The snippets of daily routine I observed around the streets of Kyoto, Tokyo, and Osaka brought to the forefront some of the things that I didn’t know I had been struggling with. The last month’s of 2018 held a few challenges for me, and I didn’t rise to meet all of them. The people of Japan and the culture I was able to experience there did bring some values I had not been able to name into sharp focus. Everyday became like one of the hidden picture books I used to enjoy as a kid, but instead of knowing I had to find three golden teacups I felt lost an overstimulated as I continued to come to face some of my inner troubles.
There is this one memory in my head, an image I can conjure to mind so perfectly it’s almost like looking into a pensive.
When I close my eyes and think about Japan, I can see the path my friend and I took down a park pathway strewn with amber and purple leaves. The air was crips, much more crisp than it ever is in Miami, and the leaves lent an ephemeral beauty to the cemented footpath. As we continued toward the museum that had become our destination, we came across a group of old men. They wore blue vests and were holding rakes and wheelbarrows as they went about clearing the path from the leaves that had fallen over night. These old men weren’t being cared for as if they could fall apart at any second, nor were they being avoided by the crowds, and no one stopped to thank them for their service with a condescending smile. They were simply raking up the leaves that needed to be cleared.
In this moment a few of the defects in my recent attitude were brought to my attention. I had been acting better than my fellow humans for a while, and had stopped trying to be of service in all the communities I had become a part of. The attitude these men seemed to take while simply raking leaves comforted my reflections. Sometimes all we can hope to do is to be of as much help as we can in our surroundings, and humbly participate in whatever role the community has for us at the time. I am no bigger and no smaller than the other people who walked down that path and crunched leaves beneath their boots, and all roles hold importance.
Walking to the top of Fushimi Inari shrine (伏見稲荷大社), and seeing 1,000 Torii gates (鳥居) also brought me to see that being right-sized is enough.
It was there that I experienced another pensive moment. In one of the ancient shrines, I saw a kitten. Without thinking too much of it, since there were stray cats everywhere, I continued to walk deeper into this particular shrine. The kitten followed me. I noticed this black fluff ball for a second time and spoke to them. That was all the invitation they needed. They gracefully leapt off the gravestone they were perched on, got to my legs, and started meowing and pawing at my feet. I figured they wanted me to bend down, and as I did they leapt into my lap. Without any more instructions needed I started petting them, and they started purring. They purred so loudly my friends around us could hear. I called them Kit, and it was very hard to leave them behind. I might have briefly considered how hard it would be to take them home with me, but I am glad I did not try.
It was only later that I learned how 伏見稲荷大社 is known to be the home to kitsune (天狐) who are a race of trickster, shapeshifting messengers who like to cause trouble. They can also act as faithful guardians, and I like to believe Kit was blessing me with protection.
Another one of my pitfalls had been placed before me. I tend to try and manage my life into what I perceive would be the most interesting experience possible. I don’t plan out every second, but I had preconceived notions of what should be happening, or what the coolest thing to say would be. I even sometimes pose myself so strangers will think of me as graceful, beautiful, or interesting. A kitsune doesn’t belong to anyone, and surely would not care to be treated as a pet. I’m grateful Kit placed a blessing of protection upon me, and every now and then I send a quiet moment to them in hopes that they can sense it across such distance.
In every city we visited, I experienced some degree of self-understanding. I cannot describe how magical this trip was. Nippon (that’s what the kanji writing in the title says, in case you were wondering)… Nippon, was the dream I wished come true and so much more. I traveled with a merry band of adventurers, and somehow still experienced the self-contemplation of solo travel. If you follow me on Instagram (@ladyepi) then you were able to follow me on my trip, and if you didn’t catch me there then you can watch my vlogs on YouTube. If you did follow along then it’s pretty clear in all my photographs and videos that Japan is the happiest place on earth.