Of the foremost quartet of islands that make up Japan, I have visited three: Hanshu (Tokyo and Kyoto), Kyushu (Kagoshima and Fukuoka), and Hokkaido (snow festival!). Yesterday I tripped across the bay to Shikoku, the daintiest of the four.
The ocean liner train sailed over a mammoth suspension bridge, opening up vistas of intricate coastline and miniature islets. Just an hour’s journey landed me in Takamatsu, home of the Ritsurin Kouen – one of Japan’s loveliest and most historic gardens.
We broke our fast with a bountiful buffet at our elegant hotel. The view from our window lured us into an exquisitely arranged garden, a tiny oasis separating the guests from a divided highway just beyond. The subtle infinity loop design deceived the eye; we wandered it happily, retracing our steps without feeling enclosed.
After months of manic planning, with over eight different connections lined up by bus, train, and plane (all booked one-way), the day arrived for my departure from Tokunoshima for the Christmas holidays.
Though my nerves stretched taut as violin strings, I had to smile when the Lord granted me an auspicious beginning in a reminder of his covenant-keeping: A rainbow brightened the clouds as I waited for my first leg of transport, a bus to the island airport.
If you have ever traveled with me, you know that my sense of direction is, well, lacking. I can walk into a building and come back out confused: Which way did we come in?
My hapless navigating generated some laughs when we were all together during training, but I confess it gave me a feeling of trepidation when I thought ahead to finding my way around site.
The Peace Corps answer to areas where Google Maps may be faulty or non-existent is a mandatory “community mapping” assignment. This key element of integration entails a hand-drawn map with local landmarks, but also an investigation of the intangible network of relationships that make up a community.
My second week at site, I armed myself with pencil and paper, ready to try my hand at surveying. Happily for me, my host brother answered the call–he and some friends allowed me to recruit them for a tour of my new village.