My decision to take part in しまなみ縦走2015 was quite spontaneous. The しまなみ縦走 is an annual cycling event which involves cycling the Shimanami Kaido, a road that crosses the Seto Inland Sea. It spans several islands, connected by several magnificent bridges. It was a colleague who first told me about the Shimanami Kaido, after hearing about my newly-found appreciation for bridges. Since I’ve never considered either cycling or spontaneity to be among my greatest strengths, it was bound to be an adventure.
I expected to enjoy beautiful views and experience more of the kind hospitality I’ve become accustomed to here in Japan, but the reality far exceeded my expectations. From the memorable experience I had at Onomichi Guest House Fuji Hostel, where I felt like I was travelling with a bunch of really good friends I’d known for years, to the beautiful sunset views of the beach from the onsen at Setoda Private Hostel, all of it was amazing. At both places I met interesting people and had meaningful conversations. Being taught to write the kanji for cherry blossom (桜) and discussing the wonder of the human body with a doctor and a nurse (using both English and Japanese), were two of the moments I’ll never forget.
My experiences at the two hostels were just the cherry on the cake. Cycling the Shimanami Kaido was one of the defining moments of my time in Japan. To be surrounded by natural beauty in the form of mountain and sea views, orange groves and flowers in full bloom, while appreciating the various castles, shrines, temples and bridges, was a once in a lifetime experience. The warm, sunny weather and the incredible sense of camaraderie and friendliness of everyone involved tied together the countless individual moments of wonder.
しまなみ縦走2015 is an experience I’ll treasure forever. It taught me just how rewarding trusting my intuition can be. It was also a valuable reminder of the importance of timing. Here’s to many more spontaneous adventures…
A friend informed me of a great opportunity. She mentioned that the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science would be hosting an open day for its K Computer. It was the world’s fastest computer not too long ago and is still among the top four. I couldn’t wait to see it.
When we arrived on Port Island, a man-made island just a quick train ride from the centre of Kobe, there weren’t too many people around. It got busier as we got closer. There were brochures and freebies galore as we searched for information about the presentation I wanted to see.
Eventually we found the presentation about the heart and a simulation of its functioning. Of course, it was presented in Japanese, but I was lucky to be with a very multilingual friend, who translated the key points for me. Also, the K computer itself was quite a sight. It was an interesting experience, which I’ll never forget.
They say that hindsight is twenty-twenty. Once an experience is behind you, it’s easy to spot the mistakes and see better alternatives. Of course experience provides new perspective, but luckily it’s not always necessary to wait until it’s too late before we see the light. Sometimes we have the opportunity to see ourselves, our ideas, our way of living from another perspective. Moving to a new country, living amidst a new culture, is a good example of this. During the last five months of living in Japan, I’ve learnt just little bit about what life as a Japanese person must be like. Also, I’ve never understood what it means to be South African as clearly as I do now. Having shared a lot about my country and my life there, has allowed me to see them through new eyes.
I’m more convinced than ever before that in order to truly understand something, it’s often necessary to see it from a range of perspectives. A useful analogy is getting to know the city where I’m currently living. One of the things I love about Kobe is that there are so many places where you can view the city from above. What helped me develop an understanding of Kobe was the fact that I’ve seen it from so many perspectives. From the Port Tower, from various points on Rokko mountain and from the 24th floor of Kobe City Hall, to mention but a few. I’ve also heard many different people’s perspectives on what makes Kobe unique.
I’m collecting photographs of bridges near where I live from numerous angles, at various times of day and in different seasons. Its array of beautiful bridges is one of my favourite features of this region. I wouldn’t have been able to fully appreciate their beauty had I only understood them from a single perspective. The photographs, like these of the Akashi-Kaikyo bridge, serve as a constant reminder not to make assumptions based on first impressions or to take things at face value. They’re a reminder that many aspects of life, especially people, are multi-faceted and take time to understand. Japanese culture is no exception. One thing is for sure, and that is that it can’t be understood simply from the perspective of Western ways of thinking. For now, I’m treasuring the priceless experiences, meaningful conversations and little realizations that occur daily.