Friday, August 08, 2008

My last days in the Orient.

I'm back! And I'm bludgeoned. This culture, my culture, is weird and overwhelming. It's foreign, it's strange and offensive, it's familiar and fun. It's everything all at once. Exhausting, but I see things that I didn't see before.

Anyway, before I got back I was in Japan. I had a good last few weeks, wrapping up and spinning down from the heady climax of Taisetsuzan.

After I last wrote, I took a train south to a farm in Niseko.


Goats, chickens, cats, dogs, buckwheat. The farm was prolific. Plants spilled out of fields just as tools, fertilizer, and pots spilled out of sheds. The farm was running too fast for itself, and the Japanese tendency towards cleanliness and rigid organization was devoured by the chaotic tendencies of nature and neglect. I spent a week there. It was surrounded by forest, fields of corn, and on one side, the mass of Yotei-zan.

I slept in a tent in a greenhouse, ate and relaxed in the unfinished house, and worked in the sun. I weeded. I planted. I laughed with the other volunteer, a South Korean girl (anyong Jayhee). I discovered that the sweaty work of putting hay away for the winter is deeply satisfying. Also that working just to keep busy is the opposite. In those last few weeks of the trip my desire to study language and culture fell away. My dictionary migrated to the bottom of my pack.

I climbed Yotei-zan again. I started in the afternoon, so I had to run up and down. I forgot to bring food for the climb, so I bought a sports drink out of one of the ever present vending machines on the way to the trail-head. It turned out to be low-calorie.

Then I left Hokkaido.


The ferry dropped me off in a little port city after dark. Despite my best efforts, I didn't make it to Kyoto until the central station was hollow and quiet and the subways had stopped. I walked around, backpacks and mandolin hanging off of my skinny self, looking for a capsule hotel, but everyone said, oh no, none of those around here, not in Kyoto. I slept at the station. Camping mat on a bench, I conked out for four or five hours.

The next five days I got to stay with my friend Ashley. She was out from Montana to study the very large beetles they have in Japan. It was a relief to be with someone that I know, to dispense with the small talk and repetitive introductions that become so familiar when traveling. We took in temples, we wandered the city, we drank beer. Kyoto is a beautiful city, though hot. Very hot, and very humid - I often drank more than a gallon of water a day. I also ate ice cream like it was my job.

Kyoto is packed with old temples, which are pretty cool, though many are clogged with tourists. And actually, they weren't any cooler than the ones I saw on Shodoshima. I got to see a Zen rock garden that reputedly perfectly represents nature and promotes enlightenment using only fifteen rocks set in raked gravel. I didn't like it very much. One of my favorite parts about Kyoto is that it's surrounded by forest, so you can ride your bike or take a bus to the edge of the city and hike into the cool shade of the Japanese Cypress.

I took a bus to Tokyo. My last days in Japan I was tired. I was done with Japanese and Japanese culture. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, but I was ready to get on the plane.

In Tokyo I stayed with Mimi and her daughter Aoba again. In fact I climbed Mt. Fuji with Aoba, which she didn't like very much. We climbed at night to see the sunrise, and it was a long climb in the cold. She was pretty surprised. The mountain was big, the sunrise was beautiful, and there were so many tourists that we had to wait in line for 45 minutes to climb the last quarter mile to the 12000' summit. At the top there was only the suffocating feeling of being pressed into a crowd, and a barrage of souvenir shops. We got off as soon as we could.

And then I flew home.

And now I'm going to work at Mount Rainier national park.

And after that I don't know what I'm gonna do. Anyone want to give me a job?

1 comment:

Celia Mailand said...

I, too, will eat ice cream like it's my job. What a lovely dream! What keen inspiration! I will get a phd in it.

Good stories and welcome back!