Summer in Japan mainly means one thing (apart from obscene heat): matsuri, or traditional Japanese festivals. There are literally dozens in every city, some of them are local affairs, others span a whole area or the entire country.

One of the most famous festivals is Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, which technically spans all of July, with processions and special festival (and food stalls!) in temples and shrines all over town. The festival was started from a purification ritual that took place in the 9th century when the plague killed a huge part of the city's population.

The last three nights of the festival, the main streets of the city are blocked for vehicles and many of the colourful festival wagons are displayed. The hightlights is the parade, which takes place in the morning on 17 July.

food stalls at night
It's also a great time to have a peek into many places that are usually closed to the public, such as kimono workshops and some of the geisha houses.

While the parade itself always means that the city is overcrowded and it's hard to move on the main streets, Gion Matsuri is something everyone should experience when they visit Japan in the summer!

This is a very personal post, but an important one for those who think that things are just unachievable – not only travel ;)

This week I'm settling in in Belfast where I'll probably spend a couple of months, maybe longer. With all the flat hunting and talking to dozens of new people each day (including my 7! flatmates – yes, I've moved into one of those big shared houses), it feels like I never left the world of hostels – I'm permanently making introductions, asking “where are you from?” “how long have you been here?” and “what do you do?”, and giving people a 2 minute summary of who I am, what I do, where I've been and why I'm here.

The response I get from people quite a lot is how “lucky” I am, to have had so many “opportunities” and “support” and “a great education” and “how beautiful my life is”. For some reason, many people love the idea that I'm some posh kid who went to international school and spent her whole life travelling and learning languages, supported by ultra rich parents.

It's something that shames me, because it couldn't be further from the truth: I never spent more than 4 years in a row in one school, quite when I was 17, have never seen a university from the inside. My family never went on holidays, let alone day trips with my siblings or single mum, we didn't have a car or internet or DVD player or dishwasher or any of those fancy things. For Christmas, I'd get new shoes or a coat. I'm not saying that I was poor – I've seen poverty in other countries and I wouldn't dare to say that poverty in Germany with its tight social security is real poverty in any way.

Oh yes, and the lesbian thing? Try coming out when you're 14, and you live in the middle of nowhere. I didn't dare leave the house on my own for years. Instead, I read about 5,000 books and immersed myself in learning languages. Fun teenage days, huh?

Support from people? From when I was 10 to 17, pretty much every year, a person that was very important to me died – all of them were under 35, and the first of them was my father.

(Dear lord, this is not a please-pity-me post in any way. All these things have made me who I am today and I would not change them if I could)

The point is, although many things were missing during my childhood and teens, luckily, nobody ever tried to keep me small, shy and petty, and my mother (and she missed out on many other essential things) always told me to do what I dreamt of and not give a fuck about other people's expectations.

That's the only thing I was ever given – the courage to trust in my own courage.
Everything else, I worked for, and I took risks. Maybe also because I learned the hard way that life can be much shorter than expected, and I don't ever want to waste a day of my life. That's why in my mind, I judge people in their mid-20s who have just finished uni and never had to work hard for anything before (maybe it's jealousy. Just maybe).

This is the 4th time in my live where I give up everything to dare something completely new - not because the life I had before was bad, but because I had grown out of it and I'm looking for new experiences, new places, want to learn new things and meet different people. It takes courage, but when you've done it once, it gets easier (and maybe, addictive).

Opportunities in life don't just come along and tell you “Take me!” (maybe unless, you are really super rich) - you'll have to have the guts to take them, and when there don't seem to be any, change your circumstances and create your own.

Today's post won't have anything about my trips to Japan, but a Japan-related book review as my old netbook with all the images died yesterday :( (luckily only the screen, but it'll take some time to move the files).

After my South America trip, I invested in an ebook reader, and the first book I read on it was one I had been waiting for for months - Margaret Dilloway's "How to be an American Housewife".

The title might sounds like it's not about Japan, but trust me, it is. It's a kind of biographic book about a Japanese "war bride", who married an American soldier occupied Japan in the 1950s and moved to America with him. It tells the story of how a Japanese woman who was raised the old-fashioned Japanese way struggled to fit in in America, and includes a lot of information on life in Japan before, during and after the war, Japanese family values and more.

Well, that's what the book is about superficially. On a deeper level, I think the topic of the book is how we are always "foreign" to many things. Very often, we are strangers to our own family, our siblings, mothers and daughters, to people society expects us to be close to, to many cultures and our own. Often, we are also strangers to our own wishes, desires and courage.

Whether you are interested in Japan or not (or know anything about it or know the culture quite in depth), it's a novel anyone will be able to relate to, with real, non-superhero characters that are, no matter what their nationality, very human.

Last week, I mentioned how beautiful and green Hiroshima is for a Japanese city, and that most Japanese cities are a bit drab, Osaka especially.

rules for invisible monkeys
Luckily, there is a Quasi-National Park (I have no idea why "quasi") just half an hour's train ride out of the city. I think I can say that Mino Park helped keeping me sane at times. It's biggest attraction are the waterfall (to be honest, not that exciting) and the monkeys that live in the park (which I've never spotted).

However, it's a beautiful place for a long walk, or even hike, when you're not a low-lander like me. With lush trees, old houses and a tranquil river running through the park, it's one of these places where traditional Japanese films might be shot.

kids fishing in the river
Entry is free and while it can get quite crowded on weekends, during the week it's wonderfully quiet. The park starts about a mile's walk from Mino station, but this is no chore as even the trail leading there transports you to a completely different, more relaxed and old-fashioned Japan, a harsh contrast to the fancy Umeda station where you got on the train!
an abandoned old building along the river

the main attraction - not to be watched without the matching Japanese tourist hat
 Information how to get to Mino Park and more pictures can be found here.

After looking at possible new homes for about two years, I have decided to move somewhere I never really looked at: Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland.

Why? Because it's a city of a size that is easy to navigate on foot, but has everything I need - a thriving theatre and music scene, nice pubs and restaurants, ethnic groceries and health food shops, English (or something like that), cheap accommodation and a Lush shop. I'm not entirely sure about the queer scene, but if I survived Japan, I can survive Belfast, too.

Because I love Ireland (not unconditionally - I know it's not a country of happy people dancing and having music sessions) and have seen way too little of it, yet don't want to bet on the sinking ship that is the Republic of Ireland.

Also, because I am already a UK resident and won't have to change my bank account, tax stuff or university (I'm studying with OU, every now and then).

I'm flying in Saturday next week and am super excited!

So, will this be the end of nomadism? Surely not - as cheap self storage is another great feature of Belfast, and there are plenty of flight to Europe and even New York. I'm not planning to live there for the next 5 years or anything, more like half a year to a year, but we'll see!

Much has been written about Hiroshima, and while of course the main interest for everyone visiting the city is the A-Bomb Dome, the atomic bomb museum and wonderfully named "Peace Park", after months in grungy Osaka, the thing I noticed most about Hiroshima was that it was incredibly beautiful.

This is not something that Japanese cities usually are - sure, they are clean and there might be parks and gardens, but in very different states and most cities are terribly drab and grey during the day except for a few sparkly shopping streets.

Somehow, Hiroshima managed to escape this, although all buildings in the city had to be rebuilt after the bomb blast didn't leave much more but the Atomic Bomb Dome that has now become the symbol of the city. Sure, there are ugly grey skycrapers and malls like in every other Japanese city. But mainly, there is a lot of green, I think Hiroshima is the greenest city I have ever visited - even those in supposedly tropical paradises didn't have this many plants, trees and parks. Which is ironic, because after the bomb, many people claimed that no trees would grow here for at least 100 years. Yet another example how Japan rocks at recovering from catastrophes!

What I enjoyed best about my days in Hiroshima (after Hiroshima style okonomiyaki - I mean, fried noodle filled pancake, think about it!) was walking along the lush and surpisingly quiet river banks and discovering the many tiny shrines built and cute caf├ęs set up along them.

Which cities were more beautiful than you expected them to be?

my passport says I should consider this home
I'm writing this from my mother's house, in a village 3 miles outside the small town in the wild west of Germany that I grew up in. It's a part of the world I avoided for years, because it brought back memories of discrimination, of not being able who I wanted to be, of being ridiculed for dreaming big. Seven years after I left, I can deal with the place. I'm still not thrilled by the small-mindedness of people, the endless, flat and boring countryside, the lack of public transport and the terrible customer service (well that goes for all of Germany), but it's not giving me panic attacks anymore.
aaaarrrr... boring fields!
Yet, it's not what I consider home. Home for me, has been London for many times - it's where I know I'll always have friends, opportunities, the feeling like I'm mostly surrounded of like-minded people (though I know I'm not - this is the feeling London gives me). It's the place that for me, is what I compare every other place in the world against.

For the last two weeks, I've been toying with the idea of moving back (to London! Not Germany, as many folks I met assumed!), but I realised I'm not ready yet.

where I'm going next can have a few more... buildings
Right now, London cannot give me what I need and want. Partially, this is due to the less than thrilling job situation, the generally bad mood due to the depression, current government and the price increases which everyone tries to explain with the nearing Olympic games, but also, because I need somewhere that's a little slower-paced, and much cheaper, to develop my freelancing business and myself without all the pressure of the big smoke. And also, because there are still many other places I want to visit before committing to a permanently settled life again. So, I've decided to spend some months in Northern Ireland - technically still part of the country I reside in, the UK - before the next long-term travelling adventure, or whatever will come after that.

Which place do you consider home, and why?

Powered by Blogger.

Blog Archive