On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

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9 December 2015

Arrival on Kyûshû

Arrival on Kyûshû, cradle of Japanese civilization, where I will spend the month of December.
Yufuin, Kyûshû, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld
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Departure from Hiroshima on Saturday December 5, early for a bus and ferry journey which will take me to the island of Kyûshû where I will spend the month of December. Kyûshû is one of the four big islands composing Japan. It is the southernmost and is considered to be the birthplace of Japanese civilization. The island is mountainous with many volcanoes, including Mount Aso which rises to 1592m above sea level and which is one of the largest active volcanoes in Japan. The last eruption dates from September 14, 2015. The journey to reach Kyûshû is not very long but the part by ferry causes some protests from my stomach due to a small swell. In the space of four days, I have taken the ferry more than in the space of ten years. The arrival on Kyûshû is peaceful. The bus runs through the countryside, in small villages in the middle of the mountains. I arrive in Beppu around 4 p.m. Located on the northeast coast, the city is famous for its many onsens (hot springs of volcanic origin). There are more than 3000 different, offering visitors more or less hot baths (some very very hot), waters of different colors or even geysers.

I spend a quiet weekend in Beppu taking the opportunity to rest. Apart from the onsens there is not much to do or see. For gambling enthusiasts, the city is filled with Pachinko (a mix between a pinball machine and a slot machine) which Japan is particularly fond of. Large rooms with luminous signs are filled with these machines where the Japanese devote themselves to their hobby in a sound atmosphere at the limit of the bearable (in any case for me: mixture of j-pop and noises of the slot machines ). It feels like Los Angeles at times. I go around the city center where I come across a gigantic tengu head (youkais recognizable by their long noses) proudly enthroned in the covered shopping alley. The nose is really massive. Stroll through a large shopping center to buy food (this is the opportunity to enjoy the view of different types of dango (mochi dumplings)), and I return quietly to my hostel.

Monday, December 7 after an hour’s train ride through the countryside bordered by mountains, I arrive in Yufuin, a small town located at the foot of the volcano Yufudake. The village is renowned for its onsens, its lake and its shopping alley lined with souvenir shops selling regional specialties. For two weeks I will perform my first woofing here in the Country Road youth hostel, located a little bit outside the village on the heights. Woofing consists of working for free in exchange for room and food. The owners pick me up at Yufuin station in the afternoon, so I have a few hours to wander around the village. The place is absolutely beautiful. The landscape is really pretty, the village has a peaceful and engaging atmosphere bathed in the smoke of the onsens, the shopping alley offers, among other, culinary specialties, the lake lined with trees in orange hues houses the Marc museum Chagall and then icing on the cake, one of the stores offers a multitude of products derived from the studio Ghibli movies. Lots of Totoro plush, tons of do-it-yourself puzzles, kitchen utensils, jewelry, chopsticks, key chains, postcards, great little and big figurines, etc. A paradise for anyone passionate about films from the Ghibli studio. I will definitely go back there before I leave Yufuin.

The start of the woofing is going well. The couple (Tomomi and Ryo) who run the hostel are young, energetic and friendly. They speak a little English which facilitates exchanges. My job is to prepare meals, set the table for customers staying at the hostel and serve dishes, take the plunge, clean and maintain the hostel. The work is not very complicated but it is still a little tiring. A lot of activities are planned during the weekend and Ryo-san offered to go climb the Yufudake. Another young woofer from Taiwan is also here. The hostel is very nice and overlooks the valley and the village of Yufuin. The guest rooms are traditional (tatami mats and futons). At night, in calm weather, you can see the smoke of the onsens rising in the valley in large motionless masses.

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Chapter I. Japanese walkabouts

Kyoto, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Six months in Japan

Six months in Japan. Six months of familiarity and strangeness. Misunderstanding and wonder. Contrasts.

Mitaka, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Last days in Japan

My stay in Japan is coming to an end and I take this opportunity to stroll around Tokyo and visit the Ghibli museum.

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TYK, Tajimi, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

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Tajimi, Honshu, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

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Yufuin, Kyûshû, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

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Yufuin, Kyûshû, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld

Arrival on Kyûshû

Arrival on Kyûshû, cradle of Japanese civilization, where I will spend the month of December.

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First steps on Shikoku

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