Friday, September 25, 2009


I stayed with Adam for a week. Here is a small narrative, just a tiny hint of all the things we did in such short period of time.

We spent time with the Shinto Priest and his family catching a small glimpse of how a Japanese family lives and interacts; we went out with his international friends to bars and drank and talked for hours; we roamed beautiful green pastures filled with fresh grass aroma, sheep and cows; we ate delicious Hokkaido soup curry in a small living room of a man who keeps his house open for travelers; we boiled eggs in the middle of the night over smoking vents of active volcano; we played Vietnamese Dan Moi musical instrument learning to twist our tongues and shape our mouths in ways we never thought we could; we discussed all aspects of human nature and behavior, examining our own prejudices and stereotypes ; we drank copious amounts of vodka, sake and wine while listening to classical music for hours on end; we danced to the beat of Japanese street performance at 12am at night while freezing our butts off; we sat on the beach and silently watched the sea break waves over high cliffs, admiring nature`s beauty; we cooked mouthwatering oysters and dried fish which went extremely well with Japanese beer; we gazed at a virgin volcano lake filled with clear blue colored water unlike I`ve ever seen; we relaxed in regenerating sulfur onsen nearby volcano while singing songs and avoiding stares from old women and candid picture-taking strangers; we played (drummed) on driftwood with sticks found on the beach while humming a tune praising the sky, sun and ocean; we soaked feet in hot spring while eating freshly baked, right out of the oven, still steaming bread buns: we listened to records of old Russian songs while preparing sashimi; we drank strong, dark coffee in a restaurant built in a rural area by a rich man from Tokyo who found peace and serenity in the woods; we watched the tide rise up the shoreline and sweep away humongous driftwood showing us the power of water and nature; we sang Disney songs to keep each other awake while driving from town to town; we built strong connection while exploring each other worlds. 

Thank you Adam.




Thursday, September 24, 2009

Shinto Priest

Adam`s friend picked us up late in the evening.  We had about an hour and a half drive to his house and thought it wisely to spend that time over an intellectual conversation.  The conversation took a great leap forward when I found out that Adam’s friend was a Shinto Priest. 

Nori-san has been a Shinto Priest for over 10 years.  He has a wife and a daughter.  He smokes cigarettes and believes in reincarnation.  He speaks highly of Russian literature and connects souls of all living things.  It was an interesting lesson, to glimpse at the world through eyes of a young priest.

The next day, Nori-san had a full day planned out for me.  Watching the priest preparing to go out, I was taken aback.   Golf-shirt with the collar up, sports pants and crocs made the outfit.  However, when we walked outside, my surprise turned into shock.  I must have been too preoccupied with the conversation the night before to notice his car.  The Shinto Priest was driving an Alfa Romeo.  Cockily, it purred in agreement with my fascination. 

We were off to his shrine where Nori-san wanted to perform a ceremony to bless my travels. 

We pulled into a small parking lot in front of the shrine.  The wooden structure was aged and colorless.  The shrine smelled old but there was an scent of timeless wisdom in the air.  It wasn’t beautiful like the ones I’ve seen before but I knew that its beauty was contained within its priest’s heart.  Nori-san changed into his ceremonial clothes and proceeded inside. 

The sound of the drum, made my heart move in unison with an ancient tradition.  The priest sang a beautiful song of travels, souls, spirits and God.  His meditation swept me into memories of enchanted youth filled with music and fairytales.  I felt relaxed yet fully energized.

Our next stop was a medical center.  Nori-san has asked his friend if I could stay for a session of neuro-electro massage.  Slipping deeper into relaxation, I felt my muscles loosen and breathe slowed down.  The feelings of ease and contempt  filled me. 

My soul AND my body were completely rejuvenated. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kitami and Kushiro

My next host and city (Kitami) were patiently waiting for me. Unfortunately I didn’t stay long but I was very happy to have met my host. He is a kind man with great aspirations. I only spent two evenings with him but the evenings were filled with conversations of literature, astronomy, spirituality and travel.

My ride out of Kitami was a young Japanese man, Yusuke (pronounced Yuski). He delivered green tea to stores around the area and said would give me a ride to the next town over. As you’ve already figured out, without much knowledge of Japanese, I communicate quite well with locals who have very little knowledge of English. This ride was no different. We talked all the way to the drop off location and I even got a “lucky charm” as a present: a keychain of a cartoon action figure.

The following car picked me up within 10 minutes and a few hours later I was in Kushiro.

My host, Adam, arrived to our meeting location with a friend. His Japanese buddy, Jun, lived and studied in Kamchatka (north-eastern part of Russia) and spoke Russian fluently. The remainder of the day I spent with Jun, talking Russian.

I found it fascinating that I perceived Jun completely different from any other Japanese person I’ve met. He wasn’t distant and unknown. He was my buddy right away. When he spoke Russian, he used slang. I talked to him as if I was talking to a Russian friend. The cultural barrier no longer applied.

When Adam came back from work, Jun had to go home. It was time for me to find out the natural phenomena known as “Adam”. Adam is unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He is a confident, smart, sarcastic, powerful, energetic, non-conformant, handsome young man. His tongue is sharp and thoughts are clear. He loves individualism and hates patriotism. He can argue about anything even if he lacks knowledge on the subject (which is rare). If that becomes the case, he shall use the knowledge he does have and derive a proper argument to prove his point.

We spent the rest of the night and half of the following day talking about everything and then some. Discussing politics, human behavior, communication, literature, souls, predetermined destiny, religious punishment and so much more.

The following day Adam had to go a few towns over to give a private lesson to his friend’s 10 year old daughter. His friend happened to be in town and offered to drive us to his place and stay the night.

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Shari Mountain

The next day we decided to hike. Shari Mountain is located an hour and a half south-east of Abashiri. We were at a ready position in front of our first trail at 11am. For some reason, it skipped my mind to ask my host whether it was a difficult mountain to hike. I guess I figured she wouldn’t take me on a tough trail since I’m not a professional. Boy, was I wrong.

The steepness of the mountain changed slowly although I did feel my ears pop once or twice. The trail continuously ran around and through a mountain river. Hopping from stone to stone we followed the trail. Climbing through narrow passages and keeping balance on the edge of the river, I felt my confidence grow. Soon, the “path” was taking us toward a steep wall of rock. Wet rock. Slipping and grabbing onto anything that was protruding, I continued on. Three hours later we made it to the top of a nearby mountain. By that time, we couldn’t continue on to the main target, Shari, because it would have taken us back after the sunset.

The trip down however was quite painful. I was exhausted; my legs and feet stopped listening to me. After hitting my head hard several times, I felt dizzy. I banged my knee and felt a very painful bruise. Muscles on my arms, back and legs were aching in disbelief. My feet were completely soaked because I couldn’t balance them on stones when crossing the river. Wet and aching we made it back to the car right before sunset.

I knew the reason behind this “exercise” shortly after arriving home. When I was on the trail, I was one with nature. I had no external thoughts which usually keep my head occupied with many “what ifs”. I wasn’t worried about family, friends, work, money, travel, bagpack, opinions, stereotypes, wars, etc. I completely let go of everything. I was empty. The only thing that mattered was the path in front of me. My feet moving. My breath steady. My muscles flexing. My head clear.


Abashiri is located on the east coast of Hokkaido. It is famous for prison museum, drift ice and scallops. On a clear day, one can see Okhotsk Sea and Sakhalin Island from its bay.
Abashiri is a small town but surrounded by majestic mountains and is within a few hours drive from the famous Shiretoko Peninsula (from Ainu language The End of the World Peninsula) which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

My host was a 31 year old Japanese woman. I was introduced to her through another couchsurfer and was looking forward to meeting her because of her background. She is a very unique person. Living in the modern age, she decided to preserve Japanese culture and tradition and is learning how to make and wear Kimono, perform Green Tea Ceremony, apply Reiki and practice Kyudo. She is also very athletic and has hiked many mountains in her area. On top of that, she has traveled to many countries and keeps an open mind when meeting new people. All these traits are very unique for a modern Japanese person.

My first evening in Abashiri was spent watching her perform Green Tea Ceremony. During the lesson, she translated everything that was going on in the room and taught me how to properly drink the tea. It was amazing to watch how delicate and detailed the ceremony is. It is truly a fine art. To become a professional ceremony host takes many years. My host looked wonderful. Wearing a beautiful thin kimono designed with small print, she was humble and graceful. She was a sight to see.

The next day I was able to watch her practice Kyudo. The movement of the archer is flowing. There are no angles; only perfect curves. It’s slow and beautiful. Bow; move into the position; place two arrows at the feet; take two arrows into hands; snap them gently between fingers; pause; breath; relax; concentrate; place one arrow in the bow; stand still; raise hands high above the head and slowly bring the arrow down into the eye’s view; breath; breath; breath; pull back the bowstring; pause; let universe’ energy fill you. Let go.

The following day my host took me to the Shiretoko Peninsula. We drove around half of the peninsula. Watching deer and foxes. Seagulls and salmon. Waterfalls and lakes; Mountains and trails. Shiretoko is very beautiful. Of course we ended the day with an onsen with a beautiful view of the sunset.