Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hannah and Kennin in Japan!

Hello! My name is Hannah Lee and I am currently studying at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, with my dragon, Kennin (named after the beautiful 建仁寺 Kennin-ji, or Kennin Temple).
Where does one begin with a tale that transforms a person? You can read so many novels, watch so many documentaries, but they never can prepare you for the journey you will go through both physically, emotionally, and mentally. The person that leaves home is not the one that returns. Even I, an experienced traveler before coming to Japan, have found myself still changing thanks to this trip. When I sat down to write this post I honestly didn’t know where to start, because I felt that I may need to write a whole adventure story, complete with legends, wizards, and even dragons, to fully express the experiences I have had here in this country. 

An old town on the Nakasendo road.

While that whole paragraph may have just freaked you out, there isn’t anything to fear. In fact, the only thing to feel is excitement, because the person you will become will be stronger, more understanding, braver, and wiser. Suddenly, things don’t scare you the same way anymore. If you are someone who would stop when you came across a wall, you will find yourself being a person looking for ways to get past it. 

My friends Laura from Germany and Isabel from Norway enjoying Hanami

There will be many feelings, going to a foreign country, especially one where you don’t look like everyone else, where you may not speak the language well, and where your cultural norms don’t match either. But once again, don’t worry, don’t fret, and let yourself fall in love in the country that may permanently become a place you can call home.

A tea ceremony sweet poetically named Fishbowl, created by Sefu.

When I first landed in Japan, my flood of worries honestly didn’t come till the next day. Wandering around Kyoto with all my belongings, standing out like a sore thumb, is when everything hit. How will I make my cash last till the end of the trip? How can I get official business done when my language is the level of a 5 year old? How hard will my classes be? Ah crap, I can’t fully read that sign, I hope it didn’t say something important….  

My Japanese friend Mao and myself at a soccer game.

But then, I found my dorm (thanks to coming prepared with my new address in kanji for the taxi driver to read) and soon settled in. A few days were quiet, until a whirlwind of events took me to Oz. Suddenly, I experienced Hanami (花見, flower viewing of the sakura trees), made friends from all over the world, saw and participated in the Moving Shrine Festival (Danjiri-matsuri), and other amazing events occurred in my life, and all those feelings melted away. Suddenly, this place was my home, and you quickly learn that even the strangest places can start to feel familiar. 

Hanami Festival at a local temple.

There is far too much to talk about regarding my life here, so instead I shall give some important tips and advice I think anyone coming to Japan (or any other foreign country) should bear in mind. When you first come, bring only what you need, and not what you want (you want room to bring stuff home, trust me!). Be a ‘yes-man’ and don’t hide away! Experience the land around you, immerse yourself, because if you don’t you may soon find yourself regretting wasting the opportunity you had. When you first come, bring a folder containing a copy of your driver’s license, passport, addresses and phone numbers of your home in your new country, and any other important documents. And finally, do not be afraid to ask questions, because even the simplest questions may make your life a million times easier. You may surprise yourself with just how much you can really do in the world.
I’m only half way through my adventure, so I have so much more to experience. But before I end this post, I have a lovely poem to share that I learned through my tea ceremony lesson:


‘An old pond
A frog
Jumps in
Sound of Water”

The famous painting on the large ceiling of Kennin-ji

Jump into a country of old or new, and enjoy the beauty, sights or sounds, that you will remember for a long, long time.

Hannah Lee
Ritsumeikan University
Kyoto, Japan