spotted in: kyoto

a pair of kick ass ladiesIMG_8764.JPG
photo credit: papa suzuki

Location: Kyoto, Japan

 

Advertisements

shiawase / シークワーサー

such infinite crystalline waters
I bathed my troubles in them and they emerged anew

still present, transformed 
refracted through the sea and my soul, ready to begin again 
as lessons

– Umi no shiawase by  Alice 

On several occasions I have had good intentions to attempt solo travel. I am an impulsive planner when it comes to discovering new destinations, always booking flights on the spot when I find good deals or jumping on trains to places unknown, and it can be difficult to coordinate these spur-of-the-moment schedules with friends. Each time though, I have happily had friends join along the way, like when I went to Vietnam over Golden Week or climbed Mt Fuji last summer. Or sometimes I go to a place arranging to stay with a CouchSurfing host and they end up being really easy to get along with so we spend the entire trip together, like when I visited Portland a few years ago (shout out to the wonderful Kuenzi sisters!).

This time, I booked a flight to Okinawa over a holiday weekend and found myself alone on a beautiful tropical island where the locals are friendly and have a life expectancy among the highest in the world. I started in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa prefecture, and made my way north up the Western coast to Onna, Nago, and Motobu.

I felt a sense of peace and stillness; away from the noise of emails, conversations, and city life. I felt I could really breathe, meditate, and be alone with my thoughts; no one to entertain but myself. I relished the freedom to go at my own pace, to learn the local bus routes, and chat with strangers in my limited Japanese. The day I flew back I had meals with friends in Tokyo and while it felt nourishing to my soul to bask in the warmth of their companionship, the peace I found in solitude was a familiar feeling that I cherish.

Several years ago, I was in a dark place. For a host of reasons, I had difficulty getting out of bed, finding joy in the things that once made me happy, and interacting with friends and loved ones. Depression feels so personal, and yet, a lack of community or even self-rejection of existing community is what further entrenches this feeling of disconnectedness. I have come away from this experience with a deep empathy for myself and others who have gone through feelings of helplessness. But at the time, I did what many unhappy people do, which was to retreat into myself.

[text continued below]IMG_8505
IMG_7122IMG_8595IMG_8580

IMG_8587IMG_8589IMG_8590IMG_8568.jpgIMG_8626IMG_8636IMG_8645IMG_8539

 

IMG_8610img_8617.jpgIMG_8513It took me a year and even longer to recover from this mindset and its aftershocks. When I first made the choice to take steps to change my mental perspective, I began to read voraciously alone in my room. I didn’t feel that I could really create anything of value in that state of mind, so I just consumed stories and words. Slowly, as I felt light energy returning, I felt more comfortable venturing outside my house. I began wandering to new neighborhoods by myself, visiting art exhibitions, or taking the train to a different part of town just to visit a particular cafe or ice cream shop. This time allowed me to reflect on myself, free of any distractions and external expectations, to consider each feeling and thought. What were triggers for my sadness? What were my deep intentions? What did I want to feel and how could I manifest the state of mind where I could attract these feelings? How could I honor the people in my life who were no longer with me without wallowing in anger at forces beyond my control? Distance, drifting apart, and the dearly departed; these were all factors that contributed to my sadness. The loss of important relationships and imminently facing a future full of uncertainty. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you.

During this time I worked and participated in a 200 hour yoga teacher training where many of my class mates were also going through life upheavals or major transitions. The process of learning the asanas and alignments of muscles and bones coupled with intimate revelations from these people helped me to see my vulnerability as strength and to take steps to look deep within myself. Most importantly, I gradually shed the layers of resentment I held close, which had calcified to a hard mass of negative feelings, drowning out all the usual gratitude and joy for life I have. While this journey might have similar elements to others, I believe the process of recovery is necessarily individual. For me, the important steps were to forgive other people, let go of things I could not change and allow myself to feel sadness but manage its reactions, and to above all else, forgive myself for stumbling.

From a social perspective, it may seem like that year was a stagnant waste of youthful productivity and opportunity. But to me, it was a necessary time to really learn to understand my adult self and the many factors that have contributed to who I am today. These tools will stay with me through whatever changes I will face so that I may maintain a self-awareness of my core values and motivations. I learned to change my distorted perspective of anxiety and loneliness into strength, to find magic in solitude, and acquire an intimate knowledge of self.

I feel confident that I’ve reached a space where I am truly comfortable with myself though I am not content to remain as I am in this moment. As Whitman said, we each are large, and contain multitudes, and it is my intention to continue challenging myself to examine these dynamic pieces of self. Sometimes we need the gentle reminder of waves flowing over our bodies, of stillness and seclusion, as a chance to consider all that we are.

Shiawase (幸せ) means a moment when circumstances come together to produce a feeling of fortune, or a sense of deep and long term happiness, and シークワーサー or shikuwasa is an Okinawan (and Taiwanese) citrus fruit. Its bright rind and sweetly tart flavor serve as a memory for me of childhood and now, adult joy.

So thank you to the ocean, and thank you to Okinawa for giving me space to connect deeply with myself.IMG_8529.jpgIMG_8647xo your friend alice

Location: Naha City // Onna Village (Moon Beach, Tiger Beach, Cape Manzamo, Seaside Park Nabee Beach) // Nago Pineapple Park // Churaumi Aquarium, Ocean Expo Park, Motobu, Okinawa

one year all over the world

Happy anniversary to this little blog of mine.

In the year that I’ve had it I’ve visited Cambodia, South Korea, and Vietnam for the first time, traveled to several Japanese cities and islands, and re-visited Hong Kong. This brings my current tally up to 21 countries visited, 22 months living in Tokyo, 26 years wandering all over the world, and 56 blog posts! Fittingly, I am off to Osaka for a short trip with my mate Kelly-chan and her parents this weekend.

I love this space so much. I love the freedom of expression it has afforded me, the opportunity to practice my amateur photography skills and share my personal experiences. It truly feels liberating in a way that I did not expect when I finally worked up the courage to publish my first post. I have so many little anniversaries, and I love to celebrate them all on here (birthdays, japanniversaries, and revolutions around the sun). Most of all, it has nourished my love of writing, both reflectively and creatively. It has reminded me that I really love to write and most delightfully, gives me a forum to do it without any pressure or stakes. Thanks to my friends and family who follow along on my adventures, and thanks to readers on the internet for stopping by. You are loved and appreciated.

xo your friend alice

Location: Tokyo, Japan

twenty six

7.7.2017

feat. Erika, Shirley, Kelly, Yusaku, Diane, Ebony, Dustin, Kei, Matt, Midori, Cynthia, Justin, and Fernando (other friends not pictured, I still love you)IMG_6955IMG_6966

I went to work on my birthday this year. I know, tiny violins can be heard in the distance–but since I have a summer birthday I am usually off school or off work because it coincides with the week of a major American holiday. That doesn’t apply in Japan so instead I am taking long weekends to Okinawa this weekend and Osaka the next. Plus I got to have lunch with some of my favorite office boss ladies 🙂

To celebrate this year, I had a tequila & gyoza-fueled party at my house. We introduced a few Japanese initiates into the wonderfully varied college drinking game known as ‘beer pong’, followed by an attempt to go dancing in Roppongi which instead ended up at a costumed karaoke-kan. I wish I had taken more photos but, you know how these things go. I always get worked up trying to say hello to everyone and just manic with happiness that I get to see friends together in one place. Party theme this year was RED and I ended the weekend with my first trip to Disney Sea which is the only one of its kind in the world.

I am so grateful for the beautiful relationships I’ve made in Japan. Community is what makes the experience of living in a place much richer. Thanks again to everyone for coming out!

xo your friend alice

Location: 蔵前 Kuramae, Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan

spotted in: narita airport

khmer we can 047.JPGwhat if fish could fly?

On my way to Vietnam for the Golden Week holiday (a cluster of national holidays during the first week of May that allows many Japanese employees to take a week off from work)! Squeee! I can’t wait to explore this country and also meet up with my high school friend Dan, whose grandparents and several family members live in Saigon, and also Caitlin and Molly, friends from college. I got smart and booked a non-stop flight that earns mileage this time around, which cost about $100 more than the budget option, but I think is worth saving the extra 10 hours of travel time and not dealing with rude flight agents and random delays (cough china eastern cough cough).

I know I’ll be in good hands with Dan, but any recommendations out there for must-sees/dos/eats in Vietnam? Cảm ơn! (thank you!)

xo your friend alice

Location: Narita Airport, Chiba Prefecture, Japan

dont stop chasin’ sakura

This is a photo diary of my various hanami hunting exploits this season…feel free to skip if you get queasy seeing the reproductive organs of angiosperms.

Hanami means flower viewing, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it becomes a national pastime in Japan during the month of April when the cherry blossom buds come to fruition and yield a magical canopy of flowers. There is no way to capture in words or images the beauty of Japan during this time of the year; an effervescent week of full bloom that ends before you blink your eyes and notice the heavy rains that have fluttered the blossoms to the streets beneath your feet.

“The cherries’ only fault: the crowds that gather when they bloom”
– Saigyo Hoshi, 12th-century poet

feat. Agnes, Kelly, Daniel, and many beautiful strangersIMG_6604IMG_6607IMG_6687.jpgIMG_6644lady’s harmonica club, Yasukuni-jinjaIMG_6668IMG_6639IMG_6761IMG_6698weeping sakura, Imperial Palace

someone was here at 6 am to reserve this spot it’s THAT serious, Yoyogi ParkIMG_6704.JPGIMG_6605IMG_6746IMG_6875IMG_6878

paper lanterns, Meguro RiverIMG_6877IMG_6918.jpgsalaryman hanami, Ueno Park

IMG_6927IMG_6974.jpg
my boo ❤

IMG_6931IMG_6998.jpg

IMG_7040IMG_7051till death do us part, Shinjuku GyoenIMG_7066

IMG_7129.jpgIMG_7135IMG_7077IMG_7159which way? Inokashira KoenIMG_7008IMG_7064IMG_7119.JPGIMG_5689

IMG_7061this girl was speaking Chinese and oh so sassyIMG_7101IMG_7113blue steel, Daniel editionIMG_7334
IMG_7308
no photographs, Mt TakaoIMG_7335IMG_7139.jpg

The sakura season this year has been uncommonly, luxuriously long but is mostly over here in Tokyo. But the beautiful thing about spring in Japan is that different varieties of flowering trees bloom at their own pace. Every week I look up from the handlebars of my bicycle on my commute and see a newly evolved fresh face ready to greet the day.

xo your friend alice

Locations: on the street in Taito-ku // Kitanomaru Park // Yasukuni-jinja // Meiji Jingu Gaien // Yoyogi Park // Imperial Palace East Gardens (Higashi-koen) // Meguro River // Ueno Park // Shinjuku Gyoen // Inokashira Park // Mount Takao
Tokyo, Japan

the happiest place in chiba

TIMG_5929.JPGhe title is a bit tongue in cheek…
Chiba prefecture is located to the east of Tokyo and primarily known for its bedroom communities, international airport, and industrial and agricultural areas. In the same fashion Manhattanites might (pretentiously) sneer at the bridge and tunnel set, if you will. Gomen Chiba! 
Tokyo Disneyland
was the first international Disney resort to open so I think it’s safe to call it the third happiest place on earth after Disneyland in Anaheim (the OG) and Disney World in Orlando (the behemoth). And while it is deeply commercialized, part of the fun and magic of the Japanese version is that adults and children alike buy into the story and costuming (shout out to Shirley for letting me borrow her Minnie Mouse ears and Shuyi for the polka dot top). And in general I appreciate that living in Japan means I can never be too kawaii. It was pouring rain for most of the day until about 4 pm but when the rainclouds went on their way I was able to snap a few photos. On the upside, I never waited more than 30 minutes for even the most popular rides and my front row seat to the fireworks show had me squealing with delight. I have no shame about my excitement over a place one might deem childish and here’s why…

[text continued below]

feat. Kei-kun, Midori-chan, and big brother William & my parents in the 90’sIMG_7236IMG_7240
IMG_5789.jpgI am very willing to suspend my disbelief. Of course I see the necessity of rationality and logic, but outside of serious and sometimes professional situations, I am more likely to depend on my intuition and feelings. While I have the adult perspective of knowing that the ghosts in the Haunted Mansion aren’t real, I still appreciate the fantasy and the sense of wonder that a place like Disneyland aims to project. I don’t want to be jaded and not get excited about these things. In the name of science or policy, I choose logic and evidence. But in the course of enjoyment in life, I often choose to sacrifice realism and trust imagination. Happily, the distinction between high and low culture is increasingly blurred. Art and experience once defined by exclusivity rather than defensible aesthetic or intellectual value are increasingly bridged by all kinds of folks largely due to accessibility. With access to a computer or library, people anywhere can learn about the culture of far flung places. There is something to be gained from both the alternative and mainstream. (The new S-Town podcast is a captivating reminder of this. Have you listened? I recommend it.)

Okay, that was a long tangent. What I’m trying to say is, if you want to jump up and down and stuff sweets in your mouth while smiling like a maniac at Disneyland–I’m with you!

The rides at Tokyo Disney are nearly identical to the ones I anxiously waited in line for as a tot for the distinctive pleasure that only occasional trips to this fantasy mecca provided as a child. (Peep photos of a beeming baby Alice at Disney in 1995 below.) The infusion of Japanese culture via the menu options (e.g. mochi aliens in Tomorrowland, omurice at the World Bazaar main entrance), orderliness, and story-telling language made this otherwise familiar experience a bit disorienting. At the same time, the genuine kindness and precision with which Japanese culture executes its visions felt very congruent with Disneyland’s vibe. I felt so nostalgic for the memories of my childhood, with the crushing difference of having to return to work the next morning instead of being woken up with a stack of pancakes bigger than my face. (I wish I could track down the specific photo I have in mind–I look so stoked on life!)

 

IMG_7258IMG_7233.JPGIMG_7226.JPG

 

IMG_5938.JPG

 

IMG_7296.JPGthis janitor (official title: Showkeeper) drew a spot-on Mickey Mouse face literally using puddle water from the day’s earlier downpour and his mop. apparently it’s a thingIMG_7262This was actually my second visit to Tokyo Disneyland. The first time was on my first trip to Japan to 2004. I remember the outfits being much more scandalous but that memory might also be colored by innocence. Several friends and Disney blogs have heralded neighboring Tokyo Disney Sea as the superior and even *best* Disney theme park out there so I will have to check it out next. For now, another day at the office…

xo your friend alice

Location: 東京ディズニーランド 
Tokyo Disneyland, 1-1 Maihama, Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture 279-0031, Japan