What happens when you’re back after such a lifetime experience?
Probably some of you studied abroad for some time, experienced some freedom from your birthplace, family, hometown. Or perhaps you are just NOT Italian and not that bonded to family and try to leave the nest as soon as you get the chance.
I don’t know if this really has to do with anything. I think it has for me.
The general rule is that, once back, you’re stranded. You adapted yourself to a new world, you learned to live and go on with your strengths, to be independent.
You had an identity, even if what had been defining was only the fact you were on your own.
Doesn’t really matter.
In the end, whether you were part of the Vulcanus programme, the Erasmus, Socrates, or any other opportunity, you are changed by it, and going back is just weird.
It is weird because it’s like entering a new part of your life, moving on, heading on a new road and following down, getting somewhere, piling up experience, knowledge, just to be taken as a small pawn in a table game, and put back on square one.
These time-limited programs always do this. Of course they’re excellent starting points for many new roads, but the moment you’re back, you’re hyping, you’re full of yourself for what you’ve accomplished, of having finished it all, for having made it, for being still there, standing enriched and a better person.
But what about the surroundings? Where do you find yourself in?
The rest is basically the same. It could be a few months, one year as in my case, or maybe more. Being back is just like going back to an old relationship that has nothing to give you, perhaps didn’t have before leaving as well.
The immediate reaction, for me but for many I reckon, is try to fill up that empty space.
I tried to jump into anything I found slightly interesting, challenging, lively. I went to see a traditional religious ceremony in Viterbo (see the Santa Rosa’s set on flickr), I jumped with a parachute in tandem, and I reached my mother in Sardinia for a few days before meeting my new friend Roberto in his hometown, Palermo, in Sicily.
Sardinia (Sardegna in Italian) is the second biggest island in Italy. A true natural paradise at 1 hour flight distance from almost anywhere in the country.
I used to go there since I was a kid or…better, even before I was born.
The ferry crossings between Civitavecchia (1,5 hrs north of Rome) and Olbia or Golfo aranci (NE of the island) are among the dearest memories I have.
Summer holidays, caribbean-like seas, and amazing sights.
After one year in Japan I missed Italy a lot, and even I did go to the beach while there, I wanted some real, crystal-like waters before the winter.
Of course this wasn’t enough. Nothing is enough because the problem doesn’t lie outside, but inside yourself. You should not try to force yourself into fitting back where you feel you should belong. That can’t be helped. You’re changed, you have to cut off old branches, and cling on the new, fresh ones. And find new ways of sprouting more.
New connections, new people, new habits.
These experiences are chances of being reborn, and clinging on to the past never does any good.
It took me a few months to learn, but this was a blind, random, desperate start. Staying idle is never the answer. Doing, keeping moving, pushing things alive is the only thing you can do when feeling lost. If you weren’t to find the right way, at least you’d have put yourself through new, potentially interesting things.
That’s what happened to me.
Sardinia, a set on Flickr.
Meeting a friend visiting a place close to where you live is always a good start for a very nice time together.
The plan itself, geographically speaking, is to meet each other in a common place. And translating this concept into human relations, means connecting more on a personal level.
So I was happy to visit Miyajima for the 3rd time: the place was now feeling that kind of familiar as somewhere I’ve always been or lived, like some places in Rome, or London, and now, perhaps, Tokyo.
Showing things you’ve seen already twice, taking shortcuts, point out particular sights. Those are the things that, while doing them, make you feel like you kind of belong to the place.
You made it yours.
So I met with my friend Thea, visiting Hiroshima during the Obon week, one of the few national holidays in Japan. We went together to Miyajima, and I took the chance to reach the peak of the island, something I didn’t do the previous times.
The momiji (Japanese maple) trees were now full of super green leaves, and some of them were already turning reddish. Those red colours that make Japan the most amazing country in the world during autumn. Yeah, american maple is pretty nice too but you’ve seen nothing until you see the Japanese ones.
Still august is a bit early for those colours, but the sensation was there nonetheless.
And the view from the peak, even if with some thick haze in the distance (humidity in Japan is pretty high, especially in summer) is definitely breathtaking…
Another great memory, more sights I’ll never forget.
Miyajima, one last time, a set on Flickr.
In the Kyoto area (but definitely not that close) there’s one of the “three famous views of Japan” (日本三景 – Nihon sankei).
The Amanohashidate (天橋立, literally the “bridge standing over heaven”) is a strip of sand lined with Japanese pine trees separating a large inner bay from the open sea. It is said that by climbing the hill on the north side, stepping on a stone and bowing to look at that strip between your legs, makes you see it as upside down, like a bridge over the sky.
Since I had already seen Miyajima and its torii, and the Matsushima archipelago was brutally swept by the tsunami following the great 2011 Tohoku earthquake, I couldn’t miss the chance to see at least this one.
2 painstakingly long hours by express train (local would’ve been…don’t wanna even think about that) passed quite quickly with my friends Thea and Colin with me, but on the way back my mind was on the appointment I had with Saki, to go in her hometown, Iwakuni, in time to reach the hanabi, the summer fireworks festival.
It’s been a hard one, but I made it. Not in time to meet her before the beginning and getting changed in my yukata, but hey…it was sweating hot and I just came back from climbing mt. Fuji…cut me some slack!
Those days I was taking off from work have been some of the most intense I’ve experienced while in Japan. Always on the run, with something new and exciting to do every day. Even going back to my old and crappy dorm was a nice perspective after all: I had done loads of things, met a lot of nice people, and saw some of the most astonishing views ever. I was back in the car with Saki, heading for Kudamatsu, and even if fighting a little for having been late for meeting her, I felt happy, having accomplished a lot in just a few days.
Didn’t take that long to cheer the mood up, and enjoy the rest of the evening together.
August. Already at the end of that incredible year. Still almost a month to go, I couldn’t leave Japan without reaching its top. Took some vacations next to a weekend, just before the Obon festival, and decided to go for this landmark. Borrowed boots, headlight, some waterproofs and arranged a sleeping location at some friends, as close as possible. I was ready.
Mt. Fuji (Fujisan – No, “san” is not the polite suffix for “mr.”, means, guess what, mountain) is 3776 meters high, highest peak in all Japan. Is an old volcano which stands quite isolated from other mountain ranges, like the last pillar on the coast before the ocean, clearly visible from airplanes, cars running on the motorways, and of course from the Tokaido shinkansen line running at its feet.
While covered in snow from September until July, and with prohibitive winter conditions (a wind so strong that is difficult to stand on the top), in August the weather is fairly mild, few precipitations, no snow, not that much wind, and definitely not cold.
There are 3 or 4 hiking trails from different sides climbing up, divided in 10 stations. 10 is the top, 0 is the bottom. Easiest way to go is taking a bus that climbs up to station 5 (2300m, but looking on a map could seem already at 2/3 of the way…wrong), but naturally, you can climb all the way up from (almost) sea level.
Naturally, that’s what I did.
Being an isolated volcano, there are no mountains nearby, and the station closest to Fuji is 800m high on sea level…so that’s a story of how I climbed almost 3000 vertical meters in less than a day.
Goal: witness the sun rising from the top.
It’s not hard climbing, everything is neatly kept, paths are outlined, and the mountain side not too steep. After emerging from the forest, it’s like a huge pile of rocks and gravel. Almost no vegetation, a gigantic cone of dark, red, white rocks, and a neverending zigzagging path up the side. It is tiring, but more mentally than anything. You keep going up as the air keeps getting thinner, chitchatting with many japanese fellas on the way. I made good friends while climbing, people I would hear from again, also people who came visiting me in Rome after I got back.
I stopped for the night in a hut at around 3400 meters, after climbing for 9 hours. Bedtime at around 9, woke up at 2, fast breakfast and up climbing again in the dark of the night. Downhill city lights clearly visible in the darkness, the line of LED headlights tracking the path ahead reassuring and warning at the same time.
It wasn’t over yet. People were tired, weak, stopping to breathe from their small oxygen tanks (yep, Japanese people do buy small tanks to help them breathe on the way….totally pointless if you ask me), and the path was narrow: the line often stopped, with no apparent reason. So as soon as the sky started to brighten, announcing the 御来光 (goraikou, “noble upcoming light”, that is the sunrise seen from the top of a mountain – yes, there’s a word for this in Japanese), me and the friends I met at the hut started rushing through the path, cutting corners, trying to be up as early as possible.
We’ve been rewarded by an amazing sight, with people still on the path, and something that can’t be described with words. Pictures too, fail but…take a look, I tried to do my best!
Things kind of rushed after my last post. The work was going on, a little boring as usual, but I was hanging in there. Couple of interesting chances, but nothing regular. Now that I’m back home, many months passed, and I’m looking back and seeing things more clearly, kind of nostalgic. But I’ll slowly catch up, and you’ll see what brought me here, now.
Back then, what changed my habits the most was meeting this girl, Saki. She was working at my same company, and we started seeing each other quite regularly…guess always happen that way, and you disappear from your blog!
Anyway, I love traveling, she does too. So we planned some great trips together.
Going south! As south as I’d never gone before in Japan. South of southernmost of the 4 main islands of Japan, that is Kyushu, there is a archipelago of islands stretching into the Pacific ocean reaching Okinawa.
South of Kyushu, among the first, biggest islands there is Yakushima. Spending the night in Kagoshima, main port of the south of Kyushu and leaving the following morning, Saki and I left for this magic place, the first of our trips together.
Yakushima, a true living paradise, is a rather small, montainous, scarcely populated, almost tropical island. Is almost entirely covered by forest, verdant, thriving vegetation everywhere, famous for its cedar trees (sugi in japanese).
We have forests in Italy, and I’ve traveled a lot in Europe including Finland or the Black forest in Germany which are marvelous, but believe me, Yakushima is worth a visit. Perfect for long hikes (you can spend the night in a hut with your sleeping bag for some of the most beautiful 2-day hikes ever) for a full immersion in nature. You have deers, monkeys, amazingly old cedars (oldest is circa 3000 years old), small rivers everywhere and an old railway climbing up the slopes as well…
Well, it’s obvious now that I love the place. Do yourself a favour and go there. But take a look at the pictures first!
Yakushima (pt.1: Yakusugi land)
Yakushima (pt.2: Arakawa trail)
Yakushima (pt.3: Shiratani unsuikyo)
This is the first post on my first blog. Never thought I’d actually do something like this for real.
But the importance of what me and my friends are going through deserves more than a bedtime story for my relatives.
A few words about myself and what is involved here: I’m 26, I have an bachelor degree (undergrad, call it as you want) in mechanical engineering, awarded in Rome where I was born and have always lived. I’m almost through my postgraduate degree (2 exams left), and my specialisation field is energetics, that is everything concerning plants, energy processing and transformation.
Enough of this crap: at the end of last december (2009) a friend of mine (who’s engaged to one of my best friends, Diego) sent to both of us an interesting link: a EU program for scientific-field university/college students for a 1 year experience in Japan, including language and culture course and a 8 month traineeship. Since it was advertising placement for students of engineering (me), physics (my friend Diego) and architecture (Diego’s girlfriend, Federica) she thought funny that it seemed cut right on our shape. Probably she did not mean anything serious.
I did though, so I almost forced them to apply: long story short, me and Diego were accepted, unluckily she wasn’t. Economic crisis brought to a drastic cut in placements (45 to 29) with just one architecture firm…awarded to another guy (obviously italian ;] )
So here we are (or were….august 31st), saying goodbye to parents and friends before leaving them for quite a long time.
The first impressions are hyping: the travel started as a huge schooltrip, backpacks and friends, flying to Moscow and then to Tokyo. No worries so far…in Moscow we meet 4 others participants from eastern europe, joining us on the same flight: the group gets bigger, and the hyping not so much as probably everyone hasn’t slept that much the night before, and we’ve been already tripping for 8 hours now. And somebody from Poland even more.
Despite what everybody was saying, the Aeroflot flight was great. Huge Airbus for intercontinental flight, movies, games and music on the plane (yes it was my first 6+ hrs flight, ok?)…we got kind of tired but sleeping wasn’t easy.
Since our arrival in Moscow, the number of Japanese people around us had been increasing rapidly: this is naturally obvious, but I think this is when I started to realise what I was going towards. While in Moscow we could still talk some english to the bartenders and so on, to be among so many different people on the same flight, with japanese characters on newspapers and magazines, made me aware of the out-of-place sensation I was going to feel in a few hours.
As the flight took off, and the movies and games became available, we tried to distract ourselves from thinking, and a few hours flew by, again in schooltime-hyping. We ate, we talked, we joked, and -sometimes in funny positions- we slept a couple of hours.
The flight was smooth (a free suggestion: USE MELATONIN when you travel long distances: it’s no sleeping pill, it’s a natural compound produced by the body to regulate sleep/wake cycle, increasing it artificially with a pill just relaxes you, makes you more prone to sleep when you want to, and using it even a few days after landing many time zones away, helps you cope with jet lag in no time), but anyway tiring for everybody.
We were all awake in the last 2 hours, and prepared to land at Narita airport….we were really beyond the point of no return, and what seemed just a crazy adventure until a few weeks earlier was now a fascinating but, honestly, scaring truth.