During this fraction of my life, I did my best to make my gratitude evident. I lived every day to the absolute fullest, and consistently found myself pondering "what did I possibly do to become so lucky?" Seriously, I hit the Jackpot with this one. Everything about the beauty, the people, and the way of life are things that have led me to grow in ways that would never have been possible without this experience. For the millionth time, thank you.
Now with that being said, that brings us to today. Almost a week has passed since I regretfully waved “see you soon” for the last time, and this life alteration has not come without pain.
In any precious relationship, it doesn’t feel good to have something torn away from your grasp without evident reason. It leaves one with many unanswered questions as well as a vacant hole in the heart. That’s how I felt as I was swiftly lifted off the ground to be returned to the place I used to call “home”. I didn’t feel ready to leave the experience, the adventures, or all my friends who have become my family. Part of my soul became engrained into this new life and I no longer felt that the decision to leave was mine. Of course I knew this day was coming since I first set foot onto new soil, but I was in denial when the day did actually come. I was simply helpless.
The past few days removed from my old life have felt almost unbearable. My heart has been uncomfortably fragile and I haven’t been able to put reigns on my emotions. How am I supposed to live my life after something so valuable has been extracted from it? It’s a simple question with a not so simple answer.
At the end of the day, everyone handles grief in a unique way. I found that this loss was more difficult for my soul to bear than I could have ever imagined, and this is because I simply was not ready. The thing is, I thought I was. A part of me was anxious to return to the life I once knew; eager to see, taste, and feel all the familiarities that are associated with my childhood. Despite this excitement, this did not make the goodbyes any easier. When the time actually arose, I quickly realized that I was not as prepared as I once thought. Swiftly transitioning into my new life with comfort and ease is what I had anticipated, but it was not my reality.
Although it may be difficult to understand in the moment, everyone heals with time.
It may have not happened so quickly in my case, but i finally feel like I’m getting over this emotional hurdle and heading in a direction that will allow me to always reflect on this experience fondly. Just as one must wait patiently for gentle cherry blossom buds to bloom, I must also be patient with my own tender heart.
Not all experiences are meant to last forever. I will always cherish my 2nd Home and the people I met during my journey, but I know everyone has potential beyond what they can imagine. Our journey is never truly complete. There’s endless opportunity in this world, and I, myself am eager to reach my full potential as a person, artist, companion, and global citizen. This chapter may be over, but its significance will last a lifetime. Although not everyone may understand what I've endured, that will never invalidate a life changing experience such as this.
As one chapter ends, another one begins. Throughout the course of our lives, we gain tools that can be utilized wherever our paths guide us. Although one particular fraction may have been filled with incredible moments of growth, adventures, and love, my story does not end here.
And neither does yours.
When I first decided to venture out of the familiarity of Tokyo, Hakone was one of the first major places in Japan that I was able to check off my bucket list. Boy, did it leave an impression! The nature is absolutely captivating, the culture is ever so alive & present. The overall energy that surrounds this destination is very peaceful, relaxing, and everything my soul needs to feel whole. For this reason, I made sure Hakone was also the last major place I visited before departing from this beautiful country.
The first time I explored this region, I was surrounded by new friends & we were all pretty lost (literally & figuratively). It was all very new and exciting, but much has changed since that little getaway. After a year of traveling, learning, and immersing myself in the Japanese lifestyle, I felt that I was wanting to do this trip on my own. At the end of the day, this trip allowed me to enjoy my own company, and reflect on my time here in this foreign country (and of course meet some new friends along the way). Perhaps I would notice things that I had not observed before, or perhaps it would give me the chance to open my heart and soul as I get close to saying goodbye.
Hakone will always have a special piece of my heart. This is surely a place I would recommend to anyone who appreciates the delight of nature & a chance to relax and enjoy the beauty of life!
1. Get Your Hakone Free Pass
First thing's first! When you go to Hakone, the cheapest and most convenient way to get around is using the Hakone Free Pass! If you are traveling from the Tokyo area, this pass is especially handy!
To get the Hakone Free Pass, your can start from Shinjuku Station (where they sell the passes). There are various ticket kiosks right outside the Odakyu Line gates, and there will be an option to buy a “Free Pass.” This pass will allow you to travel all around Hakone via the trains, buses, ropeways, and pirate ship for either 2 or 3 days. With the 2-day option (which is what I got), one can travel from Shinjuku Station, all around Hakone, and back to Shinjuku Station for 5140 yen (about $50). At the end of your trip, this pass will have saved you plenty of money!
2. Walk on the Old Tokaido Road
Back in the edo period, The Tokaido Road was utilized as a common link between Tokyo & Kyoto. Hakone was a pretty important checkpoint along the way, and visitors and locals alike have the ability to stand where samurai warriors once stood! It's pretty mind-blowing, I know.
When I visited, we got off the bus way too early & we were left wandering around for quite a bit. After 30 minutes of searching for any signs of human life, we suddenly came across a random tori gate in the middle of nowhere. It caught our attention and we quickly hurried over. It was not long after when we realized that the tattered stone path nearby was the one we were searching for!
3. Explore Hakone Shrine
The Hakone Shrine is one of the most stunning shrines in all of Japan! It is right on the coast of Lake Ashi, and has a spectacular view that will leave you to wonder if you are dreaming. The various subsections of this shrine are woven through the dense greenery, and surely allow one to feel that they are at peace with nature.
It is a peaceful experience to just wander and marvel at the country’s beauty. Especially if this is one of your first Japanese shrine experiences, you will most likely be left in complete awe.
At this shrine, the culture and nature harmoniously live together, and create a scene unlike any other.
4. Sail Lake Ashi on a Pirate Ship
Let’s give some credit where it’s due. Lake Ashi is STUNNING. Quite frankly, I would say that it’s 100% worth it to allot ample time to this exquisite body of water. Mother Nature surely has created something special with this one, and what better place to appreciate it than from inside a pirate ship or plastic swan!? Kayaks and other boats are also available depending on which part of the lake you are at.
Thankfully, if you have a Hakone Free Pass, the fee for the pirate ship is included. During this ride, you will be traveling to your next destination, living out your pirate dreams, & admiring the beautiful view all at the same time!
5. Take a Lunch Break at Bakery & Table
The pirate ship only comes once an hour (this is important to keep in mind if you have a lot planned). If you happen to miss it, you may be out of luck for quite a bit. But do not fret! The best part about wasting time before it arrives, is exploring the local stores. A personal favorite of mine is Bakery & Table! It sits right outside the Pirate Ship port, and has a variety of options to choose from based on the floor level. The first floor is set up like a typical bakery. You can pick your treats to go, and quickly be on your way (Just so you all know, the salted butter roll is my favorite. WOW). However, if you have a little more time to kill, you can even head up to the 2nd or 3rd floor! The second floor has more of a café style where breads, teas, and coffees are served, while the 3rd is a full out restaurant!
6. Eat Black Eggs & Catch a Stunning View of Mt. Fuji
Owakudani is a valley where an insane amount of volcanic activity can be observed. Thick volcanic gases blanket the whole mountainside, and kindly offer the sweet aroma of sulfur (yum). While you are there, you even have the opportunity to eat the famous black eggs! There's nothing to be worried about; Just your average chicken egg, but with a twist. These eggs are boiled in spring water that consist of sulfur and iron from the volcanic activity!
Once you're done eating your egg, you can mozy on over to the edge of the valley. If you look off in the distance, can see Fuji-san peaking out to say "Konichiwa!!!" Mt. Fuji is the most friendly during the winter time because that's when the skies are clearest, but beware that it can get pretty chilly up there!
7. Hakone Open Air Museum
The Open Air Museum is a must see destination while traveling through Hakone! With exhibits that are both indoors and outdoors, there are various art pieces to explore and appreciate. Hakone is an area of Japan with such astounding nature scenes, and this element offers a very unique perspective on the museum layout.
8. Bathe in a Japanese Onsen
After a lengthy day, you may feel absolutely exhausted. Thankfully, Hakone is a very well-known onsen town with plenty of facilities to utilize. The whole area is littered with bath houses, and ryokans galore! What could be better than that? These sites offer both private and public onsens. This is the perfect way to wind down after a thrilling day of exploring this astounding city!
To anyone who decides to visit Hakone, please let me know what you think! It is an absolute dream.
As I begin to wrap up my time in Japan, I have been thinking a lot about the crazy life I have been leading for the past year.
This was the first time I had ever relocated for a job, and everything was incredibly fascinating, new, and unlike anything I have ever experienced. This was my first time ever traveling abroad (EVER) and it was outstanding to witness a community operating in ways that were so foreign to me.
Toto, we're not in Southern California anymore. This is Japan, and what a thrilling ride it has been to make this country my home.
So naturally, my life must have been perfect out here… Traveling around Asia, living in a fairytale, having unlimited independence… How could there be anything wrong with that?
Well although my life may look like peaches and cream on Instagram, this past year has been ever so complicated with unexpected twists & turns.
The first month was like a prolonged vacation. I was living an astounding luxurious life that I had never experienced before, and it seemed as if it would last forever. I was exploring a new place every day, meeting up with everyone to socialize, and trying all the foods that I have never even heard of.
It was all so exciting to do all these things, but time passed by and I began to make some realizations; The biggest one being that I didn’t find this life to be sustainable (at least for me). I want to partake in a life of progression, not comfort. I want to challenge myself to be better, not average. I want to create goals for myself and ACHIEVE THEM. I don’t want a year of my life to pass by and wonder why I chose not to grow.
With this in mind, I did decide to set goals for myself.
I initially looked at these goals and did not feel intimidation. After all, I did all of this at home. How hard could it be to just keep doing it? Not long after I set these goals, I realized how wrong my assumptions were.
In this kind of environment, I found there to be a constant, and almost uncomfortable social pressure. There were signs all around me that told me that I had to be liked, I had to feel included, and I definitely could not be the only person going through life alone. Due to these pressures, I was consistently feeling the urge to do what everyone wanted to do, and not what I wanted to do.
Oh, everyone is going here for lunch? Yeah, I’ll go!
Oh, everyone is getting together for a movie night? Yeah, I’ll go!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with doing these things. I love going out & having fun from time to time; however, during this experience, these opportunities arise DAILY. Never in my life had I lived a life like this, and I didn’t want to use my contract as an excuse to start now.
Depending on the type of person, maybe this situation is not too bad. To some it may even be seen as paradise. Unfortunately for me, it was torture.
I have goals! I have ambition! How can I do it ALL?! I found out through this experience that sometimes I honestly just can’t. I need to make choices regarding how I want to prioritize my life & stick to it.
If my goals are different from everyone else, the only way to achieve them is to be different. It can feel isolating. It can feel lonely. It can feel heartbreaking when everyone else seems to be having fun together on Instagram, while you’re alone & you’re doing your own thing.
This is something I struggled to cope with when I was first put in this situation, and it was honestly really tough. Especially when I enrolled in school, I felt like I didn’t really even have a choice because homework and studying was something I had committed to.
But you know what kept me strong? You know what kept me going even when I felt like I was living in a box? The fact that I WAS achieving my goals. I was watching my dreams come true before my eyes and I was amazed at what I was capable of regardless of the pressures placed on me. I ultimately realized that conforming was not going to make me happy. Achieving my goals was making me happy, and therefore it was worth it.
Don’t get me wrong, I was no robot. I was not perfect every day and no human should be. I’ve gone out and had a slice of cake (or 3) on a friend’s birthday, I’ve sacrificed going on a run to comfort a friend in need, and I’ve lost a couple hours of sleep so I could FaceTime my mom. Life happens and sacrifices must be made. In spite of this however, I never lost sight of the big picture.
When I finish this contract, will I look back and feel proud of myself?
Now that that time has come, I can confidently say that I will. I may have not lived a conventional contract life, but it was my contract life, and I am proud to have lived it the way I wanted to. Because of my experience, my independence has skyrocketed and I have no fear to be different. I don’t care about outside opinions because my choices are ones that have made me stronger.
My Advice to Anyone Struggling with Social Pressures
Dare to be different.
I’m not saying this to be cliche and I'm not saying that all of your life should be spent alone. What I am suggesting is to evaluate whether or not you are someone who needs company. If this is the case, it may be more difficult to accomplish what YOU want to do-if you’re simply waiting for someone else’s approval.
In a world where straying from the social norm is frowned upon, STRAY! Even if no one else wants to, venture out and explore the life YOU want to live. You will thank yourself and I promise that you will feel proud. It may not feel comfortable & it may even feel isolating at times; but at the end of the day, that isolation will turn into independence. From there, you will thrive.
Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan and is an absolute winter wonderland during the winter months. A group of us originally decided to travel here with the snow festival in Sapporo as the initial goal, but the entire island as a whole has many unique qualities to offer, and we couldn't help but see as much as we could.