Traveling the familiar

When I was a kid there was a lakeside campground we went to each summer. Dad would load up the camper with beach toys and we would migrate south for a week. My cousins would met us there for a few days, but there were also these kids from other towns and cities that would come about the same time. I only ever saw these kids once a year, but we had wild fun on the water. Parents would cook together, play cards, drink, talk about old times. For the few weeks before the trip excitement would mount up in anticipation for meeting those kids: How much had they grown? What new interests/toys/hobbies did they have? What yearly accomplishments would we regale one other with around the campfire?

I had forgotten this comfortable feeling of slipping into an old community for a few days, picking up where everyone left off, before separating again for a year. Since those times every chance I have had to travel has been about exploring some place new. But last month I had a lovely experience reminding me of why sometimes it is good to visit some place old.

Back to the island

My daughters’ school has a week-long autumn break in October, so we decided to take the opportunity to return to Ikijima, the island where we lived in 2020-21 (see the FAQ). We intended to go in the summer but my father-in-law’s early death postponed that plan. However, the fall worked out well since the kids on Iki are all in school and not travelling elsewhere for summer holidays themselves. We smelled an opportunity for a caper 😄

We arrived on Iki via ferry before lunch on a weekday. We had communicated our plans to only a single person: the principal of the elementary school my kids attended. She was super game and cooked up a scenario to surprise the kids in school. We surreptitiously walked through town towards the hill. People started recognizing us and we flashed a 🤫 shush — quickly explaining we were about to pull off a big surprise at the school atop the bluff.

Crouching low, we snuck round the back of the school to a door that the principal left open for us. Once in, we moved under cover into the principal’s office whose blinds were all drawn. Meanwhile, the vice-principal had organized all the schoolchildren for an assembly on the second floor. A “storytime” event had been scheduled, and all the children sat on the floor facing away from the stairwell waiting for a story to be read. All of a sudden, music played over a speaker and — not-unlike a WWE entrance — my daughters alighted the stairs and swept into the room to cries of surprise and joy! The caper was successfully caped, and now we had a school of overly excited children. I love it when a plan comes together!

Just down the street from the house we lived in last year is a hotel. We stayed there and basically just let the kids run wild and free with their friends like old times. They came home on their own at the chime like everyone else. On the Friday, while the other kids were in school, we drove around to some of our favourite spots but made sure to be back for after-school adventures.

I was filled with a warm feeling as everyone just welcomed us back. The kids, all grown tall since we saw them last more than a year ago, played well together, picking up where they left off. Parents and neighbours too were very welcoming. When we left the island suddenly in summer of 2021 I think many suspected we would never come back. Plus, when we originally arrived on Iki it was the early days of corona. We could not do many of the normal events which would integrate us into the community. Regrettably, we were only loosely connected to our neighbours. Now here we were, returned to the island and promising to return next summer for swimming and beach parties. Suddenly the bonds were stronger.

Sometimes “no plan” is the best plan

Other than the caper we had not planned anything for our return, just to be there and see people. It could not have been more perfect. Unbeknownst to us the village had planned a “Halloween March” for the Saturday and invited us to participate. All the kids of our little fishing village dressed up and walked down the main street, yelling “TRICK OR TREAT!” at each participating house and shop. Afterwards there were activities for hours. The bright island sun shone brightly on smiling, painted faces.

Then on Sunday we had another surprise: the island-wide kids futsal tournament was being hosted in our village! Hundreds of kids from all over the island descended on the football ground beside AEON (yes, the one with the sheep pen behind the goal posts!) and we joined everyone from the school to cheer our schoolmates. We had three teams to support, and my head (and camera) were spinning between courts. One of our teams got first place for their division! It was awesome to be able to stand on the sidelines and cheer them on, and witness a memorable win.

More memories to talk about for next time we are there.

Kids lined up on a soccer pitch, parents on the sideline. In the background 3 sheep lay down in their pen watching. Behind them a large pink building with an AEON sign on top.

We left that afternoon by jetfoil. More than a dozen people turned out to see us off. We promised we would let everyone know before we come next time so plans could be made properly. We also invited everyone to visit us in Kyoto. Since then we have already had two guests from Iki visit us here in Kyoto!

For my kids Kyoto was always the place we would come to visit Jiji and Baba. They don’t really have friends around here. Iki is more like their “hometown” in Japan. I hope to keep strengthening the bonds with our friends on the island, returning periodically. It would be amazing if in the future, after my daughters grow up, that they go to Iki on their own (maybe even with their own kids!) and have people there excited to see them again.

Impressions of Lisbon

My first trip to Europe was pretty easy. Not the getting there — that part was actually pretty difficult. I flew through Heathrow, but leaving Haneda the plane flew east over the Pacific Ocean, north between Kamchatka and Alaska, through the Bering Straight and then over the Arctic. In order to avoid Russian airspace four hours are tacked for the “Northern Route” that passes over northernmost Canada, Greenland, and Iceland before arriving in London more than fourteen hours after take-off. Six hours eating fish and chips in a packed (and nearly maskless) Heathrow, and I was off to Lisbon. Door-to-door it took almost thirty-three hours from my condo in Kyoto to my hotel room in Lisbon, from the eastern edge of Asia to the westernmost edge of Europe.

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Visiting the Kyoto State Guest House

A few years ago one of the members of Writers in Kyoto shared a broadcast from NHK’s Core Kyoto S05E02 Kyoto State Guest House: Hospitality Imbued with Beauty and Craftsmanship. This is a special compound located in the Kyoto Imperial Palace but run by the Cabinet Office. It is where the Japanese government receives foreign dignitaries on state visits. Presidents, ministers, and royalty have stayed here, taking exquisite meals and performances, enjoying the most refined of Japanese culture in a singular setting.

Luckily tours are open to the public, so was able to get in!

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6 months an upāsaka

Bronze buddha statue beside a glass vase with some wilted sunflowers

At the beginning of the year I undertook a commitment to take my Buddhist learning to the next level by becoming an upāsaka, or “lay devotee.” Last fall I applied to and was accepted into the upāsikā program at Birken, the Thai Forest Monastery near Kamloops where I have attended a couple of different meditation retreats (for example see this and this ). It has been six months into the commitment, so I thought I would share a bit about the program here at the halfway point.

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The End

Cross-posting the greeting from this month’s edition of my newsletter, since it is of personal significance.

The last day of June. A Real Feel™️ of 42 degrees celsius. Not even summer yet. But things started to settle down this month. We took the kids to Universal Studios Japan. Summer Camp started. Screen time decreased. I went out for coffees with friends, old and new, after a couple months of just being in the house with the kids. There was barely a rainy season and the heat and humidity started to crank up. It was still “crisis mode,” but with a modicum of control.

Yesterday it all changed.

A morning txt and my wife was off on her bike to my father-in-law’s apartment, a five minute ride away. Upon arrival she called the ambulance then messaged me instructions to get the hospital bag. I grabbed the kit and headed out into the sweltering heat, searching frantically for a taxi. It was 11:59 when I arrived at the hospital entrance, only to be told to stay outside. They called it at 12:02. 

Done. There. The thing we had come to do, packing up and moving across the ocean to spend the remaining months and moments of his life together — we did it. It is over.

Now comes the next chapter. Last night he laid in state while we stayed up through the night at the funeral home ensuring that the candle which lights the way to the other side stayed lit. Japanese funerals are a lengthy affair, so this process will take over our life for the next few days. Then we move into taking care of the estate, a process that will take at least a few months.

The doctors said we could expect only a couple more months maximum. He had a bad heart, a stent in his brain, and the creeping stage 4 stomach cancer. No one could predict which of those time bombs would go first. But I think he had a good few last weeks. And he passed quickly, which is what he wanted. 

It was a cloudless, azure sky. 

南無阿弥陀仏 🙏 Namu Amida Butsu


Kyoto tower against a cloudless sky

A man mops the eaves of a temple sitting on the ground

My neighbourhood has a lot of Buddhist craftspeople. They make altar fittings, carve statues, etc. One warehouse is used for cleaning parts of temples. I pass by every day and there is some new chunk of a temple that has been hauled over to be cleaned and repaired, before it is sent back to be re-installed!