donderdag 14 januari 2010

From South to North - Part 1

All pictures can be found here (click here)

And if you haven`t done so, it might be useful to read the introduction to this blog, so you might get an idea what the point of this blog is. (click here)

(first part written on Jan 1, continued on Jan 14)

On the 24th of december, a bit more than a week ago, I took the airplane from Tokyo to Kagoshima, the most southern prefecture of Japan.

All throughout recent months, I had been throwing off weight off my shoulders, things that I used to be attached to, but was able to let go off, one by one. I used to have a nice appartment in the Belgian city of Leuven, where I studied. I sold my huge tv, my computer, my piano, gave my squirrel pet away, and got rid of most of all the other stuff that I had in it, before getting out of the appartment finally. After that, and just before I got to Japan, I lived with my parents again for a little 2 months. It had been a long time since I had lived with my parents, and it was something that I used to have a strong aversion to. Instead of trying to run away from the bad anchors, I got in close touch with my old negative behaviors and beliefs to a lot of things in my past. Throughout those two months, I was able to let go of most of these bad anchors to the past, and was actually able to live together with my mom and dad without wanting to pull my own hair out. There`s a saying that says: If you think you`re enlightened, go live with your parents for a while. That was a challenge, but I think I sorted out things pretty nicely before I finally left Belgium on the first of October, 2010. I had felt like running away from my life in Belgium in 2008-2009. The year before that, in 2007-2008, I had lived in Tokyo for a year as an exchange student, and that year was an awesome year on nearly every level, socially, financially and spiritually. Getting back to Belgium in August 2008, was like getting trapped again into the shackles of the past, like all the development I went through in Japan disappeared into nothingness. On top of that I got out of touch with the people that used to be my best friends in Belgium. It was not easy, but it was one of the most valuable years of my life, and I`m happy that I stayed, and didn`t give up. Finally getting my university Bachelors Degree right before I left for Japan again, was a nice cherry on the pie, and another weight of my shoulders. I left Belgium with a warm feeling, that my country was actually a pretty nice place that I could always return to, instead of the aweful place that I had portraited it as, in the past year. Nevertheless, I was superthrilled to get back to the `Country of the Rising Sun`, the country that carries my passion, Japan.

Getting to Japan, and living in Tokyo again in the months between October and December, was very fun and interesting. I got back in touch with old friends, made new friends, and... you know :).
I also experienced meditation for the first time in my life on a very significant level. I did a meditation retreat of Vipassana Buddhism near Tokyo for 10 days, consisting of more than 12 hours of meditation a day. I could write a whole post about it, and meditation for me in general, so here I won`t be going into detail. (I`ll write about it more specifially in a future post)
It`s my spiritual ambition for a while, to be able to enjoy things and life without creating attachments to the things I like doing, and aversions to the things that create unpleasant experiences. To me, that is the ultimate happiness, because as fun as things in your life may be, if you`re attached to it, it will go hand in hand with suffering. Also, as much as you`re able to avoid things that might create unpleasant experiences, as long as the aversion is still inside you, it will continue to create suffering. This is pretty inspired by Buddhism, although there is a pretty significant difference. A lot of so called highly spiritual people are free from attachments, by becoming poor. They run away from anything that they might become attached to, while the aversion to those things still remains. I think it is possible to enjoy the best things in life, without attachments, and I think it is possible to have experiences that others might see as highly unpleasant, without aversion. I think there`s no problem with eating good food, living in a nice place, wearing comfortable clothes, having a lot of money and having great sex. There`s only a problem if you create suffering for yourself or for others by doing these things. It`s only when you become attached to these things, and if you are aversed to the opposites, that it will make you suffer. Living a life of love, without attachements and without aversions, that is my current quest.

Flashforward to December 24th, the day that I took the airplane from Tokyo to Kagoshima, with nothing more than a backpack.
It`s pretty ironic how leaving behind any kind of long-term housing was at the same time one of the last material weights that I threw off my shoulders, while this backpack is actually pretty damn heavy on the shoulders ^_^. Nevertheless, I felt a freedom like never before, how ever heavy the backpack may be.

I had yet to find out a way of how to get from the airport to the most Southern point of the island, Cape Sata. Kagoshima airport was more than 100km away from it, but I found out from the airport that it wasn`t that hard to get there. I took a bus to Kagoshima city. I had everything in my backpack that I needed, except gas for my gas stove, since they don`t allow that on an airplane. I had bought a gas stove in Tokyo, asking the guy at the counter of the camping gear store for something small, and something that was most easy to refill in the middle of nowhere. He gave me a `white gas` stove, and told me I could use gasoline from any gas station for it. That sounded pretty good, so I bought it. Then I saw on the website, that white gas wasn`t common at all in Japan, and that using normal gas station gasoline in it is very bad for my stove. So for this reason, I went to look for white gas in Kagoshima City. I asked in a gas station first, but the guy of the station looked like he hadn`t even heard of the existence of white gas, or any synonym that I could give for it. There was a cab driver nearby, that just happened to be there by coincidence. He told me there was a shop nearby for camping gear, and he told me directions to it. As I was looking for it, and asking more specific directions to someone on the street, the same cab driver from before drove past me and told me that the shop was closed today, and that he would drive me to another place where they would have it. He insisted that he would bring me for free, and he seemed like a nice guy, so I hopped in gratefully.
He told me about how this prefecture had a lot of Western influence in the Meiji period, a few hundred years ago. It was a very powerful Han (what the provinces were called those days) within Japan, called Satsuma. He told me English cannons were shooting the place up from the sea, while the Satsuma cannons couldn`t even reach their ships, and this impressed them so much that they insisted on learning from the West.
I was able to find myself a liter of white gas in the camping equipment store, and the cab driver drove me all the way to the ferry terminal in the city to go to Sakurajima, the volcano island in the bay of Kagoshima. He gave me 2 cans of coffee `for the road`.

Here the pictures tell more than the words do. I walked around on Sakurajima, took a soak in a hot spring to wash away the travel sweat, and took a walk along the sealine of the island for a few hours, in the dark. I had to camp next to the road, on a mixture soil of a little grass, ground and ash. It was the only spot I could find that wasn`t bare magma rocks. Few people were using the road, so I had a pretty quiet night. In the morning my tent was all muddy from an ash rain/dew mix, but I could care less. A brilliant sea and a cloudless blue sky wished me good morning. (Cloudless apart from the smokecloud coming from the volcano.)
I walked a bit untill I came to a busstop, and took the bus to the entrance of the island, the only connection to the mainland, created in 1914 by a big eruption. There I changed busses, and got to the bus and ferry terminal of Tarumizu, a coasttown. While I was waiting for my final bus to Sata, there were 2 highschoolgirls that were also waiting for their bus, staring at me while giggling. I was eating breakfast, and drinking the coffee that I got for free from the shoplady. They were too shy to have a real conversation, but waved at me when they got on their bus, before they disappeared.
A group of young boys carrying baseball-bags, passed me when they got off the ferry, each wishing me good morning as they passed, some of them brave enough to say it in English.
If there`s one thing very different between Tokyo and the countryside of Japan, it`s the fact that people don`t dismiss each other`s existence like they do in Tokyo. For example, when people pass each other on the street, they often greet each other, and it`s considered kind of unethical not to do so. If not a real greeting like good morning, good day or good evening (In Japanese `Ohayo Gozaimasu`, `Konnichiwa`, `Konbanwa`), there`s often a simple nod or a smile. Quite some towns in the countryside pride themselves of this fact, putting up signs like `this is a town of greetings`, where you enter the town.

I got on the bus to Sata, and made the mistake of reading while sitting on the back seat. The road was kind of swingy, and I started to feel bad in my stomache. The sun was shining brightly, and it was pretty hot inside, so I reached the point that I couldn`t keep it in anymore. I was lucky that there was a window, `coughed` a little bit of the inside of my stomache outside through the window, and felt normal again.
In the early afternoon, I finally reached the Sata area, and I got off at the last stop, about 10km walking distance from the Cape.
It was a beautiful but tiring walk, with lots of ups and downs in the road. Definitely check the pictures, there`s no sense describing the views when there are pics.
I finally got to Cape Sata, or Sata Misaki, accompanied by two Japanese young people who were touring Japan by bicycle.

It took me about a day to get to Cape Sata from Tokyo. I went by airplane, by bus, by taxi, by ferry and by foot to get there, but it was only the road to a new beginning. At this place, at Sata Misaki, a trek of more than 3000 kilometers has started. It was the start of not only an exploration of Japan and the Japanese people, but also an exploration of myself. How would a trek like this affect me? Before I started, I didn`t know, and I didn`t have any real expectations. Whatever happens may happen, whatever comes may come. I made the decision to throw myself in an adventure where I can get the experiences that I`m destined to experience. I`m writing this on the 14th of January, so I can already tell that I`m not getting disappointed. The whole point of this is that there`s not really a point. To be honest I don`t care if I reach my final goal of the North of Japan, because that`s not the point of this. Although I`ve decided that I want to do this by foot, I don`t really care if to get in a car for short distances, if people invite me to stay over at their home, for example. My point is not that I want to impress myself and others by walking this whole 3000+km distance, because that would just create new attachments and aversions. I am walking this whole distance because I truly feel like doing it, and I won`t be sad if somehow I would become unable to complete it. The point, that`s not really a point, because it cannot be grasped by the mind, is that I create a space for myself of total freedom, in which I can experience the truth of just being, existing.

After testing out my gas stove for the first time at the Cape, and making a pot of hot noodlesoup, I started walking, at 15:45 on the 25th of December, 2009. Because it would be dark a little bit past 6pm, I set up camp after a 10km walk, at a conveniently located camping ground, right next to the beach. The beach was full of dry wood that was washed on the shore, so that evening I tried making a fire on the beach, just because I felt like doing so, but I couldn`t get the wood to burn in this humid air. So I went to sleep early instead. The wind got stronger and stronger throughout the night, and in the morning as soon as I got out of my tent, it got ripped from the sandy ground by the wind. Luckily I was quick enough to react. It was quite a job to put the tent back in its bag with this wind, but it wasn`t a problem, since my body and my thoughts were carried by an adventurous spirit in high moods for soon to be explored new lands. I undid 6 carrots of their skin, put them in my pocket as breakfast, and took off at about 8AM, into the evergreen hills of South Kyushu.

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