March 4, 2009: “Day #15: Sayonara Japan”

Mount Fuji, Japan.

Image via Wikipedia

As I write this I am looking out the airplane window which frames the outskirts of Tokyo below. As the airplane’s altitude increases, the miniature stature of Tokyo disappears as we ascend into a bank of fondant-white clouds. Looking out one minute and seeing a land I love and looking the next moment into a sea of vast whiteness was in itself a moment where I fully comprehended the difference between “matane” (until we meet again) and “sayonara” (goodbye).

While I am homesick for our families, friends, and pets, I am sad to depart Japan, yet I am so grateful for the opportunity to visit twice in one year, much less once in a lifetime!

I think about how fortunate we have been to see and experience so much history, culture, and exotic cuisine. We have wandered through temples and shrines that date back to 600 AD, we have immersed ourselves in a culture that is not similar to what is so familiar to us in America, and we have tasted the best sushi the world has to offer.

I am so happy we were able to visit places I only ever dreamed of – land of a thousand torii gates, the famous Golden Pavilion, walk along the acclaimed nightingale floors of the Nijo-Castle while they faintly sounded their alarming chirping beneath our feet, stand beside the giant Diabatsu, walk the ancient geisha district of Kyoto, see snow-capped Mt. Fuji in all its majestic glory, see Shibuya crossing at night with its sea of umbrellas, witness first-hand the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market auction, ride a bullet train through the beautiful, rural areas of Japan that likely go unnoticed in our modern world, and wander Japan’s maze-like streets that protected them from invasion for so many hundreds of years.

How many people visit Japan and are invited to an authentic Japanese lunch at a traditional Japanese house? How many people can say that they have experienced the real Japan – a culture that revolves around more than bright neon lights, but a culture that is deeply rooted in its people? I feel so deeply blessed and grateful to have been afforded these experiences that I will hold dear to my heart for a lifetime.

I feel as though the exotic world of National Geographic has unfolded before my eyes. So many times as a child I gazed at the marvelous colorful pictures bound tightly within the pages. Now I feel as though some of those amazing pictures are alive in my writings and in my collection of photographs. I never thought I would witness the breathtaking Golden Pavilion in person, much less have a picture taken with it prominently displayed in the background.

My favorite castle/temple/shrine was undoubtedly the Nijo Castle in which no words or pictures can accurately describe or capture its rare beauty. My favorite city is still Kamakura. Despite having what we consider a large population of 168,000, it is considered a small seaside city. I still love and adore the charm and quaintness of Kamakura.

I will always treasure the memory of Japan’s incredible mushrooms which are among the most delicious in the world. Japanese yogurt, ice cream, milk, and cream are positively heavenly and I know there will be no substitute for their rich dairy products at home.

The memory of Japanese grocery stores and their desire for absolute perfection will be something I am reminded of every time I enter a sub-par American grocery store. I will forever long for the perfection that Japan seeks and highly prizes since that is so often neglected in America.

I feel so fortunate to have experienced Japanese cuisine. Their seafood is utterly amazing and the luscious buttery taste of their tuna is something I will always long for, yet I know nothing at home will ever compare. I am thankful that over the years I have become more adventurous with food. I never would have considered eating sashimi horse or whale bacon had I not experienced the beauty and simplicity of Japanese cuisine.

I want to take the opportunity to thank Lisa and Bill for making our trip to Japan possible. Thank you for your kindness, hospitality, and for opening your home so graciously to us. Our time in Japan would not be the memorable experience it was without the fond memories of sharing Japan with friends. Lisa is an amazing tour guide and holds a wealth of knowledge about Japan. Her interest and insight into Japan’s culture made our time there more intriguing and captivating.

In a world that is full of ungratefulness, it is pleasantly surprising to discover a culture that believes in giving and showing thanks. Somehow being told “arigato gozaimasu” ten times after eating an amazing meal has restored some of my faith in humanity. I can only hope that here in America maybe we can remember to give thanks for the small things in life – albeit savoring a delicious meal or spending quality time with family or friends.

With the vast darkness of the Pacific Ocean coasting beneath our wings, it somehow seems as though the most appropriate ending for my “Memoirs: My Journey Through Japan” series is to hold Japan’s desire for simplicity to heart.

I humbly bow and say “domo arigato gozaimasu” (the most sincere form of thanks).

Sayonara Japan.

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