Katie in Japan – post #5

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Leaving Japan, felt like leaving behind a childhood memory. It felt close to me, familiar and a place of great imagination. Leaving wasn’t just leaving the place, it was the people in the HELIO program and the people I had met in Japan. Being immersed in an energy of innovation and curiosity, as a total norm was incredible. My mind has grown so much from this trip. I am almost relentless to go pack my bags once more. I’ve been home for a week, and my life has shifted. I noticed immediately upon arriving in Japan that my life had been put on hold. Growing up, I always wanted more from life than the regular routine. It took me several years to even go back to school after high school. So once I settled into the routine of grinding at college, working three jobs and complaining about winter, I had forgotten how vibrant life is. At the start of this year I went on a camping trip in Kauai, Hawaii. It was the start of the change for me, because I realized we have a choice.

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Wherever you are at any given point in your life, you have choice and nothing, seriously nothing, can stop you. Here’s the thing I realized, you have to do it. You can’t just sit and wait for life to hand you epic adventures or inquisitee conversations, you have to step out and find them. We can see the world from our front steps, yet we were given feet to move. We’re not trees, we don’t have roots. What is holding us back? Now I understand the pressures of money, job security and all the lot of it. Yet when I die, I don’t believe I will be buried with my pension plan or the nice house I live in. All I can take with me is my mind and my memories, if I’m lucky enough to keep them.

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I’m not here to make you depressed, or to make you feel insignificant. I’m just here to tell you if you put yourself out there, opportunity will attack you. At least it did for me and most of the people I admire most. Being in Japan confirmed all I believed to be true about myself, my life and the direction I need to go. It was the affirmation I needed t change my mindset from waiting till Friday to rejoicing in the fact I was able to live through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s shifting my mindset from thinking someone else will take care of it, to understanding passion is ment to be played upon. It needs to be nourished and grown.

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So leaving Japan was hard. Leaving the beautiful island, the colorful streets and magical gardens. Leaving the people I barely held verbal conversations with, but grew so fond of, like Soa. Leaving the group of like-minded, bad a**, creatives I grew to love. Leaving the incredible fresh sushi and cold brew coffee. Leaving it all felt wrong and strange. It was hard to explain how just two weeks was enough time for my heart strings to fan out like a spider web and attached to so much. Yet I owe a lot of to Japan, and I will never forget it.

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To the place that surprised me, inspired me, and reminded me how small our lives really are. To the place that held memories of green tea, long car rides and accidently hiking mountains. To the place where I left my friends and my favorite food. To this beautifully unique, bold and elegant culture. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Arigatogozaimashita

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Katie in Japan – post #4

Osaki

Being on the island of Osaki Kamijima is like a dream come true, except you didn’t know you were dreaming about it all. Once you’re on the island it just feels right, at least it did for me. We had to take a ferry over to the island, for some reason on this day I was sick. I hardly ever get ill when traveling, however this day was brutal. Half way across I stood outside and stared out at all the small islands we were passing, the water was blue, and the breeze was hitting my tired face. Waking me up with the mix of salt water and sunshine rinsing through my hair.

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The island is mainly fishing community, the people are stoic and friendly. I have yet to meet a stranger who is rude, disgruntled or seemingly inconvenienced at all. The food is fresh and incomparable to anything I have ever had or will probably ever have again. A place this beautiful and so bare is rare. It is the perfect spot for the higher educational institute the HELIO group is trying to build on this island.

The very first night we were split into groups and sent home with different host families. I was with another student from Georgian and a girl from New York as well. Our family barely spoke any English and I barely speak any Japanese. Please keep in mind, in my perspective I am close to death. My head is pounding, I can barely keep water down and I can not communicate to anyone. Also, the program faculty members were extremely helpful and offered for me to stay in a different place if I wasn’t feeling well. However, I am also stubborn, I was determined to make every moment count. My host family was very kind and hilarious. Despite my sickness, we managed to communicate I wouldn’t be able to eat or drink that much. This was important to me because in Japan, not eating is considered rude and wasteful. Luckily I had an amazing family, they understood what was going and promptly made me a incredible bowl of soup to sooth my stomach.

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We sat around a fire, speaking in broken English or Japanese. Laughing about the struggle and smiling at the answers to questions. Somehow we understood the jokes they were making, the night resounds the noise of laughter with waves hitting the port in the background. We sang, we played with sparklers and we smiled so much my cheeks hurt.

The next day, we did a traditional tea ceremony. We were taught the art of making tea and serving it in the proper way. In Japan some people study the art of making and serving tea for years. As if it were an instrument. It sort of feels like it might be though. An instrument to the soul and the stomach. We’ve also been able to participate in a ancient drum song, play volleyball with Japanese college students and much more.

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Our home is perched on a point along the sea, only separated from water by a small pavement road. The house used to be a inn for travelers. Went we first moved in it was overrun with spiders, big and hairy spiders. Spiders that you know can’t hurt you, but you don’t want to mess with them. By the end of the week the spiders moved, most likely to a more peaceful place. I considered moving in for good. The view was amazing and I felt so assured being there.

It’s always funny to me when travelling how the things that stand out to you the most are the things you least expected. While staying on Osaki Kamijima, one of the organizers’ daughter has been cooking all our meals for us. The cooks, Judi, has her daughter with her. From the moment we first interacted her laugh captivated me. The first night we met, we giggled about silly things. I tried my best to communicate and she just laughed at me. The next few days we all grew to really love Soa, she had meals with us and we even brought her on some of our day trips. She is intelligent and hilarious. Her eyes just light up when she’s speaking, especially when we cannot understand what she’s saying.

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Being around Soa, made me wake up to a lot of things. I thought about opportunity and how I wanted her to know how incredible she was. How she could be whatever she wanted. I thought about all the other leaders of the world, sitting in third grade or getting on the bus to go to school. All these children are people, people with so much power. Our world is essentially in their control. What they see us acting upon will impact their futures. With Soa near by, I remembered all the visions and dreams I had. Not even as a child, dreams I curated last year or a few months ago. What happened to them?

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My new friend, Beto, stopped me mid-sentence when I was explain this thought of lost dreams with no action. He stopped me and said “why haven’t you done the things I want to?”. He would not take “I don’t know” as an answer. We talked through all the barriers I had placed on myself, seemingly removing them as I discussed them. As if not speaking them out loud was what was giving it the power.

Osaki Kamijima, changed my plans. It disrupted my life in a way I was not expecting. I think as a traveller you know that every trip impacts you and strengthens you. However this is different, in a way I still don’t understand. However I am grateful for Soa’s smile , one that makes me think. Ice coffee in morning while everyone is still sleeping. New friends like Jasmina and Beto who question you in a gentle way. And I’m grateful for an ocean in my front yard.

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Katie in Japan – post #3

Blog #3

On the train from Sendai Station, we transferred in Tokyo to another train to Hiroshima. On the train while looking out the window, it’s possible to take in the spaces beyond your reach. Sometimes it feels like you’re in the car or on the bus. Then you enter a tunnel and you realize just how quickly you were going all along. That’s how this trip has felt. One minute I think I’m taking it all in and time feels normal. Then I check the date and realize we’re halfway through and I feel there is so much more to see.

After leaving Fukushima I already felt this strange comfort, a sort of familiarity. Yet at the same time I began to feel this intense sense of urgency. I talked to a few people about it, we mulled over the philosophy that perhaps are minds become overwhelmed and must attached to a memory. A moment that feels like something else in our lives. Maybe this brings us peace or maybe it helps us connect the dots of our peculiar lives.

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I already know these intense and creative conversations will be something I miss greatly in my daily life. When you travel with people, I think a part of them also gets pressed into your passport. They become such a serious component of the entire journey. This group especially has taught me so much, the diversity that makes up our clan is a colorful gift. For example we were broken into groups to debrief specific parts of trips, mainly for us to relay our learnings to the group who traveled to Teshima. My group was given the simply complex topic of “themes of hope” specifically in Fukushima. The team I was a part of had representatives from Vietnam, Mexico, China, India and myself (originally from America). Our diverse ideas and cultural perspectives resulted in us laughing, learning and growing as a team. We adventured together and met people as a group. Leaving some of our guides in Namie Town, was also super hard. Its crazy how quickly our human minds can become attached.

Anyway, back to the narrative of the trip, the chronological order of events thus far includes;

Arriving in Narita

Heading to Fukushima (Toyoko – Sendai Station – Namie Town)

Left Fukushima (back to Sendai Station- Toyoko- Hiroshima)

Arrive in Hiroshima

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Arriving in Hiroshima, the sun was shining, it was around dinner time. The sun was sitting a little low behind the trees a bit. Our bus stopped right in front of the Peace Park, a historic site in Japan. This is the place where the a-dome stands, shattered and held slightly together in a way that makes you conscience of your breathing. The park is beautiful, full of people and a deafening silence. I walked around on my own for a bit before dinner, the odd time running into a member of my group. Saying simple things like, “wow this is sad.”or “can you imagine what it was like?”. I wondered if a place like this should exist? With rays of sun bouncing off the river, hitting the eyes of school children walking home from school. A memorial of what once was, what should never have been. I wrote a short poem in a moment, while standing in front of the dome. *disclaimer: I am not a poet; these are just thoughts from a moving moment*

I stood in the shade for a very long time

Thinking what a wicked awful crime

I thought about the blood shed and the tears cried

I thought about it for a very long time

I thought about what it used to be

And how it had been

When the trees bent and swayed in the wind

I looked upon the bricks and clay

And I wondered what it would be like to stay

To listen to the story, they will never say

And to be able to return to work another day

I sat and thought about it for a very long time

The spiral staircase reminded me of a back or a mothers spine

Had the pilots cried

Did they feel their lungs collapse like the building and its cracks

In the shade I sat

I thought about it and I thought it will forever be black

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The feeling I got from the peace park was so hard to understand. Especially after seeing the Children’s memorial, where a collection of origami cranes from all over the world are held. The thought of children dying, not just here but in other war-stricken areas made my eyes feel cold. Full of tears and my heart hurt. Children losing their moms, dads, sisters, brothers, pets and their own lives. We are not each other enemy, war is. This is something a very special lady would teach me.

One of favorite speakers, was a woman named Koko Kondo, a survivor of the Atomic bomb. Koko, small in statue, yet the largest life in the room. She fills the space with this joy and confidence. She told the story of how as a baby her parents saved her from the attack of the atomic bomb. Yet what was more moving was this idea that as a baby, she grew up in a destroyed town. A land of broken people and broken buildings. In her mind, this was really there was. She told us about the moments she encountered the co-pilot that dropped the bomb. Being just a small child, she recalls being filled with rage. Then discovery that our anger can not be placed on another person, but on the war itself. This idea that all the change or all the bad is the result of one leader or one political group, is so absurd. We all live here, and we all have a choice. Koko changed my mind on courage, gratitude and forgiveness.

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Were currently on the island of O Osaki Kamijima and my mind is overwhelmed with thoughts. There is so much beauty on this island, the people, the history, the landscape. I wish it was possible to captivate it all in a snow globe to show the rest of the world. For now, I suppose a blog post will have to do.

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Katie in Japan – post #2

After arriving in Japan, we had basically got the ball rolling right away. Upon arrival we successfully got dinner and used the public transit with a few other students. We were all glad to see that despite not speaking the language we were able to work through things and find what we needed. Being in a new place for me personally brings so much life and joy to my heart. I find there is not enough time to take in each moment. Before we get into it, let me explain a bit about this unique program called HELIO.

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The HELIO program includes 22 students from all over the world, studying different disciplines. We also have 3 faculty advisors with us, Jay, Ken and Jodi. As well as two brilliant TA’s, Aoi and Mako. So far, the people have been amazing, and I enjoy the individual conversations almost more than anything else we’ve done. The program is a little hard to explain, its been running for four years and from what I understand, each year is very different from the next. Essentially there is a group of individuals who are looking to start a higher education institute on the island of Osaki Kamijima. Us as students, are here to propel that vision by demonstrating the value of non-traditional learning.

You don’t know what we’ve done yet though. So here is a brief recap, I landed in Tokyo with two other students from Georgian. We headed directly to a hotel where all the other students were told to stay. After meeting a few people for a quick orientation, everyone headed to bed as our bus left early in the morning the following day. Breakfast here is very different from North America, so the first one was a little surprising. For example, most mornings I have rice, a salad, sometimes eggs, tofu and miso soup.

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So, after trying everything at the breakfast buffet, we all loaded onto the bus. Our large group was split into two groups prior to the trip. One group was headed to Teshima, and the other to Fukushima. I was in the Fukushima group, with 17 other students. Our day was jam packed to the brim. We headed to the airport to get a train to Tokyo. Then from there we got onto a bullet train to Sendai Station, this trip was an hour and a bit. It gave us lots of time to get to know one another and take in the countryside of Japan. Once at Sendai I got some delicious Matcha ice-cream (Matcha is green tea & also my favorite thing ever). Then we met our contacts for the Fukushima community, we loaded into a few cars and drove a few more hours to our next place.

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While in Fukushima, each day was loaded with lots of driving, hearing people’s stories and learning more about the 3. 11 accident. The 3.11 accident also known as the TEPCO nuclear disaster occurred March 11th, 2011. To summarize the events, a large earth quark caused a tsunami to hit the coast of Fukushima. Directly contacting the nuclear power plant, causing a power outage and then impacting the generators. As a result, high levels of radiation were released into the environment. The government then forced those in the community to evacuate the area until further notice. Leaving many places abandon to this day.

Some crazy things about Fukushima are the large fields filled with black bags. These bags are filled with soil contaminated with radiation. We drove through what is called the “red zone” several times. The presence of disaster is earie, frightening and aggravating. As a foreigner we often feel so removed from these events that are out of our control. Earthquakes happen all the time right? Life moves on. At least that is what I thought. Until I saw cars overtaken with weeds and grocery stores with broken glass and shelves full of food. Until I realized someone’s world stopped, someone lost a pet and maybe even their mom.

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However, the last five days we have heard so many stories of different individuals who shifted the norms. Showcasing this place is alive and thriving in many ways. Some took opportunity in the hardship and others just stuck to who they were. When we listen to people talk an interpreter usually translates for us. I find it amazing however, that even through a foreign language I can see the motivation and the pain they have in each word. These people have worked hard to get where they are today. Some have lost everything, and others left everything to join this community.

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One man who stands out to me the most is someone we often refer to as “the flower guy”. This man had a face gracefully kissed by the sun and a soft glow around the edge of his cheeks. He used to be farmer, rice and vegetables. After the nuclear disaster his land was no longer deemed safe to harvest, due to the radiation. So, while he patiently awaited the day, he could farm food again, he planted some flowers. The flowers grew so abundantly and beautifully that people on the highway would stop to take photos of his blossoming fields. He then decided to plant a well-known flower called the “Texas Blue Bell”, which is used at ceremonies and festivals. His mission was to create an image of wonder and growth in Fukushima. Motivated to change the stigma that it is unlivable and full of hardship. His gardens began to grow so quickly that he needed help. His workforce now is made of mainly senior citizens with minimal family and individuals with disabilities. He believes that just because your right hand stops working, you don’t have to. You can train your left hand to do the same thing.

I could talk forever about this man and all I learned from him. How his eyes shown sunshine and his face crinkled when he laughed. He said one thing, written below, that stuck with me, and has inspired me greatly.

“Many people see life as it happens as a direction. The best people see life as it happens as motivation”

This whole idea that just because things happen, sometimes unbearable things, it doesn’t dictate our lives. This concept that life moves upward towards the end in a specific pattern is so unrealistic. Life is not a pattern, and flowers can grow in a radiation zone. Often, I find we’re just too scared to see things from other perspectives.

I also had the privilege of listening to a cattle farmer who decided to keep his cows alive after the government told him to abandon them. Staying tune to his roots and stoic in his beliefs. Just like him we met a woman who left her lush lifestyle in the city to move to Fukushima to start a tourism business for people visiting Japan. She wants them to see the real culture versus what has been blasted on the media. We talked to people who started shared workspaces, charities and social initiatives.

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We have also been able to experience the more historical parts of Japanese culture. Traditional dinners, with incredible sushi and fresh seafood. Each night is filled with laughter, comfy robes and tea. The views are incredible and I have fully adapted to the little things I may have found strange at first. I love the natural hot spring, the way strangers smile and the lush floral gardens everywhere. After five days I can already tell leaving this place will be difficult. Yet I am so excited to see what the future holds.

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Katie in Japan – post #1

Hi there, welcome to my space. My hope with this space is to tell a story, to spark some thoughts and to show a little bit of how the world looks from my perspective.

For those of you who do not know me here is a brief introduction. My name is Katie, and I currently live in Barrie Ontario. I am a student at Georgian College, where I am studying Human Resource Management. My life mainly consists of drinking tea, spending time with the people I love, music and trying to live as intentionally as possible. A conversation with me may include, but is not limited to; social entrepreneurship, what makes you feel alive, travelling and your favorite food. I enjoy learning about others and what drives them. That is why I have a strong desire to move around and seek out these motivators across the world.

Katie at the airport heading to Japan

I am currently on a plane, headed to Tokyo/Narito Japan. Four months ago, I would never have imagined that I would be here in this moment. Several months ago, I received an email from a professor, whom I greatly admire. The email loosely eluded to a program run in Japan, through the Ashoka organization. I had recently become aware of this organization because of my involvement with a team called Enactus. Both groups, Ashoka and Enactus, support and empower students to use social innovation to create sustainable change (If you have time investigate both organizations).

The email caught my attention almost immediately, however I felt delayed to respond. I have an incredibly wander lustful soul, so the idea of going to a new place was an easy decision. However, at the time many things were going on my life. I think we all have that moment, or maybe lots of moments, that feel like the floodgates have been opened. Even if the elements are positive, the overwhelming aspect still stands. After reflecting on the opportunity and thinking about my personal values, I decided to go for it.

The trip I am embarking on is called the HELIO program. The program is through Georgian Colleges connection with the Ashoka organization. During the time in Japan, I will be travelling with 24 other students from around the world. We will be doing research and learning for the next twelve days.

So here I am, four hours left till we reach Tokyo, eating a fried rice dish I got on our layover. I feel anxious, tired and content. It has been awhile since I encountered another culture so head on, fully immersed. I am beyond excited to learn, to dive in and to soak in all the newness. Yet at the same time I feel an odd sense of peace, as if this is exactly where I need to be at this point. Last night with clothes scattered around the floor, my mom came into my room and asked how I was feeling. I thought it about it for a moment and then responded, “I’m nervous that I’m not more nervous”. At this point I am more so anxious that I will offend someone, which I know is bound to happen. I am slightly scared I forgot to pack something significant. Mainly I am eager to learn, excited to meet new people and eat some delicious food.

So here’s to a new adventure abroad, cheers! Xo, Kate