In just over a week, I will have been in Japan for six months.
My long holiday will be coming to an end, and I’ll be returning to the world of full-time work. Thankfully, I won’t be returning to the decadent West, or my life in retail and hospitality. I’ve found a job teaching English to children in Nagano, Japan. My adventures have only just begun, but this definitely feels like the end of this specific chapter of my life, and will probably see my writings on this little blog thing die down.
As I’ve said many times, probably my favourite place in Japan so far has been Kyoto. An absolutely perfect mix of ancient, traditional temples, castles and streets, and modern city life conveniences. Everything one could need from a city, but only a short walk away from mountains and solitude.
In the South East of Kyoto, near the J-Hoppers Hostel I spent the most time staying in, and where I made some great friends, is my favourite part of my favourite city. I arrived there on my first day in Kyoto, only three weeks into my time in Japan, and tiredly headed out for supplies.
That afternoon, I stumbled across a supermarket and stocked up but I never actually found that same supermarket again. Subsequent shopping trips had to be made to convenience stores instead.
A little further downriver from my hotel and the supermarket is the base of Fuhimi Inari. Climbing up this mountain takes one into the shrine of 10,000 Torii gates, one of the most beautiful sights in the world. Even the constant throng of tourists does little to reduce the magic of that place.
A couple of months ago, when I was bouncing around Kyoto and applying for jobs, I bought a little charm and made a wish that I would find work that allowed me to stay in Japan. Shortly after that came my couple of weeks on the farm, after which I moved into my hostel work in Osaka.
I’d been in Osaka less than a week before I was taking a night bus for an interview in Nagano which went amazingly. After that, the only issue was arranging the dates when I could leave my work in Osaka and start working in Nagano. It was definitely stressful sitting and waiting, powerless while my fate was decided for me, but it worked out in the end.
Ironically, just as things started to take concrete form regarding my plans to leave Osaka, I met my girlfriend and began to feel less excited about moving on to the next chapter and more glum about moving away from this one, but we’re confident we can work with that. No doubt, this is a little trick the spirits of the shrine have played on me for not buying a big enough charm. My wish came true but with a prickly caveat.
Nonetheless, my wish did come true. Tradition dictates I take my charm back to the temple and hang it up.
I made one last trip to Kyoto. I followed the river in the sweltering heat and pointed myself up the mountain.
I made the now-familiar climb, admiring the multitudes of red gates, stone shrines and fox statues. I paused to take in the wonderful view of my beloved Kyoto. I hung my charm, said ありがとうございますand began to wind my way back down one last time.
As back to Kyoto station for what would probably be the last time for a long old while, I stumbled across the supermarket I’d all but forgotten about. I laughed out loud, and it made me start thinking.
I’ve never been a religious man. I’ve long outgrown my Richard Dawkins and Ricky Gervais phase, I’m happy to appreciate the good religion can bring to people’s lives, but it’s something I rarely think about. Nonetheless, I’ve developed a real affection for the Japanese spirituality; the Shinto spirits and creatures which are quaintly attributed to everyday things, the Buddhist mindset, the peaceful way practices from other faiths are comfortably folded into life.
Moreso, I’ve never believed in destiny. I literally have a tattoo on my shoulder that says “NO FATE.” It would be the height of arrogance to believe the universe ordained my life to come out this way when multitudes of others suffer through no fault of their own.
Here I am, on the other side of the world. I’ve been obsessed with Japan since I was a young boy. Through Godzilla movies, Pokemon and Digimon, Nintendo and anime, until I was a little older and I read the history of the samurai and the arts and the architecture. Yet it was until these last few years, and a throwaway remark by my dad, that I made the decision to come here.
I landed in Japan when I did, stumbled through six months without a plan and met people I care about incredibly deeply, found a job and a life and a love for this amazing place. I discovered a delicious toffee apple tea which appears only in incredibly rare vending machines, yet one always presents itself right when I’m at my most lost and tired and desperate.
And here I was, leaving Kyoto for the last time with all my wishes coming true and my time in the city coming full circle. It was hard not to feel like there was some force nudging me in the right direction.
Don’t get me wrong. I know I have a happy-go-lucky attitude, but I did work bloody hard to get where I am. I worked ludicrous hours in a restaurant and saved all of my money to fly here. I applied for everything and anything to find work. Some small percentage of what I achieved was on merit.
I don’t know if I suddenly believe in destiny, or that the kami are guiding me. Did the kitsune of Fushimi Inari Taisha find me that job and get me a girlfriend or did I achieve that through determination and charm?
Ultimately, the way I’ve come to feel about the world is best described with a Japanese word. If I’ve come to learn any big lesson from the last six months, it’s this.
The phrase is normally translated as “Heaven Blesses Hard Work.” Sometimes it’s worded slightly differently in English, but the general idea of the philosophy is that one should work as hard as you can, and after that things will either work out or they won’t. As long as you’ve done everything in your power, maybe fate is what handles the rest.
That Japanese word?