On Love and Japan

On Love and Japan

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Sometimes the most spectacular pictures are not about what is in front of the camera, but what is going on behind it.

When I was in college I took a summer study abroad trip to Japan with the Religious Studies department of West Virginia University. We stayed in Buddhist temples and went around to ancient castles and Shinto shrines, and obviously as a group of college students we partied hard at night. I fell in love with a few things on that trip. One, of course, was a girl. The other, of course again, was traveling.

I was a freshman at the time, and she a senior. We got together about halfway through the trip, when our group was in Kyoto, and would sneak out every night and go lay around in some shrine we found in the woods a few blocks away from the temple complex we were staying at. Kyoto, the city of ten thousand shrines. We made one of them our own. There was a little bench/table thing that we would lay around on until four in the morning every night, heading back to the complex when the monks were waking up for their rituals and chanting their esoteric chants and the sun was barely peeking up. We said the little thing in the woods was made for us. We moved on to Tokyo after about a week in Kyoto. We explored all over Tokyo and one day brought us to Harajuku, in Shibuya.

A view of another shrine in Kyoto
Overlooking Shibuya

This picture was taken on top of some mall, in some modernist outdoor bar, overlooking Shibuya. We took that picture and looked at each other and kissed, overwhelmed with new experiences and love and happiness. A piece of me still lives on that rooftop, hand in hand with that girl. A piece of me that I wish I was more familiar with. A piece of me that’s content with the serendipity of the world, that is overwhelmed with the things that the world has to offer and in absolute ecstasy about it.

She of course graduated, and we went our separate ways. I still think about that girl and that trip to the other side of the world and that rooftop every day. It’s not a spectacular photo and was taken on a camera phone. It’s not in high definition, it doesn’t follow the rule of thirds, and it’s cloudy and gray out. But that picture is worth its one thousand words, or maybe its ten thousand shrines, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to tell you the sun hadn’t been shining the brightest it ever had if I didn’t have a picture to tell you it was cloudy.

It wasn’t the first time I had been out of the country, but it was the first time I had been on my own terms and it was easily one of the most important things I’ve done in my life. One of those things you say it might be OK if I die or something, I did that. I fell in love with travel, with not knowing who you were going to meet or where you were going to stay or what you were going to eat but making all those things happen anyway. Not knowing who might be on the other side when the elevator doors open, what they might teach you about life, not knowing who might light your cigarette and what you’ll spend the next few days doing with them. That trip taught me that I’ll feel great if I just hit the road.

From my religious studies education, I can tell you about an Islamic concept called Jahiliyya. Literally “ignorance,” it refers to a concept of forgetfulness and ignorance from the guidance of Allah. I am not a Muslim, but I love the concept metaphorically. Living sedentary so long makes you fall into forgetfulness of what is out there. Not hitting the road and seeing what’s out there, at least for people like you and me, puts me in a state of ignorance and forgetfulness of what is guiding me. New experiences, new people, new lands, new emotions, new problems, new solutions, things you never knew existed. Things you were ignorant of. I was ignorant as hell that I could feel like I did on that rooftop. Don’t fall into Jahiliyya yourself.

Written by: Travis Wilson

Travis is an International Business and Religious Studies double major at WVU. He enjoys hippie music festivals and German Beers.

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