Global and International Studies Major
Religion and Culture in Japan
Summer I short-term, faculty-led course
In the United States we think of being active as walking on average 2-3 miles a day. Some of us walk from building to building on campus, some walk a lot at work, and most of us drive to the places we go with a short walk to the door. I went to Japan with this idea that I was pretty active, and I loved walking as I did all the time. I thought I walked a lot, especially with all of the hills in Kalamazoo. I spend most of my time on campus due to classes and work, and I am usually walking around most of the day. I was in for more than I expected when I arrived in Japan, and I believe I died at least once, but I am here.
Japan is a small island, and there is not much space for buildings and cars. The mountains take up tons of space, and you can only build out so much. Most buildings are built very tall so that they will hold more, and even houses are extremely small. Residents of Japan usually don’t own a car due to the prices and most of all, the space. If you own a car in Japan you are usually living somewhere way out in the country without access to the Subways, or the ability to reach your destination on bike.
The subway system is one of the most complex in the entire world, and bicycles are extremely common. The trains and subways run all over the island, and millions of people a day get around this way. During my stay we usually took the subway about 4-6 times a day in order to get where we were going. With the subway comes the walking and usually running to get there. I learned my first day that you have to be quick in order to get on, and this meant running and loads of stairs! We averaged about
10 miles a day, and this hit us hard the first few days. We were exhausted, but we pushed ourselves. After so long we could do it without a second thought. What was crazy at first was realizing that this is a normal everyday experience for the Japanese people. It made me question how much more I should be doing here at home.
Just as we thought we were getting used to the subways along came our 4th day in Japan. Today we were taken to a temple below Mount Takao and told that we would be hiking up the mountain as part of our Buddhist Pilgrimage. We hiked alright! At first we were excited, and we thought the mountain was pretty small. Well, it was small compared to Mount Fuji, and that is nearly impossible to hike. None of us hike much so the struggle got real. We wheezed our way up that mountain while chanting the chants of the monks, and we made it! It took a few hours, but we were rewarded with some of the most beautiful views at the top! When we reached our destination we were invited into the temple we would be staying at for the next 2 days. This experience was challenging, and I told my professor that it seemed like he was trying to kill me, but I loved every minute of it. Looking back, I would totally do it all again in a heartbeat!
Throughout this trip I had the opportunity to grow mentally, physically, and spiritually. I am still me, but I’m different. I’ve changed, and I have realized so much about myself as well as the world. Leaving Japan was one of the hardest things to do, and I actually thought about skipping my flight and staying there. I sound crazy, but it captured my heart, as well as part of my mind. I was there in total for exactly a month, and I feel like I was there for at least a year. I came across people I had never met who treated me like family, and couldn’t even speak English. I travelled through mountains which pulled me in spiritually. I witnessed some of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. I climbed thousands of steps to get to beautiful temples just to feel a connection for a few minutes. The emotions ran deep during this trip, and I will always have the gift of the memories I hold close. I will be back one day, and until then I will visit through the images I have left.