Today as I write this, I am on a bus winding my way up into the mountains of Koyasan, a Buddhist temple complex, in the Wakayama Prefecture of Japan. The valleys and ridgelines offer diminishing shades of forest green extending as far as the eye can see. Then every now and again the view is punctuated by road works, forestry and / or construction machinery and vehicles… as the guy in front of me just said “They [the Japanese] seem to always be building something here [as in every place he has been in Japan thus far]!” It’s a broad sweeping statement but I tend to agree.
If I am completely honest, Japan has never been near the top of my places to visit (on the list for sure, but not a top priority). However, I am now super grateful that my work bought me here because it has really opened my mind to a culture that I used to find strange and bemusing. Everything makes more sense in context I guess.
Our Indigenous Peoples Knowledge & Rights Commission (IPKRC) organised a mind-blowing few days learning about the Ainu people in Hokkaido. Although they are the Indigenous peoples of northern Japan, there is still little appreciation for their contemporary culture (for reasons that I will not harp on about here). In our line of work, the challenges faced by Indigenous communities are woven with a common thread and it meant a lot to everyone involved to share experiences and in some cases, deeply personal stories. The fresh seafood was incredible… so was the sake… there was a lot of singing and dancing… and even a haka in reciprocation for some funky traditional / contemporary Ainu rock.
After Hokkaido, it was conference time in Kyoto. Having formed such a tight bunch during the pre-conference tour (20+ IPKRC’ers), we were able to take the conference sessions to a whole new level of discussion! It is certainly one of the best conference experiences I have ever had.
Of course the sightseeing in Kyoto was also top-class – such a beautiful city surrounded by mountains, FULL of temples, and markets and festivals and parks and efficient transport and more! One highlight was a summer purification ceremony which was totally slow and boring (coz we had no idea what was going on) until a whole lot of young men jumped in a pond and fought over a limited number of flags / arrows in the name of good luck and prosperity. And then there was the sophisticated and artistic Tanabata lights festival displays alongside the two main canals in Kyoto; it was just so great to stroll around with locals in evening and enjoy the LEDs, lasers and bamboo – both sculpted and decorated like Christmas trees.
My final few days are here in the world heritage area of Koyasan which has history that I can’t even fathom. Painted silks and Buddhist sutras written in calligraphy on beautiful scrolls from the 8th and 9th centuries… craziness. Time is such a crazy concept. It is also hard to believe that I have been away for almost 3 months now. I am looking forward to touching down on home soil… for the heart, for the head and for the body A home-cooked meal, a massage and getting rid of a few kilos of accumulated luggage are all high on the priority list!