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  3. ☆☆☆fivth report of Felicitas Künlen , 23rd scholarship holder of the GRÜNWALD foundation☆☆☆

☆☆☆fivth report of Felicitas Künlen , 23rd scholarship holder of the GRÜNWALD foundation☆☆☆

I am at the end of my stay in Japan. I have four days left before I fly back to my home in Grünwald on 30 May. On the one hand, time has raced by, but on the other, I feel I have experienced more in three months than in six months at home. Skiing in Hakuba? A day trip to Tokyo? A pet pig café? Or petting wasabi? I feel as if these experiences happened a good year ago, even though they were only 12 weeks ago.

The last month in particular is very travel-intensive – I will probably only be able to process many of my impressions properly when I get home. Together with my mum, I visit Kanazawa and walk through the famous park with its streams and ponds and attend a tea ceremony before travelling to Kumano on the fifth of May. Kumano is famous for its “Kumano Nachi-Taisha”: a red shrine that stands in front of a picturesque waterfall. A few weeks earlier, I “accidentally” saw this as the background image on my laptop. Curious as I am, I really wanted to see it with my own eyes. To avoid having to walk the pilgrimage route, Oka kindly drove us there in his car. Along the coast of Japan with a turquoise-coloured sea and countless tsunami warning signs later, we first marvel at the “Kumano Nachi-Taisha” and then the world-famous Ise Shrine. No place is more sacred to the Japanese than this! Thank you, dear Oka, that I didn’t have to walk there.

Mami and I in the famous ,,Kenroku-en Garden” in Kanazawa

Visit a traditional tea ceremony

With Oka we visit the Kumano Nachi-Taisha-Shrine

My father and sister fly in on 7 May. They don’t have much time to deal with the jet lag because we’re travelling straight on to Tokyo. After a romantic cycle tour through the green west of Tokyo, we marvel at an elderly lady with her beautifully decorated robot dog at a neighbouring table in a café. She lovingly prepares a purple blanket before the shiny four-legged friend finds its place on it. She pulls out her mobile phone and sets up an app so that her cute woofie can wag its tail and bark at the touch of a button.  Even the Japanese people around us blink over their coffee cups at the “cute” plastic dog, both surprised and smiling. Apparently it’s not an everyday sight, even for them.

Typical Japanese-either you put the dogs in a pram or you buy a robot dog

The next day, we set off early in the morning on another cycle tour: this time through Kyoto. Slightly overtired, my family first cycle to a shrine for hair (yes, there is one for that too) before pedalling to the world cultural heritage site, Tenryuji Zen Temple. So much exercise makes you hungry! Luckily, Oka and his wife have made provisions and are waiting for us in their house. To celebrate the day – apart from us – they invited a cook to serve us delicious Italian food. Grazie mille!

Invitation to Oka’s home

We leave Osaka and fly via Kagoshima to Yakushima. After so much city, we want to enjoy some nature. Yakushima National Park is a paradise for (us) hikers: we climb over moss-covered trees that are around 2000 years old, babbling little streams, huge boulders and weathered wooden planks through the forest. Sure-footedness is required, and our English tour guide makes sure that we don’t get lost in the green thicket (like some others). He also explains interesting facts about the forest and his favourite subject: moss! “Without moss, nothing happens” – in this case, the German proverb is probably true… because it ensures a healthy and evergreen forest.

Off we go to Jakushima

Inside the Jakushima National-Park. Old and huge, moos-covered trees characterise the landscape

On 22 May, I am alone again in my flat in Osaka – the trip with my family is over. Thoughtfully, I begin to mentally prepare myself for the end of my stay in Osaka. I attend a sushi cookery course so that I can at least learn something new in culinary terms and cross ‘sushi course’ off my ‘To do in Japan’ list.

I am also very grateful that Mrs Wada is giving me her time again on 25 May and showing me more shrines. She travelled with me to the city of Ōtsu in Shiga Prefecture especially for this. We visit the Hiyoshi-Taisha and Ishiyamadera shrines and the Enryaku-ji monastery on Mount Hiei. The latter is one of the most famous in Japan, founded in 788 by the monk Saichō. Inside the temple, darkness awaits me at first, then a monk emerges in the light of a few candles, striking the rim of various large metal bowls with a mallet. Nobuko explains the reason: “So that Buddha can hear him”. With so much noise, Buddha is sure to hear him… The incense sticks fog my senses, there is something mythical in the air. After a round of soba noodles, I head back to Osaka feeling energised. Thank you dear Nobuko for this great day!

I had a great day with Nobuko

I take the train to Kyoto for the last time on Monday 29 May and walk to Prof. Aoji’s temple. I am bid farewell with traditional Japanese music and sushi. Also to you, dear Prof Aoji – Arigatō for the generous invitations and the time you have given me! As a tourist, I would never have got to know Kyoto and temple life the way I did thanks to you and your students!

Beautiful symbolism: we are all connected through the heart shape

I run the last few errands and buy souvenirs for friends and family. I finish the 8 remaining cans of corn soup in my fridge, which I had wisely bought in case of an earthquake or tsunami. Fortunately, neither happened. One last time at the weekend, I join the crowds on the underground and head towards Namba. One last time, I stroll through America-Mura and admire the Japanese hip-hop scene there. One last time, I walk past the friendly attendant, who I estimate to be around 80 years old, at the kindergarten opposite my flat: As always, the senior citizen greets me in a friendly manner. Will I see him again in my life? I don’t know. I take a last walk to Tully’s Coffee, where the young barista now knows my order by heart: matcha latte, hot, and hands it to me with a smile. And: I review my stay! I learnt a lot – about Japan, life there, the culture and society, but most of all about myself. I really grew beyond myself during these three months, got to know many new people and their stories and travelled all over Japan on my own! And yet everything was in a “protected environment” – thanks to you, dear Oka! Okini (thank you in Osaka dialect) for your commitment, your idea to set up a foundation and our many funny, nice and inspiring conversations and moments!  And most importantly: Thank you dear Mrs Okamoto! Thank you for your warm jacket, which you lent me at the beginning of my time to brave the Japanese cold. And thank you for the wonderful farewell gift: a beautiful, hand-painted cup. I will drink my matcha tea from it at home and think of you every morning!

I will definitely remember my stay in Osaka for the rest of my life!

Jaa, itte kimasu (Japanese: ,,Bye, I will go and come back)