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.
I had the opportunity for a brief visit to Kinosaki Onsen. It’s an ideal place for anyone who loves hot springs, but it’s also a good place to enjoy Japanese aesthetics and architecture. As if that weren’t enough, the hospitality I experienced was exceptional, even by Japanese standards.
With a map, a list of recommendations and plans to meet up with friends later that evening, I was ready for a bit of exploring. A minimalist beauty was present throughout the town, from the designs of the buildings and bridges to the interiors of the hot springs. The way in which Japanese architecture embraces nature and natural materials is quite special.
The cave and waterfall features inside the hot springs and the river which runs through the town were some of the highlights. The interesting Brazilian lady and Italian guys I met, and great conversations with the owner of the ryokan I stayed at, made it even more memorable. I was excited to have the opportunity to catch up with some really great friends, while checking out the local festival. The fireworks display was the perfect end to a wonderful day.
A three-day trip with my school’s environmental science club was an exciting prospect. Not only would I get to explore the picturesque Northern coastline of my prefecture for the first time, but I would have the ideal company – people who shared my love for nature (and science!).
The journey towards Shibayama was filled with wonderful scenery. The neat rows of lush rice fields lined with clusters of traditional Japanese houses were a beautiful sight. The bright green mountains and the pebbled rivers which pierced through the landscape completed the picture.
Gradually the lush greenery gave way to immaculate coastline. The
turquoise waters of the Sea of Japan would be a most-welcomed distraction for the next few days. The sea urchin research, fishing expeditions and shared mealtimes are precious memories of my time in Japan. It was an wonderful opportunity to surround myself with some of my favourite things – beautiful nature and interesting people.
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…
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.