Much like 2014, I didn’t travel much last year, but I did get to know a few places really well, especially Japan. Regardless of how much I do or don’t travel, at the top of every year, I like to do a roundup of my favorite photos from the past year to remind myself of the places I’ve been, things I’ve done, and how much I’ve grown. So here are a few of my favorite travel photos from 2015.
Beach Bum in Boracay
My year began on Boracay Island in the Philippines. On one of my last days there, I decided to take an easy day on the beach where I could stop, bury my toes in some of the softest sand I’ve ever felt, and just be still. So I spread out my towel in the shade of a few palm trees where I toggled between reading and observing passersby (two of my favorite pastimes). The photo above was taken with my GoPro, and I love the way the trees curve at the top as if to protect me. It truly encompasses the feeling and meaning of paradise.
Charming Winter Evening in Fukuoka
Something I really appreciate about the night this was taken is that even in winter, people were out and about on the streets of Fukuoka as though the cold temperature could never put a damper on their fun. What’s more, even past the holidays, the trees were still adorned in lights giving the city a charming winter evening glow that standard lampposts simply cannot provide. I snapped this photo on my way home from my first ever Tohoshinki (Korean pop idol group) concert, and it was a magical moment because the world around me was reflecting back at me how happy I felt. Walking the streets back to the hostel, with each step I fell more in love with Fukuoka, determined to visit as often as I could while still living in Nagasaki.
Tateyama Park’s Sakura
Something this beautiful can’t be real, it has to be a figment of my imagination. That’s how it felt to walk through Tateyama Park’s tunnel of cotton candy pink sakura leaves. It was surprisingly empty but wonderfully tranquil for a Saturday afternoon which made it feel more like a sacred space. Tateyama Park is a local community space which is why I suspect few people know about it, but it’s fair to say this is one of Nagasaki’s top spots for cherry blossoms.
Cooking with Goya in Okinawa
During a week long national holiday known as Golden Week, I went to Okinawa for 4 days, one of which I spent an afternoon taking a cooking class in the home of a host I found on a website called Voyagin. It ended up being the highlight of my time in Okinawa for sure. What I loved most about the experience is that it didn’t feel like a proper cooking class. It felt like being invited into the home of a good friend to make a meal together. I got to practice my Japanese, hear stories about the joys and pains of being new parents, and learn how to make a variety of goya (bitter melon) dishes like goya salad and goya champuru (egg, veggies, and sausage). Though available nationwide in Japan, goya is a special Okinawan superfood, but the taste is not for everyone. It certainly requires a bit of salt or marinating in order to tame the bitterness. If you’re interested in this experience, check here for more details.
Climbing Mt. Fuji
One of my greatest accomplishments of the year was climbing to the summit of Mt. Fuji. With a group of 20 other people and 3 guides, together we slowly inched our way up the mountain, stayed overnight in a mountain hut, and got up at 2 a.m. the next morning to get to the top in time for sunrise. Climbing Fuji was one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done. Going up, I kept saying to myself this is too much, but the descent was actually worse. My whole body having been so tired from a full day of climbing had to then make my way down the mountain for 6 hours, and it murdered my thighs, knees, feet, and capacity to think straight. It was an incredible feat and to this day I still can’t believe I did it. In case you’re wondering, all the rumors are true. It’s cold and crowded at the top but the view can’t be beat.
Yokohama’s Obon Festival
Late summer in Japan is when Obon Festival takes place, a time to honor the deceased. Families gather for prayer and place various offerings like money or food upon personal altars in the home as a way of sending gifts to their departed loved ones. In a more public setting, people come together to dance, celebrate, and pay tribute to those who have passed on. Crowds were few at Yokohama’s Obon Festival which gave it a nice local community vibe. Before the sunset, I was walking around the grounds of Yokohama’s Red Brick Warehouse and snapping photos of all the women dressed in their yukatas (summer kimonos). The woman in the photo above looked right at me as I took her picture, and it was so perfectly and spontaneously timed that it instantly became one of my favorite photos. This night was particularly special to me because it was the first time I danced in public in years. I felt so free and full of joy, and it was a great way to honor and celebrate both my mother’s life and my own.
Tokyo has tons of festivals throughout the year, and Nihonbashi Festival is a new favorite. Nihonbashi is the name of a business district in the center of Tokyo near Tokyo Station. One Saturday morning, I woke up early and made my way into the city, and when I arrived, police had already closed off the nearby streets and crowds of people were lining the sidewalk. I went to buy a green tea latte from a nearby Starbucks, plopped down on a front row seat of sidewalk, and waited for the performances to start. There were a lot of traditional dance performances and marching bands from people young and old. All of the costumes were so colorful, and the music and chanting so contagious it made me want to get up and dance with the performers. The morning was so cold and every inch of my body was shivering but I couldn’t bring myself to leave because it was too much of joyous occasion. Nihonbashi Festival is celebrated every year at the end of October or early November.
Exploring My Own Backyard
Every morning as the sun rises over the city, I make my way to Shibuya via the crowded morning train, and 2 train stations away from my house, I always see a beautiful temple and pagoda standing tall amongst the sea of grey apartment buildings. In the interest of following curiosity, one day I went to check out what I now know to be Kodosan Temple and what a treat it was. The sun was high in the sky, few people were around, and the grounds were so beautiful in its tranquility. One of the many things I love about Japan’s metropolises is that no matter how busy, one can almost always find a shrine or temple at which to stop and take a breath or say a prayer. Often times we go searching for the highly-rated places in a new destination that we don’t even realize the treasures we can find close to home. This afternoon was a reminder of that, and I’m so glad I went.
Meeting Jenna Marbles
Jenna Marbles was one of the first Youtubers I started watching back in college and this past December, she came to the Tokyo Youtube Space for a meetup event. I got to hug her and ask her about her time in Tokyo. She’s so sweet in person which I really adore and confident which I really admire. Though I didn’t get to spend much time with her, she’s such a joy to be around and I’m always in anticipation of what hair color she’ll take on next.
My first semester at Japanese language school was over, and it was time to relax. I went out for a special nabe (hotpot) dinner with 2 friends, one of which was due to return home to Indonesia just days later. Not knowing what to do afterwards, whether to hang around Shibuya or call it a night and go home, I spotted a “Free Hugs” sign in the distance. In the evenings, just outside Shibuya station, my first ever couchsurfing host in Japan, Daichi, stands with the sign high above his head offering free hugs to anyone who approaches. I hadn’t seen him since we last met up in Toronto where he was doing a year long exchange program. Long time greetings and hugs were exchanged, and before I knew it, my friends and I were holding the signs and hugging lots of people from all over the world. This is what it’s like to stand in vulnerability, having people walk past with apprehensive facial expressions and whispering to their friends. Who are those people? Is it safe to hug them? Are they crazy? It turned out to be really one of the most healing experiences, an evening of transcendental bliss. I wish I could’ve stayed there all night. It was a peek into how much people are hurting and how we need to show up for each other (and ourselves) with love, understanding, empathy, and HUGS.
Change in Plans
The evening before I was set to fly to New Zealand for a 3-week vacation in the mountains, I felt the universe pushing me in a different direction. My gut was telling me that I was not up for a solo trip and instead, I needed to be with family and just stop moving for a bit. The weeks leading up to what would have been my trip to New Zealand, I hadn’t done much planning, and in general, I wasn’t looking forward to going. If I’m not looking forward to something, that usually means it’s not the right time to pursue it. So I fled to Denver and eventually the Colorado mountains where my aunt and uncle were staying and my uncle was working to relieve a fellow doctor’s duties and then onward to their home in Florida. The picture above was taken from the balcony of their hotel suite with a view of mountains so gorgeous they look like plastic toys.