Work in Progress

“In the best travel, disconnection is a necessity. Concentrate on where you are; do no back-home business; take no assignments; remain incommunicado; be scarce. It is a good thing that people don’t know where you are or how to find you. Keep in mind the country you are in. That’s the theory.”
–Paul Theroux

A human who loves the world, finds beauty in the unknown, and can't keep her feet on the ground. I like finding unique (and cheap) ways of making my way around the globe. Interacting with people while living, learning, and loving the culture I'm surrounded by.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Surfing Through Japan

I arrived in the evening on Friday and spent the whole first half of my evening chatting with Taka, my host. He is about 50 years old and has spent a lot of time traveling and a lot of time hosting surfers. I chose him for a multitude of reasons. He had loads of reviews, which is always the first thing I look for. A person with 77 reviews is the type of person you want to surf with. To me, that means they know what surfing is all about. They know what it means to be a good host. And a good host differs depending on who your talking to. Someone who wants a free place to stay, period - those people are missing out. It is so much more than that. I had ample money to spend at cheap hostels this time around, which differed a lot from my travels in Europe last summer. Still, couchsurfing was the first place I went when it came to looking for accommodation.

Having the chance to connect with locals in the city that you are visiting can completely change your perspective on a place. You get more than a few pictures in front of this temple and that castle. Taka (after explaining the rules of his home) shared some awesome conversation. We talked about everything. Japanese culture, my weight loss, education, the environment, Korean culture, cheese, fat Americans with guns. You name it.

One of the main conversations I remember having was about the way the majority of the Japanese population feel about Americas after, you know, we dropped an atomic bomb in their country. He said that, because America didn't just deplete the Japanese of their resources and leave them high and dry, they respect us in a sense? We helped them build back up their economy in a way that, obviously, still suited us. Exporting things from Japan to America helped fuel their economy, and they appreciated the fact that we gave them the opportunity to do so. In conclusion, Taka tells me the Japanese don't hold grudges. The past is the past and we have all moved on.

I'll be the first to admit that I am a bit of an uncultured American, like we tend to be. This has changed drastically since I have started traveling and meeting people from around the world, thankfully. Still, my extent of "history" doesn't go far beyond America's development. I only remember taking half a semester of world history in high school. HALF a semester of WORLD history. This baffles me. Compared to the world, America is just a speck on the timeline. Anyways, I never thought about what the Japanese might think of Americans after the war. Other than knowing about Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor, I don't know much about it to begin with. 

My second night staying with him I was given a few options. He offered to cook me a traditional meal, take me out to a cheap (but very good) sushi meal, or to go downtown and spend a little bit more money on a nice sushi meal/tempura spot. I chose to have him cook for me. How many times in my life and I going to be able to experience something like that? I had a hard time deciding, because I 9.can never make a decision to save my life... but I think I did well this time. 

Taka opened my mind up to a lot about Japanese culture. He taught me to always eat all of my food, which was no problem for me. He taught me to say Itadakimasu before my meal, signifying that I am grateful for the food that nature has provided me with - and gochisosama deshita after the meal saying something similar, with the thanks of being satisfied. He taught me more than just the sayings, however. It is important in Japanese culture to appreciate the food you are given, and especially appreciative for everyone and everything involved in the process. You have to think about where the food came from, who farmed the vegetables? Who caught the fish? Who prepared your meal? And, obviously, nature for giving the opportunity to eat. 

After he served me a delicious meal complete with fish, rice, tofu, and miso soup - he offered up some wine and cheese. REAL cheese, that some of his other surfers brought him from Spain. Words can't begin to express how thankful I was. And then, when I thought it couldn't get any better, he made me an extra special bowl of mochi. I was beside myself with happiness. And dinner was accompanied with wonderful conversation. 

We talked a lot about the culture of couchsurfing, and why he enjoys it so much. He loves sharing things, and he loves the exchange. Sure, he let's people stay at his place and they use his water and his energy and he feeds them - but the reward that he gets is worth so much more than that. He is able to meet people from around the world and learn new things about them and their culture. He is able to share things about the Japanese culture that you can't read in that Lonely Planet book you picked up. Learning through experiences - it's really the only way to do it.

I also surfed with a girl from New Zealand who has been teaching English in a public school in Kyoto. Although much different from my experience with Taka, it was awesome. We had a few drinks by the river and chatted all night. It was interesting to compare the school environments that we worked in, how different the languages were, and just the fact that we had something in common and were close in age was nice. We stalked up on goodies at a convenience store before heading back to her place and drinking more. OH! And, I got to experience a real, live Japanese earthquake. Thankfully it wasn't very serious and no tsunami's ensued. She was an angel and recommended a less "touristy" place I could go in Kyoto - You can only visit so many temples on one trip. I wish I was able to spend more time with her, but luckily I will be back in Japan one day (hopefully soon) - and I have two awesome friends to visit when I get back. And hopefully one to party with in Tokyo.

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