughout my time in Sasebo, each course inviting me to their special functions and me inviting them to mine. These soldiers’ enthusiasm for English and American culture led to many-a interesting discussions and great cultural/life dialogue. A lot of my other Japanese friendships seemed to develop so randomly, really just God doing his magic. A turning point came when I found a Japanese language tutor. By heavenly happenstance, I was introduced to Naomi, a motherly figure of about 60, who volunteered to give me weekly lessons in the Japanese language. Out of a small little organic tea shop that her friend owned, we conversed in Japanese/English, both of learning each other’s native language by learning about each other. Other close Japanese friendships that formed—all within the last months in Japan—were with a woman from Church, Hitomi, who was a true inspiration, letting her faith in Jesus carry her through the pain of Lupus disease; a couple of Japanese reporters who were overjoyed when I took them out for a steak lunch at the base restaurant; and a couple of Japanese nationals working on the base as operators, who were full of spunk and full of fun.

The culture, the land, the people…all will be so close to my heart for a long time to come. Good byes are always difficult…this one especially, because I feel like I’m leaving a piece of my soul behind and equally, I’m leaving behind an endless array of people that have touched me. Good thing good byes are not forever – and as this journey continues, those people who were part of the Japan journey will most certainly continue to influence my steps as I head in a new direction.

In essence, there are no good byes in Japan – just mata-ne, meaning see you again.

The affect that one particular place can have on an individual is hard to measure/hard to pin point, though if I were to box it in a concept it would be peace and harmony. The signs of this utopian essence are exhibited everywhere you look in Japan, from the pleasant greetings (people here are ever-so cheerful in expressing good morning [ohayo gozaimasu], good afternoon [koneechewa] and good evening [com bon wa]); to the soothing green tea, so pure, so natural, and a welcomed contrast to the ‘sweet’ tea that piques America’s taste buds; to the artistry in culture, things like kendo and kimonos and the making of green tea, which is an enchanting choreography of movement; to even the use of chopsticks during meals, a type of eating utensil that slows down the eating process and one can savor the food a little more. I was able to experience this essence firsthand in two particular cities, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, cities that have recovered from the effects of World War II to be thriving cosmopolitan centers and peace’s largest promoters; I was able to symbolically contribute to this peace effort by delivering 1,000 origami peace cranes, tied in strands, at the Nagasaki Peace Park. People here act as perfect examples of peace: they are extremely polite, seemingly to have not a bit of anger to them, and they display a willingness to race after you to return a forgotten item (like a cell phone or jacket) or to go out of their way to walk you to a destination you are searching for.

My experience in Japan has been one filled with absolute wonder, a search-and-discover process that has been vibrantly never-ending. I was able see so many different places (Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Shimabara, Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo…just to name a few); be a participant at several different Japanese festivals, known as matsuris, where tradition, culture, and local flavor meet at an intersection that brings forth the community together for a very festive celebration; had the delicious opportunity to eat so many of the dishes (sashimi, tempura, udon) in endless array of restaurant settings; and was able to contribute to the community through visits to Japanese foster care homes, where with groups of Sailors, we were able to literally light up the lives of Japanese children for a day. The rewards of discovery were an understanding—through direct experience—of the richness of Japan (and its people) and a feeling of fullness in my heart.

I came to know Japan in its present form by knowing the Japan of the past, because this fertile land is founded in its history and heritage. That history and heritage is portrayed in the film “The Last Samurai” (which I watched shortly into my stay in this country). The movie focuses the fictional ‘last stand’ of a samurai people, led who historically engaged in a rebellion, the Satsuma Rebellion, in1877 led by Saigo Takamori ; the movie, based on real life, paints a picture of the samurai who see their way of life and importance of existence fade away to the infusion and implementation of a Western-inspired army. The movie is symbolic of the culture at a cross roads that defines Japan, as ‘the West’ continues to work its way into Japanese society while Japanese customs/traditions face the risk of fading away. But the samurai, or the Japanese customs/traditions, will never become extinct, because culture is displayed vividly in representations like the castles that remain and the periodic festivals. Festivals here are such a prime example of Japanese culture’s resilience, as each one tells a story, in a uniquely localized way, with everyone wearing kimonos, enjoying festive foods, and watching fireworks together at the conclusion. It’s a time of true celebration, of past and present.

Toward the end of my Japan journey, I was led away from discovery process in culture and into the discovery of the true beauty of Japan, the landscapes, seen via various hikes, a cross country run and even a camp out experience, all done in the last few months in-country. The lush landscapes of the land, seemingly endless green everywhere you look, captivated my soul even from the get-go, and had become even more powerful when I immersed myself in that landscape. By the end, it all seemed to be one big playground (God’s playground) yielding peace of mind and peace in the heart.

The real beauty of Japan, very clearly, is not the culture or the land, but the people. In their relationships with others, they exude an honesty, sincerity, generosity, and curiosity, showing an eagerness to learn about you and your ways, and showing a genuine respect for friendships. I was blessed to have for much of my time in Japan a loving companion (Yoko), who shared her world and her heart with me; though we parted ways about four months before I departed Japan, the memories of our experiences together will stay with me for a long time, as will all these memories. Some of the best Japanese friends I met were from the Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF)—the equivalent of Army—whom I had English conversations with every Friday; the soldiers I spoke with were part of a 13-week English course and the weekly conversations were sponsored by the Navy base. I got to know individuals from about seven courses throughout my time in Sasebo, each course inviting me to their special functions and me inviting them to mine. These soldiers’ enthusiasm for English and American culture led to many-a interesting discussions and great cultural/life dialogue. A lot of my other Japanese friendships seemed to develop so randomly, really just God doing his magic. A turning point came when I found a Japanese language tutor. By heavenly happenstance, I was introduced to Naomi, a motherly figure of about 60, who volunteered to give me weekly lessons in the Japanese language. Out of a small little organic tea shop that her friend owned, we conversed in Japanese/English, both of learning each other’s native language by learning about each other. Other close Japanese friendships that formed—all within the last months in Japan—were with a woman from Church, Hitomi, who was a true inspiration, letting her faith in Jesus carry her through the pain of Lupus disease; a couple of Japanese reporters who were overjoyed when I took them out for a steak lunch at the base restaurant; and a couple of Japanese nationals working on the base as operators, who were full of spunk and full of fun.

The culture, the land, the people…all will be so close to my heart for a long time to come. Good byes are always difficult…this one especially, because I feel like I’m leaving a piece of my soul behind and equally, I’m leaving behind an endless array of people that have touched me. Good thing good byes are not forever – and as this journey continues, those people who were part of the Japan journey will most certainly continue to influence my steps as I head in a new direction.

In essence, there are no good byes in Japan – just mata-ne, meaning see you again.