Spirits of Japan #1: Ryota

It is said that the Japanese exist in a state of isolated homogeneity. Beliefs, cultural values, and accepted lifestyles are said to follow templates, and stepping outside of these templates is seen as dangerous or strange—definitely not something one would want to be doing.

Although this statement does have a certain degree of validity, there is a great deal of diversity of lifestyles that exist in Japan. Many who have never been to or lived in Japan are unaware of the breadth and variety of the different sorts of people here, and it is for this reason that every now and then I think I’ll begin to include a few brief profiles of interesting people that I’ve run across in my travels here. These segments will be titled “Spirits of Japan.”


Meet Ryota. He’s a native of Asakusa in Tokyo, and when I met him he had rode his bike all the way from his apartment in Tokyo to the little village where I live in Nara. He biked around 120km a day for the better part of a week.

He has the pure and light spirit of a bird and travels the world to explore and see what he will find. Last year he spent 12 months traveling through 52 countries with nothing but a small backpack and a tent. He wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t anything special and that anybody could do it.

“It was really cheap!, really! I just slept in a tent the whole time!”

He was pure and gentle, but he was ballsy as hell. He really wasn’t afraid of anything. He told me that Africa was really beautiful, but that sometimes it was dangerous because of “the mafia” (a term the Japanese often use to describe the Yakuza in Japan. What he was dealing with wasn’t quite the mafia though, they were guerrilla soldiers armed with AK-47′s and machetes…)

At one point he almost lost his life. He was on the border between Rwanda and Burundi, and without reason, a man stabbed him twice right above his heart. He pulled his shirt down and showed me the scar. “There was so much blood!” he said with large eyes and a boyish excitement. There were no hospitals, he just fled and tended to his wounds alone in a bush somewhere.

It really hurt me to think that anyone would do harm to in innocent creature like Ryota. I suppose some people just don’t care though. Or perhaps they’re so caught up in their heads and concepts that they lose touch with reality. Ryota didn’t seem to care that much though. You can’t injure the wind. You cannot destroy Life’s desire to expand and feel.

Though he exposed himself to danger, the beauty that he opened himself to overshadowed whatever darkness he saw like the explosive brightness of the sun; for beauty is rooted in openness to reality and trust in Life, and evil is aberration stemming from mistrust in the world and a fear of individual mortality. To a degree, we must surrender our paranoia and trust in Life and that everything will be ok, with or without us. Our perception of beauty can only go as deep within us as the depths to which we are willing to open ourselves and swim.

As we parted, I asked him why he didn’t have a desire to travel in a bus with a tour group and a guide like all the other Japanese. He just shook his head and laughed.

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