Sunday is the day of the week when I am always most reflective. It is a day when memories rise like sap from a tree, almost sealing in the experiences, and allowing each one to root in every fiber of my tissue that much more. Looking through old photographs, I realized I have a ton of travel photography that I have never shared! As a part of my ongoing Photo Journal on THC, I will be going through my photography/memory archives to (finally) share a few images! For this first installation, I bring you images from Japan!
From 2007-2008 I spent a year in Akita, a prefecture located in Tohoku, the northeastern region of Japan. There are so many festivals, or Matsuri, that happen throughout the year in Japan, and each prefecture has its own unique celebrations. The two photo above are from Kanto Matsuri (pole lantern festival), which happens every year from August 5 to 7. This is a festival asking for an abundant grain harvest, and is a symbol of Akita, a leading rice-growing area. A Kanto is an array of candle-lit lanterns hung on a bamboo frame, each one resembling a glowing ear of rice. The number of individual lanterns can reach over 10,000! Supporting these lights are 3,000 people, including performers who demonstrate their skills to the sound of flutes and drums, and distinctive traditional cheers or shouts. The performers balance the Kanto without gripping the poles, placing them on the palms, foreheads, shoulders, and backs, raising the Kanto high into the air. It is truly an illuminating experience!
It is impossible to talk about Japan, and not cover a topic everyone loves: food! While I was in Japan I lost a ton of weight, just by eating the cuisine. Japan is the birthplace of sushi, where fresh ingredients and glorious flavor meet. While there, I had the opportunity to try a variety of traditional dishes ranging from shark fin soup, fisheyes (literally), Kobe beef, seaweeds, natto, sweets, and ramen that will knock your socks off! The first two photographs were made at my friend, Mihoko’s house, where he parents run a sushi restaurant. Here, we are making a huge pot of sushi rice with her mother. Below, her father and brother, master sushi chefs, are assembling the sushi, maki, and nigiri rolls. The third photo is from my friend Ayumi’s grandparents house. While her grandfather was gracious enough to show us around his small, but gorgeous farm in the country, her grandmother was busy cooking up a storm! This meal was, by far, the best I had in Japan.
My work in Japan was to assist in ESL instruction for multigenerational students. I had kindergarten students, elementary and middle schools students, and adult students as well. The photo above is of the seventh grade class. This class was one that improved so much during the year. I attribute their improvement to hard work, discipline, and maturity. There is something that happened to my students, which is hard to explain. It seems that toward the end of the year, their attitudes, and attention span transformed, almost over night. Indeed, for students in Japan, maturity is a visible process, one that is easily detectable. It was such a blessing to witness these changes happen, as it often meant that my students were better able to communicate in English. I was so proud of their accomplishments, and it warmed my heart to listen to their pronunciation and vocabulary improve!
Walking the streets of Tokyo, my best friend Shawndra, and I, came across a plethora of temples and shrines. This is another aspect of Japan I so miss, and treasure. Japan is a place that takes mindful urban planning seriously, building around ancient and sacred spaces. If you are anywhere in Tokyo, you can easily walk down a crowded city street, full of designer store fronts, vintage shops, and eateries, then turn the corner to catch a glimpse of a miraculous temple or shrine, where locals and tourists alike come to pray and show devotion. The photo above was taken at the Meiji Shrine in the infamous Harajuku district of Tokyo. The objects in the picture are barrels of sake (nihonshu).
When I think of Japan, I am forever thankful for its teachings, especially when it comes to living a spiritual life in a modern world, and remaining connected to your ancestors. I may have gone to Japan to teach, but ended up being the eternally humble student. To this day, I am still grasping the many lessons that were gifted to me, and I remain eager to revisit this stunning archipelago, my second home.
xo Aho, Christian