Major Tom to Ground Control

Hello from Nara, perhaps the largest historical and religious powerhouses in all of Japan, tied only with the nearby Kyoto prefecture. Ancient moss-covered statues and old wooden temples are strewn throughout the countryside, and with the absurd beauty and bizarre experiences that occur on a daily basis within this place, four words always remain on the tip of one’s tongue while here: “This can’t be real.”

I am living in the small mountain town of Kawakami (population ~2,000) , within the broader district of Yoshino, perhaps the most popular district in all of Japan for viewing the Sakura cherry blossoms that bloom in the spring. If I had to describe this town to a Westerner, I would describe it as a sort of Japanese take on a small European Alpine village, though this is only an attempt on my part to put this town in words and terms that myself and others that I know are familiar with. In reality, there is no other place like this in the world, and the people here are not trying to be anything but themselves.

Here in Kawakami, most everything is either a vibrant shade of green or blue. A look out of a glass wall in an office will reveal panes of lush mountains jutting up at a 90 degree angle into a clear blue sky. Below these mountains the Y0shino river rushes through a wide bed of large grey boulders. Strips of houses and small diners sit  peppered about above the river in this valley between the mountains, and this is Kawakami. Small cars zip along the [only] main road that runs above and alongside the Yoshino river, launching through hyperbolic hairpin turns and making passages through time and space via the newly-constructed and dimly-lit cylindrical tunnels (or wormholes, as I call them) that pass right through the bases of the mountains. Looking down below towards the river, one will notice large groups of cars parked alongside the water at calm areas where people spend their entire days relaxing and using the river as a beach. Monkeys hide in the woods and squads of dragonflies hang motionless in the air. If you are perceptive enough, you can see the whole world reflected in the tiny little green eyes of the dragonflies. Computing it all in their own little dragonfly ways.

I will be a teacher in this town, and there will be a great deal of both responsibility and respect that I will inherit with this role. I am the only Westerner in this village, and being such, everyone has their eyes on me. Literally. I can see the pupils of old ladies in the grocery store pointing my way through the corners of their eyes. The locals are talking. There have even been moments when I was jogging down the street where passing cars nearly ran off the road as their drivers cocked their heads around like owls to catch a glimpse at the new gaijin (foreigner) in town.

My role here is that of an ambassador. People will look at me and say “oh, so this is what Americans are like.” Some conceptions will be broken, others will be confirmed, and many new ones will be built. Hopefully, I will be able to leave an impression on this place that will make people reflect back and say “ahh, so the gaijin do know how to get down with life after all.”  The Japanese have many lessons to teach for those ears who are willing to listen, and while here, I hope and plan to absorb as much from these people as possible and to incorporate their wisdom into a part of my being. The journey begins. (I’ll throw some more photos up tomorrow and make things more juicy. Haven’t gotten a chance to upload/organize things yet)

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