Meeting together: Kagoshima and Yoron

Meeting together: Kagoshima and Yoron
Meeting together: Kagoshima and Yoron

“Did you make it back home?” a friend from the Christian retreat asked me.

“Well…”

My secondary school had asked me to teach the week immediately following the holidays — so instead of taking a 15 hour ferry home, I sailed for 20 hours to Yoron Island. Thankfully, my itinerary allowed for one night’s stopover in Kagoshima City, where the international Calvary Church welcomed me warmly as ever.

Read the rest of this entry

Magic kingdom: Tokyo DisneySea

Magic kingdom: Tokyo DisneySea

After ten days of wrestling with ticket vendors — online, over the phone, via app, at the train station, in merchandise stores, even at the convenience stores where Japan typically buys its event tickets — I gambled a last-ditch effort on asking at the park gate.

Though every other employee swore they would deny me same-day entrance (COVID regulations, naturally), when I presented my sob story in person, sanity prevailed. The beneficent attendants conducted me at once to a backstage office, where a smiling lady issued my ticket to the world of Disney.

Read the rest of this entry

Dancing art: Kabuki and Shibuya

Dancing art: Kabuki and Shibuya

It dawned on me that Kabukiza Theatre was a big deal when I spotted the metro riders decked out in kimonos.

To bookend my ballet excursion with something more local in flavor, I had secured my seat for a matinee performance without knowing what to expect. It turns out that kabuki drama operates as a full-day experience: you can attend three separate performances in a single day, from courtlier eras when the leisurely had no reason to rush.

I settled for just one performance, in two acts: the escape of Yukihime (“Princess Snow”) from a rebellious overlord, followed by a coquettish spring dance themed around irises.

Read the rest of this entry

Wisteria mountain: Kawaguchiko and Mt. Fuji

Wisteria mountain: Kawaguchiko and Mt. Fuji

I was overdue for transportation travails this trip, and today delivered in spades.

My worries over catching the express to Mt. Fuji proved groundless — it was the local bus lines that foiled me. Golden Week traffic had stretched the two hour express to four, then I took the wrong bus, missed the right one, and finally staggered to my intended destination six hours after departing from Tokyo Station.

Happily, mineral baths overlooking the mountain promised the restoration I sorely needed.

Read the rest of this entry

Little ashes: Shinjuku and Skytree

Little ashes: Shinjuku and Skytree

Today I crossed west, to the metropolitan mammoth of Shinjuku. By a quirk of public transportation, distance as-the-crow-flies tells you little about what parts of the city are “nearby” in terms of travel time. It cost me less trouble to leapfrog across the city center, then back again north for a visit to Tokyo’s most extravagant shopping mall, than riding directly south to Odaiba yesterday.

I thanked the city planners, because my engagement this morning demanded timeliness: a performance of Cinderella by Japan’s national ballet.

Read the rest of this entry

Glorious place: Tsukiji and Odaiba

Glorious place: Tsukiji and Odaiba

My hotel greeted me bright and early with a typical Japanese breakfast: that is to say, what we would consider a large lunch. Then I ploughed into the business of traveling: opening hours, ticket prices, and endless mapping and remapping metro routes.

Satisfied that my week in Japan was taking tentative shape, I dedicated my first afternoon to visiting the two items at the top of my bucket list: Tokyo’s sushi central and waterfront Odaiba.

Read the rest of this entry

Starry field: Christian retreat in Nagano

Starry field: Christian retreat in Nagano

Welcome to “Golden Week”: a succession of national holidays that free most of Japan to travel en masse. You must book your tickets months in advance or forget about traveling on a budget. I decided to spend my allotment on Tokyo, aiming to rectify the fourteen days I passed here in mandatory isolation, forbidden from leaving the hotel property let alone poke my nose into a sushi restaurant.

The trip began with an unexpected detour: JET’s Christian society threw open the doors for me to join their weekend retreat in Nagano — with only 24 hours notice. I hastily abbreviated my hotel stay in Tokyo and bought my shinkansen (bullet train) tickets at Tokyo Station for a 2+ hour trek northwest to join them.

Read the rest of this entry

Mountain gods: Christmas in Kyoto

Mountain gods: Christmas in Kyoto

My first Christmas in Japan marked my first serious bout with homesickness. Holidays away from home hadn’t tormented me in South Africa or the UK — but this was my first time overseas with no one to visit. There is a big difference, I discovered, between being away from your family, and being without any family at all.

At loose ends for the end of the year, I maximized my vacation time with a trip to Kyoto, the destination most recommended to me by my Japanese co-workers and students.

Before I boarded the plane, I tackled my first full month at work, with all the typical frenzy and festivities.

Read the rest of this entry

among sandy gardens set: Winchester and Theale

among sandy gardens set: Winchester and Theale

Read Part II: Wales, York, Edinburgh

A slick black engine shot me from York to London in two, maybe three hours, followed by a more sedate connection to Oxford. I alighted on the first morning of the Awakening conference, the Canterbury Institute’s pilot program for high school students on the verge of university studies.

Canterbury boarded me at St Edmund’s, a college I had yet to explore, and engaged me for two days in such fabulous sessions as, “What is the purpose of a university education?” and “What is the meaning of life?” One-on-one tutorials in law and classics (the participants’ chosen areas of interest) gave the program its backbone. With only two students attended by about a dozen graduate students, I suspect the conference staff relished the event even more than our guests did.

Read the rest of this entry

eastern cities, miles about: Wales, York, Edinburgh

eastern cities, miles about: Wales, York, Edinburgh

Read Part I: London and the Isle of Wight

After ten months of bouncing between the cosmopolitan worlds of Oxford and London, I was overdue for an encounter with the British parts of Britain.

The family in Wales not only adopted me for the week, but embraced tour guiding for their corner of the island. Don’t go to Cardiff, they advised, so I took the train to Bath for the day instead. You can’t visit Abergavenny without “walking” up the Sugar Loaf, I learned, so they drove me there themselves.

Best of all, they unleashed me on three children and a library of picture books – in English and Welsh!

Read the rest of this entry

Happy Island: arriving in Japan

Happy Island: arriving in Japan

The time difference between Washington, D.C. and Japan is twice as long as with South Africa – but the flight here took half the time! The advantages of crossing the pole rather than the equator, I surmise.

My employment with JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Program) commenced at the end of October 2021, when my plane touched down in Tokyo. Too much is happening for me to neglect my adventures here while chronicling my intercontinental tour, so I’ll alternate updates.

After some harrowing airport travails earlier this summer, I entrusted myself with relief to the capable Japanese bureaucracy.

Read the rest of this entry

parrot islands anchored lie: London and the Isle of Wight

parrot islands anchored lie: London and the Isle of Wight

The summer before traveling to Oxford, I dreamed up a short wishlist for travel in the United Kingdom: 1) Yorkshire, the site of beloved stories from my childhood, and 2) Wales, the only British country still alien to me. With my lease winding to a close on the 30th of June and my plans for the oncoming autumn undecided, the months of July and August opened like a window of opportunity before me, if only I could find the key.

I have a dear friend (and former professor) to thank for almost everything that followed. With a few emails, Sam enlisted friends across the country to host me for weeks (or months, if requested). Buoyed with confidence born of traveling towards a friendly destination, I boarded the bus to London.

Read the rest of this entry

wide as England, tall as a spire: Cambridge and Oxford

wide as England, tall as a spire: Cambridge and Oxford

As coursework wound to a close, I determined to collect all my end-of-term travels into a single story.

A few weeks have stretched into a few months, and here I find myself with three months and five countries to cover! Make that six countries – I write to you from my quarantine facilities in Tokyo, Japan. (No need to pity me: my organization, JET [Japan Exchange and Teaching] has arranged for us to pay our purgatory dues in commodious and well-stocked hotel rooms near the airport. They delivered breakfast to my door at precisely 7:30am: scrambled eggs, salad, and…chicken nuggets. More anon.)

Appropriately enough, my ventures beyond Oxford began with a trip to her sister city: Cambridge.

Read the rest of this entry

Che figata: Trinity Term

Che figata: Trinity Term

I didn’t know what to expect from Trinity Term – it was the first time in my life that I would be responsible for a single, mammoth assignment with no classes, no fixed schedule other than to research, read, and write write write!

In some ways, my time at Oxford began anew this term, as relaxed restrictions prompted a flurry of renewed gatherings and opened new doors.

Read the rest of this entry