It’s now been almost a week since we left Kyoto and if i had to choose 5 words to describe how I feel after leaving, it would be something like this (in no particular order): Enlightened, Connected, Spiritual, Refreshed, and Relieved. Some are easier to explain than others but the sum of these feelings is the equivalent to the sensation that comes with only a snapshot, surface-level understanding of the rich history, culture, and tradition that lays within the walls of Kyoto.

I am connected. I have now walked through more than a thousand gates on my path up and down a mountain. We began up the mountain as a group of bright eyed bushy tailed twenty-somethings, ready to tackle what we thought wouldn’t be that tall a mountain. We shared conversation about eachothers’ pasts and experiences until each step became another layer of knowledge quickly reaching its peak. Then quick learning became quiet acknowledgement. Each of our feelings were in line with out saying much of anything at all. With each step, our drive became more certain. We would get to the top! But once the quiet truly set in, I was able to think more about why I was really climbing the mountain. Some make this trek in order to pray to the shrine at the top, while others climb it as a good workout or fresh air. To be sure, all of these are great reasons to scale the mountain, but for me, I had only one reason. I wanted to see elation on the faces of the rest of my group. And my god, did I see true bliss on their faces! What I felt from that was a real connection to the group that i had not had previously. And I will hold that connection long after the memory of Fushimi-Inari fades.

I am Spiritual. Often it is easy to visit a place and tell your self that you think it is beautiful. It is as a consequence, very easy too fake interest or understanding of some given subject matter. But sometimes, there is a presence that dwells beneath the naked eyes perception. An imperceivable but palpable force capable of moving a man to burst out laughing with no joke told, or burst into tears without any understandable catalyst. I’ve seen the latter at a noh play, and I’ve felt the former simply moving around the city. Overcome with a supreme calm as I walked through the city alone at night, I began to laugh, quietly at first and then…not so quietly. As though I told my self the funniest joke I’d ever heard. Accept no joke was told. I laughed because that was the only response I had for feeling such a spiritual connection to the city. Even now, the spirit of Kyoto’s touch lingers on my senses.

I am refreshed. A bit more simple to explain. After the last time I left Japan, I felt like there was something I’d left behind. Since then I’ve had frequent flashbacks and memories of my time there before. This second outing to Japan presented me with some of the old feelings I’d left behind, while the first outing to Kyoto renewed and transformed those feelings with its own unique Kyoto flare.

I am enlightened. The most difficult to explain because it involves every aspect of my being in Japan. The chain of events that allowed me to take this trip with everyone, the lessons we learned from each instructor, the karaoke bars and 24K magic; Everything comes together in my mind, combining to create an experience that leaves me with a feeling that everything is exactly as it should be. My time in Japan, meditating, reading, learning, drinking tea looking at the snow, has given me an appreciation for a certain Japanese Laissez Faire. And the stress of Williams suddenly doesn’t seem quite as stressful anymore.

I am relieved. I am relieved that everything worked out in the end. I am relieved that our presentations went decently well and that we were all able to smile after it all. I am relieved that everyone on the trip bought in to the goal of making everyones experience on this trip a little bit better. And sadly but truthfully, I am relieved to be back in a culture that I understand. One in which I can use the lessons that I’ve learned from this trip to teach and to learn and to stimulate conversation about things that people in the west may not have ever experienced.

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