Japan For the First Time

I wrote this post while in Japan. It was my first visit and filled with it’s ups and downs (mostly ups). I’m still processing the experience. I think part of the difficulty was traveling from India to Japan. India is filled with so much vibrancy, energy, vibrations, constant flow, sounds, and constant color. To me, it feels as though India is on the over saturated insta filter. Japan on the other hand is like sliding the contrast button almost all the way to the left. Japan is clear cut, black and white, rigid, structured, simple lines, clean design… actually almost meditative in the idea of one brush stroke – accurate and just enough on a piece of white paper. Everything that stands out in Japan is bright lights and flashy. Parts of Tokyo were like a mini Times Square on every block… like I said, still processing.

The trip ended in a perfect description of my trip there, a beautiful little vegan cafe, windows fogged against the cold by the heat of the customers packed into the small corners inside. We had vegan pancakes and vegan ice cream with hot spiced wine.  We chatted in our own quiet corner about the art of hosting, women’s cafes, guided conversations, asking the right questions, various learning styles and graphic recording for a visual representation of our experiences. We talked about the successes and challenges of the week and our visions for what might unfold in the Japan programs. Then, as if on cue with the Japan trip timeline, we found ourselves running through Tokyo, the Shinjuku station, the world’s busiest train station, serving more than two million passengers EVERY DAY. That day, Jado and I were two of them – the two who managed to miss the right train to the airport. Somehow, we finally ran breathlessly into the airport and were able to get both me and my baggage on the flight. Like I said, perfect description of a hectic, insane, beautiful, peaceful moment filled, warm hearted, passionate trip.

Here’s the post:

It’s been different for me to try and find my voice in Japan. Most of the countries I visit, I tend to find a way to blend in. Never has my American-ness stood out more than in this country. I think I knew that it would and with all of the travel options available to me, “the orient,” as I learned about it in college, was not number one on my list of travel options when I first started out (I picked Fiji on my first self-selection).

That said, because I am filled with contradictions, I also grew up with and LOVE(d) so much Japanese culture. I learned to use chopsticks as a small child at a Japanese restaurant birthday party near my house. Watched My Neighbor Totoro and love(d) visiting Japan Town in San Francisco. I enjoyed the cherry blossom festivals. As a kid I was recognized in the newspaper for creating 1000 paper cranes for my local library (I still love making origami). My mom got her hair done at a local Japanese hair studio every week and I would spend my time waiting for her playing and talking with the people there. My mom and I went to see Kodo drummers and Asian festivals. And I knew all the words to the songs in Mikado (and sang ‘I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese’ on my walk to my tutors house in high school). Now, at least one meal each week for me is Japanese food.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been somewhat immersed in Japanese culture for my whole life.

So, why come to Japan now? And now that I’m here, how do I find my authentic voice? Or why would it change here? How and why would my ‘authentic’ voice shift in the different places I find myself?

As much as I’ve now arrived back home in New York, I feel as though India, Japan, the United States – so many of these cultures are woven within me. In the places themselves, I may be a foreigner, and my voice may waver or falter as I find my way, I have been so humbled and grateful by the aspects of these cultures that has allowed me to access perspective on myself, to being able to see my voice and my Self in new ways. Each of them helping me to spiral and flow into ever widening circles of my own being (reminding me of one of my favorite Rumi poems below). I only hope that I have also been a mirror for those that I’ve encountered on the journey, that together we have been able to shine a little bit of perspective and light for each other and for the communities around us.

 A Community of the Spirit

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.
Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.
Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.
Open your hands,
if you want to be held.
Sit down in the circle.
Quit acting like a wolf, and feel
the shepherd’s love filling you.
At night, your beloved wanders.
Don’t accept consolations.
Close your mouth against food.
Taste the lover’s mouth in yours.
You moan, “She left me.” “He left me.”
Twenty more will come.
Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!
Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.
Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.
From Rumi – Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)
Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne




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