Happy New Year!
I started off the year in one of the best ways I knew how: watching the first sunrise of the year from Mt. Bizan. I woke at 5am so I could eat breakfast, change, and prepare a thermos of lemon tea for the adventure ahead. The roads were dark and deserted as I rode my bicycle to the foot of Mt. Bizan. There were cablecars running to the top of the mountain from the Tourist Center (Awa-odori Kaikan, named after our famous dance!), but I decided it would be more fulfilling to walk up instead. This is the first mountain I climbed when I arrived in Japan 6 years ago. I had ridden my bike up to it and climbed the 280 meters in flip flops. That should give you some idea of what little rigor it takes. But I will say it was a challenge going up in the dark. I passed several others doing the same, and was early enough to get a 2nd row view facing the eastern shores of the Pacific. We all waited for a long time anticipating that first dawn. When the sun finally flared its way above the horizon, a group of girls screamed as though a famous boy-band had come into view. We all watched it form into a perfect circle, dart behind a cloud, and rise triumphant again.
Later that morning a friend picked me up to go to church. We listened to a sermon about pointing our lives in the right direction. Following the service was a snack and socializing hour where I got to practice my Japanese sign language with the other members of the church and learn the signs for different countries. Australia’s was represented by putting something in your belly pocket. America looks like a waving flag. It was such a delight to be with these church members again after so long. When I first met them there was a big language barrier when it came to spiritual vocabulary. Despite that, they taught me so much just through all their visible demonstrations of love (service, encouragement, joy and concern for each other).
After church I met with another friend for lunch, then explored an old style Tokushima village. We met another group of friends there who had just come back from visiting the US for the first time. One said she gained 11lbs from her 1 week trip. I felt that summed up the US pretty well. We enjoyed a nice overlook of the Yoshinogawa River Valley and went to our next destination: dinner.
New Years’ Day is a very big family holiday in Japan. As a result, most restaurants are closed. My friend called up our favorite takoyaki restaurant to see if they were open. It was intended to be closed, but he decided to open just for us. We ordered the traditional takoyaki (think of savory donut holes with octopus chunks inside, barbecue sauce and mayo on top, sprinkled with seaweed and roasted fish flakes), Italian pizza style, and a very unique dashi style, where instead of having toppings, you soak the octopus ball in fish-flavored radish soup. The owner did some magic card tricks for us, then asked what we would choose as our last meal before dying. Mine was Scrumdiddlyumptious, mom’s specialty chicken and rice dish. The store owner said his would be a really nice steak with garlic on top. That’s when he whipped out a beautifully marbled steak and said he wanted to share this most delicious of meals, that it was on the house. My taste buds were thrilled with the whole meal, and I’m happy to say it wasn’t my last meal either.
My friend drove me home at the end of the day. “Are you tired?” She asked, looking at the sleepy smile on my face. “I’m just thinking that if today is any reflection of how 2017 will go, it’s going to be a good year.” And so far, it has.
(When I got home I then proceeded to freak out about all the packing yet to do, as I needed to leave for the ferry by 7am. Oops.)
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. That’s because life itself picked up its pace and sent me globe hopping. Since Matsumoto I’ve been to an orchard, an oyster farm, Tokushima, and am now in New Zealand running barefoot across the grassy slopes. Peter Jackson didn’t need to cherry pick scenes for the LotR. The whole country is beautiful. Keep tuned for more updates!