Author Archives: Editor of the Mikan

Spring Breaking

by Killian Barry

I enjoy cycling. It’s not a passion, but I miss the daily commute back home. Dublin is a decent spot for a bit of a jaunt, located as it between a bay and the hills, and mostly flat to boot. What’s more, recent years have even seen the government sit up and take notice of the benefits cycling brings. Go there now and you’ll find some vastly improved bike infrastructure and an encouraging decrease in motorists who consider those on two wheels to be sworn enemies.

My first foray in to bike touring was during the summer of 2018. My buddy Simon and I cycled 1,200km from the north coast of France to the south. This was like peering behind the curtain of French life, exploring quiet backroads, taking pit-stops in quaint villages and feeling generally rustic. I’m pretty brutal for tearing through life without stopping to look around, and the simplicity of this adventure did wonders for me. The plan for any given day extended only to pedalling, eating guilt-free pains au chocolat, and continued pedalling before finding a donkey-free campsite to pitch the tent.

Fittingly, this same friend subsequently loaned me a book written by a restless soul in search of fulfilment and contentment through pilgrimage. Having not quite got the requisite kicks from the Camino, he turned to the Shikoku henro, presumably to maximise the masochism. Eighteen months later, as I watched pilgrims in full garb saunter/trudge past my apartment, my epiphany was “you know, you could probably cycle a chunk of that”, thus satisfying half-hearted attempts to ease my own restlessness, but primarily enabling me to get out on the bike during that sweet not-too-hot/not-too-cold spot that is Japan in the springtime.

I mapped a course to follow the pilgrimage route from temple 40 in Ainan to temple 51 in Matsuyama, a distance of 245km over four days. I set off gleefully complacent, neglecting to stretch and assuming I’d retained the same level of fitness since the last big cycle. A sunny but mostly temple-less first day meant I was treated to some glorious vistas of shimmering seas en route to my first visit to Uwajima (Day 1: 54km, 1 temple).

Of course, the weather took a turn on day two, as did the inclination of the roads, and the driving rain that defined those steep hills coming in to Seiyo rather made me question the wisdom of the whole endeavour. This was balanced out, though, by the general curiosity of those I encountered who recognised me as a “pilgrim” (very much in inverted commas) as I observed temple protocol. Only pilgrims persevere through frankly terrifying tunnels and particularly wet rain, right? Plus, there was the lure of sleeping in my own bed in Uchiko that night (Day 2: 72km, 3 temples). 

I figured that incessant rain on Day 3 was a valid reason to delay my trip. A shrewd decision, too, because the following morning I needed all the good vibes I could muster to essentially cycle up a mountain. The issue with cycling along the river via Oda is that constant photo opportunities hamper one’s progress, while the main problem with going from there on to temples 44 and 45 is that they are two of the most inland and therefore elevated temples of the entire 88. I sweated my way up those single-lane switchbacks in to Kumakogen, at 700m above sea level, thankful for the rest huts that serendipitously appeared just as my lungs were about to explode. Besides, this time there was the lure of a sub-zero night in a tent on top of a mountain with two measly heat pads and a deflated mattress (Day 3: 71km, 2 temples).

The final day was all downhill in the best possible sense of the word, wearily freewheeling in to Matsuyama with stops at a series of temples located on the city’s outskirts, by which point I’d regained feeling in the majority of my toes. A brief detour to see the sakura at Matsuyama castle and then on to the JR station so I could contemplate my new-found state of inner peace on the express train home (Day 4: 48km, 6 temples).

At a time when friends and family are forbidden from being outside, this cycle was a privilege. Even the roads I already knew were different from the saddle. I could hear the frogs, smell the lumber and see a copious amount of cherry blossom. Most pilgrims I met were from various corners of Japan, though I encountered a handful of foreigners. Some were walking, but far more were making the journey by car, a 21st century pilgrimage. Throughout, I was motivated by the friendliness of those I met, awed by the deft calligraphy I now have in my pilgrimage book, and grateful for the snazzy osettai I occasionally received. I now regard vending machines as power-up stations and conbinis as Edenesque oases. I’m pleased to report that my legs are in better condition than my brake pads. I don’t particularly want to repeat the experience in a hurry, and I may not be the enlightened mortal I’d sought to become, but in terms of outdoor adventure, memorable experiences and cultural immersion, this spontaneous getaway will be hard to beat.

  • I’m Killian Barry and I come from Dublin, Ireland. I took a career break from my teaching job at home first to travel and then to come to Japan. This is my first year on JET. Since being here, I’ve come to miss pub quizzes, but I’ve developed a penchant for collecting Kit Kat wrappers.

Post-JET Diaries- Part Seven

By Jennifer Cerna

February

“Take a chance, you stupid hoe. 怖がってるんじゃねえ。” –Gwen Stefani

February started off on a positive note. Work was going fine and I no longer felt on the brink of losing anything. I felt extremely busy, and found myself working overtime. One Tuesday, my manager sent me home early for that reason and my week seemed to slow down immediately. I finished my transcription assignments for my other job and got some things done for several police departments.

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Hokkaido: An Exercise in Getting Lost Traveling

By Lucas Buechler

I am terrible at vacationing. When I go on a trip, I have neither an itinerary nor the desire to construct one. I am the type of person that would be perfectly happy to sit in a cafe or on a nearby beach, or even just in the hotel room where I’m staying. So how is it that I managed to go on a four day, timetable packed down to the minute, snowballs to the walls trip to Hokkaido for the Yuki-Matsuri? The same strategy I usually follow when traveling; I went with a friend who is semi obsessed with getting the most out of their vacation. The following is a story of pitfalls and highlights that I’ve assembled from some notes that I took during my time outside of Shikokuchuo. I hope you’re enticed by the highlights, and that you’ll learn from (or at least get a laugh out of) the mistakes we made during our time in the far north of Japan.

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Post-JET Diaries- Part Six

By Jennifer Cerna

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been.” –Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Though each day passed in seeming monotony, I can’t say that they hadn’t each injected some influence into my path. One overcast day while riding in the passenger seat in one of my parents’ cars, I suddenly realized that I needed to take responsibility for my life. My life is the way it is because of all of the decisions I have made. Even if I were not the one calling the shots, I was responsible for the ways I reacted to the things that happened. Instead of feeling like a victim of my circumstances, I realized that I needed to take responsibility for those circumstances I found myself in. I resolved to take it upon myself to improve what I could. This changed the way I viewed things and altered the course I was on.

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The Night Sky in Ehime in March

By Ciaran

The following is a brief guide to the assorted stars, planets and other things that can be seen in the skies above Ehime during the coming month. It will also provide some basic advice on how to see them. Almost all can be spotted without any equipment or expertise whatsoever. All you need is a cloudless night. Many events will be observable on multiple nights while some are more brief – you’ll have to rely on the benevolence of the weather for the latter!

If you’re interested in a guided tour of the night sky, albeit in Japanese, consider taking a trip to Ishizuchi this month. See the Mt. Ishizuchi website for more: Ishizuchi Star Night Tour.

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Stonewall Shikoku on Ice

By Michael Haverty

On Saturday, February 3rd, Stonewall Shikoku held an ice skating event in Ehime’s very own Matsuyama. Stonewall Shikoku is the Shikoku branch of the national Stonewall group, a place for LGBTQIA+ people to interact with each other while in Japan to share their experiences, help each other with queer-specific problems, and make connections with other people within the community. Stonewall Shikoku is currently headed by CIR Micah Rabinowitz who is based in Kochi prefecture. Some of his duties include putting out a regular newsletter about regional and national LGBTQIA+ related issues and organizing island-wide events for people across the region to meet up. One such event was a camping trip held at the end of summer last year. Continue reading

Post-JET Diaries- Part Five

By Jennifer Cerna

December

One of the main reasons why I went to Japan was because I wanted to find myself. I grew up jumping from place to place, but when it came time for my identity to solidify during my adolescent years, I found myself in Kansas. Suffice to say, I didn’t know anybody other than my sister who shared my heritage. I didn’t know what it meant to be Japanese or Mexican. I definitely didn’t know what it meant to be both of those while also being an American. I had a long, drawn-out identity crisis when I was in university. So I thought that I might be able to find some answers in Japan. Long story short, I realized that identity is something that we create for ourselves, rather than something we find. It’s a constant process of reshaping and tweaking.

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Discover Magical Realism in Japanese Literature

By Miriam Hemstock

Magical realism is defined as ‘an amalgamation of realism and fantasy.’ It originated in literature from Latin America, yet numerous novels from and about Japan have drawn on elements of this genre. Japan often appears fantastical and duplicitous, especially to outsiders. Western media often exacerbates this notion, and though it is frequently true, it can sideline the presence of everyday life. Magical realism both represents and overcomes this problem by presenting multiple realities and using tangled narratives. Authors introduce reality as paradoxical, often with an underlying darkness at play. Magical realism allows characters plagued by trauma to comprehend events that have affected them, their ancestors and even society as a whole. Elements of science fiction and fantasy, dreams intertwined within narratives and prose that verges on poetic are all characteristics of magical realism.  Below is a succinct, and by no means definitive, introduction to magical realist Japanese and Western authors’ who write about Japan.

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Post-JET Diaries- Part Four

By Jennifer Cerna

November

My first day of work as a server was on November first. I trained for the first two weeks, learning the ins and outs of my role. To be honest, it was the last thing I wanted to do as a college graduate and JET alumna. But the truth was that I needed a temporary job that brought in a decent income. Many of my close friends are or have been servers and they recommended the job to me, so I decided to go for it.

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Post-JET Diaries- Part Three

By Jennifer Cerna

October

“Failing is just as sweet as success. I’ve tried them both and have no preference. So open your eyes and scan the horizon. Pick a direction and don’t stop driving.” -From Autumn to Ashes

I actually do have a preference, and that’s success. But seriously, for much of my life, I have felt almost limitless. I scan the horizon, consider my options, and zoomed in, I can see only a few prospects as someone with a degree in psychology: social work, graduate school, or a monotonous office job that I would probably hate. Zoomed out, I can choose from a variety of jobs, go back to school, and do literally anything I want. It’s never too late. I’m lucky enough to have my groceries, utilities, and rent covered so if I get a job, it would be relatively easy to find a new direction. Zoomed out even more, I could apply to schools and jobs abroad, travel, anything. Whatever I decide to do, though, the most important thing is to pick something and follow through. That’s what I do when I find myself floundering. Just pick something and stick to it.

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