After spending four weeks here, I can honestly say that I love Japan. I love the food; I love the history; I love the land itself. I love the customs like when walking into any establishment one is instantly bombarded with an “irasshaimasei” (either living or pre-recorded), or like the very clean, very reliable trains.

The relationships that have developed while on this trip were truly rewarding, whether with Nanzan students, people on the trip, people who joined us, or just random brief encounters with Japanese people. One of my roommates, a girl who also experienced an exchange program to Japan, knowing I would be back here doing a homestay, gave me note cards with common Japanese phrases so that I could practice. She has been wonderful with her plethora of advise concerning a homestay situation. The ESS students and the girls from the coffee hour are all very friendly people who wanted nothing more than to get my email and facebook information so that we could keep in touch. I am going to miss Satomi-san and Mishi-san, but I am glad to know there will be people here that I will already know when I return in the spring. They have both expressed the desire to see me next year, and I can’t wait.

As for the people on this trip, I couldn’t have asked for more fun group of people. I was worried before coming here to come to a foreign counrty with so many poeple I didn’t know. I was so grateful that Lindsay was coming, and it’s been fabulous having her here. But I’m also glad that we have such a diverse group. It made for interesting conversations and rewarding adventures. We’ve all had our differences, but I am glad to have met all of you and to have spent time with you. I hope that we can continue to keep in touch, although I am aware of how often that is said and how rarely it actually happens. That reality does not diminish my hope for it to be true.

Bates Sensei, I want to thank you sincerely for making this trip a reality. It was a perfect introduction to the history and country. Meuro Sensei, thank you for easing our stay and for answering so many weird questions.

One of the experiences that will last with me for the rest of my life has to be the two hours or so we spent with the calligraphy artist. We met this incredibly generous woman in Inuyama the second week, and she offered to write our names in kanji as gifts. When we returned this past week, she not only presented us with our kanji-ed plaques, but she also gave a brief demonstration of the art of calligraphy. She painted piece after piece displaying her talent. When asked how she decides to write a particular character, sh replied that it comes from thinking about the meaning of the characters and how it moves her at the moment. She described the process as such a natural and spiritual one, really stressing how much one must put their soul at the tip of the brush. Every character had its own spunk, as it were. Her writing/painting of the character for 楽しい (tanoshii) looked very different from the character as it appears above, but it shows her interpretation at the time. I find it so interesting the thought and feeling that could go into writing a character, proving that her work is truly art. The piece of wood with my name in kanji, 杏奈、meaning “apricot beauty,” will be something I treasure for the rest of my life.

On our last day in Kyoto, we went to see the Toji Temple Market, which was an overwhelming sprawl of stands that sold antiques, souvenirs, food, drinks, knives (the knife guy was great), pottery, and stuff that looked like old junk pulled from the garage which had its own flare. After the market, we had the option to go back to Nagoya or to stay on longer. Senaka and I (and others, though it ended up only being the two of us), had decided to go to Nara to see the Great Buddha which is housed in the Todaiji Temple–the largest wooden structure in the world (and it’s not even as large as it used to be). After discovering that we were on our own we headed out. Nara is a very different city from both Kyoto and Nagoya. Where Nagoya is very new, having been rebuild after the destruction of WWII, and Kyoto laces the old and new together, Nara sections off the old. The area where Todaiji is found is something like a reserve where the lands are kept, I’m sure, much as they once were, complete with deer roaming around. Granted, there is still that Japanese flare of intermingling the new in with the old (as in the souvenir shop located within Todaiji only feet from the Great Buddha (Daibutsuden).

The shear immenseness of the temple and of the Great Buddha allowed me to forget the modern edge that pervades all of the ancient structures in Japan. Amidst the hordes of uniformed school kids and foreign tourists and deer, I found myself humbled by the huge wooden structure in front of me (which is only 2/3 its original size). The Buddha inside created a similar kind of reverie and awe. Every statue of bodhisattva within was also larger than I had seen anywhere else.
Before I left, brother made it clear that I should take every chance I got to experience Japan. With such limited time here, I am glad I took the opportunity to see another of Japan’s cities and its history.

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