Traveling off the beaten track to meet myself
This post was written by Oku Japan client Yasmine Beydoun, who joined a guided Nakasendo Trail departure with us in spring of 2017.
Seeking adventure in Japan
I wanted to climb a mountain, be in nature, be alone, but most of all I wanted to feel the new me. I combined all of that with my desire to visit Japan, revel in its beauty, culture and aesthetics, and trek with a group of people I didn’t know.
If you believe in past lives like I do, you will understand when I say that, for me, being in Japan was like home – in the sense that I understood the people, I appreciated everything about them, loved what I learned about them, didn’t feel the need to question the reasons for this and that, and bowed down to the beauty in everything they created.
Looking back, perhaps the mountain was a metaphor for traveling alone, being in a very unfamiliar place, trekking through forests, meeting new people, and being away from home for two weeks. I came across the trip by “accident” and felt it was right; especially that Japan was high on my travel list. Forget the mountain, I thought to myself, I will train for trekking instead. Pretty soon I was in Tokyo, on my first night in Japan having dinner with old friends who were on their last night in Japan. It was all pretty surreal from then on. I experienced this magical, thrilling, exhilarating, butterflies-in-my-stomach feeling for the first 24 hours.
The people and the tour
I was apprehensive about the group I was going to spend 12 days with. What age group? Will they be nice? Fun? Where will they be from? I had decided to surrender my worry, and let the universe take over. I decided that it would be super to get along with everyone; and if not, then there would be lessons to learn. However, what I totally didn’t expect was a completely different age group where I was by far the youngest (not the fittest though I might add!). At first, and this is hard for me to admit, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for myself. But I had 12 days ahead of me and this thinking would do me no good. I quickly intervened: Yasmine, remember the universe? Well you are together for a reason, and this will be part of your adventure and growth on this trip.
In the end the universe brought together a group of wonderful, adventurous, funny, wholesome, genuine and interesting people. Only few of them knew each other, and enough didn’t. Our trip was through a part of the Nakasendo trail; one of the main ancient routes linking Edo (old name for Tokyo) and Kyoto. There were two days in Tokyo, four trekking days, two days in Nara, then two days in the most breathtaking mountain villages Yoshino and Okunoin, and finally Kyoto for three days*.
The days spent trekking were out of this world. Walking through dense forests and feeling the energy of nature overpower me, I understood the Japanese term “forest therapy”. These luxurious 300 year-old trees are therapy for the soul. I hugged a tree and cried tears of joy and connection with nature. Some of the most special days were those we spent trekking, stopping in historic post-towns and staying in old family run inns (ryokan). These post towns were like going into a time machine, another realm; some were over 400 years old, and oh so enchanting with their old architecture, little shops, and houses.
We slept on tatami mats, relaxed our sore muscles in hot baths, wore traditional yukata at dinnertime, feasted on authentic food, and felt more connected with the real Japan and each other. Some of us even introduced happy hour before dinnertime. The crowning glory was the cherry blossom season all around the Nakasendo trail. There was one particular day when we couldn’t say the word “stunning” enough. We would whip our phones out again and again trying to capture the astounding beauty of every scene, to be met a little while later with yet another even more dazzling one. This went on and on.
It was wonderful to experience how the people connection unravels. As familiarity grew and became deeper, we started sharing life stories and events that shaped us. We asked and listened and digested, and at some point, a week or so into the trip, we felt ready to go home. But then, more magic happened, more connection and more laughter. Maybe it was just my experience and if so, I was blessed and lucky.
It is all about connections
I could feel the pixie dust all over my aura for at least the first week back home. My friends and family wanted to hear the “best part” or “in one word” or “the highlight”. Truth is, that wasn’t possible because this experience was profound on so many levels. Traveling alone was about meeting myself, and being the real me. Not the wife, mother, daughter, sister or friend in my everyday life.
Ultimately it came down to connections: with people, with Japan and with myself. I connected with the authentic me, the courageous, adventurous, culturally flexible, and open minded me. And as I sit here on the peak of the “mountain” in my traditional yukata, I am missing Japan and my new friends terribly.
And by the way, I did eat a grasshopper.
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