To say goodbye to Japan and to the semester, several friends and I decided on an impromptu hiking trip up Mt. Takao. We spent the morning wrapping ourselves up in several layers to face the cold and gearing up in our best walking shoes before meeting at Shinjuku station at roughly 9:30 AM. The four of us took a rapid train to the west until we reached the base of the mountain. We arrived in the middle of a small town festival and a huge crowd of tourists, which we swam through to reach the entrance to the paths. It was already pretty chilly by the time we got there so we decided against taking the hike all the way up and instead took a chair lift two thirds of the way.
The last stretch up the mountain was where most of the sights were located. Once we got off the chair lift we gathered around for a quick snack of dango to refuel ourselves before beginning the hike. The slopes were relatively steep and many times had to be accessed by stairs so that the more elderly could manage. There were people of all ages joining us as we scaled the paved main path. On the way we spotted a Monkey Park but we ended up passing on it in favor of the temple, which was a little closer to the peak. The temple itself spanned several levels, the lowest of which had a small shrine and a few shops selling charms and fortunes. The higher we climbed the more elaborate the buildings became, including a large gate that spanned the entryway into the main temple. We paused for a moment in the main hall to rehydrate as well as rest, already having climbed about an hour by now.
After that there wasn’t much left to make it to the top so we scaled the rest in high spirits. Once at the summit we laid out a picnic blanket to devour the snacks that we had brought along before taking in the view. The sights from the top of Mt. Takao were gorgeous, and the day was even clear enough for us to be able to see Fuji-san in the distance! I felt pretty proud of myself for managing a hike up a third of a mountain but I don’t think I’m quite ready to try scaling Fuji any time soon. For the hike down, our group took one of the smaller paths, which was a nature trail that ran around the natural edge of the mountain. It was a bit steeper and required us to be a little careful, but the view was certainly worth it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained after all!
With one last, beautiful look at Japan it was time to start thinking about heading home. The next few days were littered with finals and packing. I spent the last night at a friend’s apartment so that I could manage getting to the airport without having to lug my overweight bag out of the dorms at 9 AM. We took a cab to Tokyo station and then rode the Narita express out to Terminal 1 of Narita airport to catch our flights to America. After a little trouble and some aircraft delays I finally made it back home.
I’ve been able to spend the last few days reflecting on the experience I’ve had, and I can already say there’s plenty that I miss about Japan. Being there really allowed me to appreciate both the people and the culture and there’s so much more I want to learn and experience. I barely got a taste of life there, as for the most part I was a college student first and a tourist, or rather a temporary citizen, second. I wanted to go to Japan to experience the culture, and I had thought to myself that the few months there would be enough. It wasn’t anywhere near enough and only makes me want to finish my studies so I can have the opportunity to return sooner.
There are nice things about home as well, but Japan was just an amazing experience. The people there and their polite ways really forced me to be patient where I would normally snap at Americans. There were very few times I felt angry while I was there and even when I was frustrated help was offered. No matter how lost I became in the city someone would always point me in the right direction and I felt much more relaxed and comfortable talking to strangers, even if it was harder in my rather broken Japanese. I’m sure they appreciated the effort, however, and were happy to help send me on my way.
As much as America is familiar, to me Japan was very comfortable. Though in terms of school I definitely felt more rushed in Japan, both with the commute that was required in Tokyo and the classes themselves. I think I prefer to finish my college years back home where I can take things one step at a time without having to balance my school life with all the exploration I wanted to experience. But even with that, for a city Tokyo felt much more organized and thus less rushed than somewhere like New York. Even in very large and jumbled districts like Shibuya there was a pattern to everything and a way to find your way around. The city was also clean, and many times I would see people out in the early mornings sweeping the sidewalks free of leaves and dirt. The communities had a very warm and open feel to them, even inviting the American students to coming of age ceremonies in the Spring.
I’m glad to be home, as all the new surroundings and all the culture to take in while in Tokyo really wore me out. But at the same time I’m excited for opportunities to return. Japan is a country full of rich history that I was barely able to scratch the surface of and there’s only so much that living in the city can show me. I’ll take this time to recharge before planning a trip back, hopefully within the near future. It’s certainly been fun as well as rewarding!