When I was a little boy I fell in love with Japan. I don’t know why and I don’t know how. Somehow it happened and my thirteen-year-old me tried to learn Japanese hiragana, learn how to use chopsticks eating noodle soup and would buy green tea to make his own ceremonies. There was something attractive about it and I was convinced that one day I’ll visit the country. My family watched me thinking: “Dream on, boy, dream on.” Because for them it was obviously just a fantasy.
At the age of 24 I was working in a store, slowly falling into the rat race and I’ve long forgotten about my childish dreams. But things tend to happen when you least expect them to and a chance to travel to Japan for three months as a volunteer dropped into my lap.
As I bought the plane tickets with my friend, it wasn’t just a beginning of one story. It was my ticket to freedom. Beginning of a whole new life. Most of my greatest memories are now connected with that journey. And without taking that trip I might’ve not been traveling now and making this blog at all.
It’s the seemingly small things that stand out to me the most. Arriving to Tokyo and making our way to the main station, so we could take shinkansen first and then transfer to a local train. It was just us and few locals who were looking at us curiously as we dragged our huge suitcases through the small railway station of Ichinoseki. Later on we were bumping along the way through the misty mountains of northern Japan. Other passengers automatically snoozed but we were more alert than ever. This place was supposed to become our home for next three months after all.
And a home it was. And not just some home – we have stayed in an old Buddhist temple that the city of Rikuzentakata gave to the volunteers to use. It was a very modest way of living. When it was cold outside, it was freezing inside. And when the summer heat came, you could barely sleep without fans turned on all night. But the views were unforgettable. Looking out of the open door while the heavy rain was pouring down and the clouds stayed low; that’s a memory a wish to relive more than anything else.
Or having dinner with our neighbours. How could you forget someone who accepts you immediately and wholeheartedly? Who invites you anytime and lets you celebrate their birthday just a week after you’ve met them? Many of the Japanese made their way to the deepest places of my heart because they are the real reason why I have such fond memories.
Escaping the rat race and fulfilling my childhood dream made believe that it is possible to do what you want and that life can be so much more if you allow it to be. And becoming a volunteer in a disaster area gave my life purpose and direction I was so eager to find for so long. It wasn’t until we were sitting in that first train when we slowly realized we had no idea what’s going to happen next. Every single day was an experience and even after two months there was always something that surprised us. Who knows what my life would be like if I didn’t take that first trip outside of my comfort zone, because with Japan it all just started.