Finding Spirituality In Small Town Japan

So three years ago I took a trip with some other exchange students to Kyoto. We spent three non-stop days running from one historical site to another. Maybe it was being with a large group, or maybe it was being surrounded by hundreds of tourists, both Japanese and foreign, but I couldn't really feel anything spiritual at the various temples.

Of course the beauty of Kyoto still had it's effect on me, but spiritually...zip. Now I've never been a religious man, or one who took spirituality seriously, but oh how I wanted to feel something. It was like I knew that THAT was my one moment to really feel a connection to something.

Three years later and now I'm walking around Takeo desparately seeking some form of amusement. For a month now I've been surrounded by mountains, but never sought them out. I resumed my role as "sweatly white guy walking around Takeo," and headed toward Mifuneyama. Soon I found myself at the gate to Mifuneyama Rakuen. Nobody was in sight except for the elderly woman desperately waiting for customers at the little gift shop. I asked her (in my broken Japanese) if it was ok to enter, because for all I knew the place was closed. Ten minutes and 400 yen later I made my way through the gate.

So here I was, alone on a strange little mountain. Occasionally I would wander off the path until I encountered a spider web or group of lizards beckoning me to turn back. Though I remember seeing Mifuneyama Rakuen in one of those Saga tourist books I received in the summer, I had no clue what to expect. Just when I thought I was coming to the end of the tour I found myself in a small cave surrounded by tiny Buddhist statues. At last I was feeling something. Not some religious awakening or anything, but a connection with my surroundings. All at once I was fully aware of all of the animals chirping and buzzing around me. It hit me that here I was, standing alone on a mountain in Japan, in a tiny cave with little Buddhist statues, experiencing something I never could have imagined.

Often I get bored in my little town of Takeo. I always want to seek out other people to spend time with. This was one instance where I was happy to be alone. I could fully take in the experience without having to be taken out of the moment by conversation. When I go back to Mifuneyama Rakuen, I hope to do it with friends. But for this, my first trip, I'm proud that I did it on my own.