Preparations are underway. On February 12th I will be stepping off a plane into Narita and catching the Keisei Bus to Tokyo Station, where I disembark for an epic two-week journey throughout Honshu and on to Hokkaido. I’m throwing myself into the deep winter of Nihon (Japan) to experience the world’s best snow on offer.
Japan is a country that has long mystified me. From the time that I first began readings in Buddhism from the likes of Thomas Merton, Alan Watts, Gary Snyder, and D.T. Suzuki, I made promise to myself that I would dedicate some attention to understanding the home country of Zen. I’d learned some time ago that the Westernized Beat version of the practice that I have grown fond of wrestling with is missing something essential that I would only be able to appreciate by visiting the land and people of Japan.
A good friend and coworker who has spent ample time in the country told me that if I was bent on visiting Japan I’d be a fool not to also take advantage of my love for snowboarding. And it only took one glimpse of the country in full winter for me to agree wholeheartedly.
That snap decision may yet be the death of me, but I have not looked back since.
For over a year now, with my coworker’s patient help I have been making logistical preparations, working to get a grasp on the language, practicing the three major writing systems (Hiragana/Katakana/Kanji), and soaking up the unique lifeways of the Japanese people. All while working full time and going through, what all of my coworkers and friends fondly refer to as, my “midlife crisis” (more on that in a second).
It’s been a very busy time. You the reader have a lot of catching up to do, and I aim to get you up to speed. In between now and February I am going to give you the highlights of everything I’ve come to learn and love about this special country–even if from a distance. We will walk through my itinerary and get a sneak peak at the many upcoming stops on my journey. Most exciting of all I will be attempting to document my progress for you, of learning Nihon go (Japanese) and physically training for the most challenging back-country I’ve experienced yet. So hang in there!
OK…now about that “midlife crisis”. What is this really all about?
Well you see…a year and a half ago I went through a long-overdue divorce that freed me up in more ways than one to start the journey of reclaiming nearly sixteen years that had slowly chipped away at the energetic, free-thinking, spirited person that I used to know and love. I had found ways of staying in touch with my inner me–discovering the Beat writers in my late 20s certainly helped. But my other half never quite “got me”, and I could never quite find the secret to bringing myself to life for my children in the overly regimented home that she was intent on cultivating. Married life was hard. It took us both a long time to acknowledge the irreconcilable incompatibilities, but we were both eventually able to bring the marriage to a close amicably and constructively. She is also now free to be the person that she didn’t know she really wanted to be (and that is all I will ever say about that…promise).
Since that day I have been reconnecting with the inner person that I feel most true to, and giving myself the gift of the experiences that I set aside those many years ago. I only have so much time before some of those experiences will be out of reach due to old bones. I also desperately want to believe that while I have the time and energy I can plant a similar seed in my children. That I can model a life of staying true to yourself at all costs, not settling for society’s expectations on you, or the timetables that others want to place on you.
So I’m pushing it a little with the time I have, and willing to test the limits. Because I know that I am most alive when life is in motion, when chance is at the door, when I am out of my comfort zone, and all I have is my wits in the moment and the challenge of making new friends out of complete strangers. And most importantly I want to start channeling my love for all of this adventure into some hard skills that can hopefully help others when they find themselves off the main trail and in hard straits–a place I am also all too familiar with (we’ll save the story of those broken bones for another post).
To wrap this introductory post then, let’s just say that my hope for this winter trip to Japan is that it can be both the starting point for a lifelong relationship with the beautiful country, and the crucible to prepare me for at least a few more years of adventure and direct experience. Ganbatte imasu! We will give it a shot!