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A Weekend with the Norwegian Wood
Letters from Japan, July 2022
After the heartbreaking, shocking, and unsettling events of Friday, Tokyo's weather also decided to turn gray. As a resident of Japan and a friend, my heart goes out to all Japanese people. Yesterday was election day in Japan and I am sure everyone voted with a heavy heart.
I used the bad weather and the understandably grim mood as an excuse to take a break from all worldly obligations and spend an entire Saturday afternoon/evening and Sunday morning re-reading the Norwegian Wood by Japanese author Haruki Murakami after ten years. It is a story of early adulthood, depression, friendship, and loneliness told against the backdrop of the Tokyo student revolts of the 1960s. Even though I probably read the majority of his books, I am not a Murakami fan. I find his writing to be a little too pretentious for my (possibly equally pretentious judgemental) taste – except for the Norwegian Wood. Ten years later – I now live in Tokyo where the majority of the book’s events take place and have a little more insight into Japanese culture – I once again found it to be a fascinating read. I also hear that it is his most (and if not only) loved book among the Japanese audience. It has a different tone (more honest and direct) than most of his other books written with Western audiences in mind.
This issue of the newsletter comes with travel news from Japan (border updates) but the next issue will likely be all about home where I will be spending nearly a month in August visiting Istanbul, Aegean and Mediterranean Coasts, and Cappadocia. I cannot wait to be surrounded by that chaotic beauty, a constant state of agony caused by governmental policies, and the laughter and warmth of friends and family. It has been a while.
Japan border updates
Japan’s borders have in theory been open to international visitors since June 10th, but this comes with many caveats that still make it practically very difficult to visit Japan as a tourist. You must book a packaged tour from an authorized travel agency and follow their guided itinerary during your time in Japan. You also need to apply for a visa (even if you are from one of the countries which previously benefited from visa exemption). So Japan is still not open to independent travelers. There is a chart showing each step of the protocol that one needs to follow to visit Japan: limited tourism.
Everyone expects that the situation will materially change by the end of summer (you would not be missing out much by not visiting Japan during August in any case – the weather is almost fatally hot and humid) and, here is a good website to follow the updates: Japan travel restrictions. I miss having friends and family visit and experience Japan through their often shocked and amazed eyes – always a refreshing experience that helps me not to take my life here for granted.
While I have been for nearly two months enjoying Tokyo with no travels (it is now the lotus season in Tokyo), I have been to mainland Kyushu many times during the spring season. I was very fortunate to visit Amakusa Islands for the Official Tourism Website of Kyushu – Visit Kyushu. Amakusa has a crucial place in Japan`s history as it was one of locations of Japan’s most influential public revolt – the Shimabara Rebellion of 1637. The region had also for centuries been the gracious host of the Hidden Christians of Japan. As part of the same project, I also got to hike in Ebino Highlands – home to more than 20 volcanoes – and I was once again amazed at the generous nature of Kyushu. Its hiking trails often demand little effort yet still reward the hikers with unparalleled beauty.
Another recent work was for Metropolis Magazine where I wrote about how it feels to hike solo in Japan (spoiler: it feels amazing): Solo Hikes in Japan. Japan has one of the friendliest hiking cultures that I have ever experienced in my life. One can always count on friendly interactions with complete strangers, exchanging tips, and having the comforting sense of being looked after. I met most of my friends in Japan on hiking trails.
I hope the next newsletter will start with the news of Japan fully re-opening its borders. For those of you I personally know, I am looking forward to seeing you again, and for those I don`t, thank you so much for following my travel updates, photos, and writing all through these years. Sharing anything online can be a vulnerable experience and I truly appreciate the kindness. I am awful with phone calls but have a nearly impeccable email reply record. I respond to every email I get and please do not hesitate to reach out for any Japan and/or travel-related questions. I will do my best if I can be of any help.
Last but not least – Happy Eid to my home and all who celebrate.
Until next time,
Thanks for reading Bizarre Journeys!