Thursday, November 26, 2009


When I arrived on Kyushu Island, my American friend Wendy, same one who introduced me to Toby and Maiko from Hokkaido, told me I must not miss an opportunity to meet Victoria Yoshimura. Victoria is a British lady who married a Japanese Buddhist priest many years ago and became a priest herself. She and her husband run a beautiful temple which has been passed down 17 generations for over 400 years from son to son.


On the day of my arrival I met Victoria’s 3 adorable kids, a 13 year old boy, an 11 year old boy and a 9 year old girl. Now two younger go to an elementary school which has a policy that children must walk to school in order to build character. The path to school is over 3 km long and runs through the mountains. And so Victoria suggested that the next morning I wake up with the kids and walk to school with them. Why on earth would I do that, I aked. You’ll see, was her response. Out the door by 6:30am, Victoria, her kids, a few neighbor’s kids and I set off for school.

The Takachiho town is located in the mountains of Miyazaki prefecture. If I thought hilltops of the north were beautiful, I was terribly mistaken. When the morning mist of the mountains cleared, it revealed the most colorful foliage I have ever seen. From pale yellow and orange to deep red and purple, the sight took my breath away. Towns built in the deep valleys and in the mid-mountains, rivers running through mesmerizing gorges, temples bathing in clouds on mountaintops. I could hardly recall seeing anything so beautiful. The sun began its slow descend from top of the mountains but for the moment, their tips were immersed in its golden glow. Now I knew why Victoria persuaded me to wake up at 6am. Kids’ cheerful laughter, morning’s brilliant sunshine, dog’s distant bark, mountains’ peaceful slumber, every single moment was magical.

Several hours later, Victoria was to join the kids at school. She teaches English in Junior High School which is located in the same building with Elementary School. Luckily, she invited me to come along and I got a chance to sit in her classes and actually participate in the lessons. I was a bit nervous to stand in front of 20 kids and talk to them about my hitchhiking experiences. But the children were so fascinated, they had only admiration to share. In turn, I was cherishing every moment spent with them. Firmly imprinted in my mind are their curious faces when they first saw me standing in front of their classroom, their puzzled features when Victoria asked them questions in English, their concentrated looks when they wrote a test, and their excited expressions when they found out I would stay in school and eat lunch with them.

Victoria's oldest son Reo

Park in front of the school

The school was filled with buzz that day. Apparently, I couldn’t have come to Takachiho at a better time. That afternoon, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra was coming to school to perform. I was told their regular tickets in Tokyo cost over $200 but they were on a promotional tour around the country and were coming to this small town at exactly the same day I was passing through!

When I was 7 years old, my mom enrolled me in a music school. I learned how to read music, play piano, sing in choir, and recite biographies of famous composers. Music has been a part of my life and me as a whole since before I remember. I truly believe that people cannot exist without music. Any form or genre of it. My whole being trembles at the sound of delicate strings of violins which are ever-present in classical music and my heart beats in rhythm with drums and electric guitar pulse of hard rock. I can go to the “Nutcracker Ballet” and weep the moment the “Waltz of Flowers” begins its beautiful medley and I can get in a car, turn the volume of “30 Seconds to Mars” so loud I would feel it more than hear. My world is always accompanied by music.

I haven’t been to a classical concert in a long while. And so when I heard that I was getting a chance to listen to Tokyo Philharmonic, I was beyond happiness. Teachers, kids (grades 1st through 9th), parents and other guests had gathered in the gym. There were only a few chairs for the elders, the rest of the crowd sat on the floor. Some people brought blankets, some blankets were provided by school. The kids sat in front of the orchestra, Victoria and I kneeled right behind them and the parents sat in the back. The concert was everything I expected and more. Nodding my head with the rhythm of familiar music I was filled with wonderful thoughts and total happiness. But I was soon to find out how small that happiness was in comparison to real “treasure.”

The concert lasted for a few hours. The conductor was quiet entertaining and in-between each piece he introduced members of the orchestra and their instruments in a playful manner. Some older people were seeing violins for the first time in their lives. Overall mood was very fulfilling. I felt the end nearing and was sad I would have to part with the orchestra and its amazing music. Finally the principal of the school stood in front of the orchestra and thanked them for coming to Takachiho to perform and in return the school had something prepared for them. All the students stood up. Soft music started to pour from the orchestra and then the kids started to sing. I felt my heart grow beyond the boundaries of my body . Their voices reached into the deepest part of my soul and gently embraced it with their wondrous magic. This was the best part of my day. In one sweep moment I forgot the magnificent sunrise over the mountains and the beautiful music of the orchestra. The children were standing in front of me and singing. At that moment, I was the happiest person alive.


  1. Just read all of your November posts... Fantastic! How are you ever going to be able to come back to NYC???

  2. Privet!Eto Ya MAKI))
    Kak dela??

    You have really good time in Japan!!
    I envy you!

    Ya poedu v Kioto,Osaku i Naru v yanbare.
    Kogda ya budu tam, gde ty budesh??

  3. When I was doing my senior project at Williams I volunteered at SSA. It just so happened that I volunteered when they were all preparing for Arts Night, so naturally, I attended. Every year, for Arts Night, there's at least one song all of the students sing together - K thru 6. That year it was "When you believe" which is one of my all time favorites. I can recall only two times when I cried from sheer awe at art (be it fine art or performing or anything). One time was when I saw Monet's Lillies. The other was when they sang this. Their voices weren't great. The music was mediocre. But when all the younger students sang shira chadasha.. I just... I was covered in goosebumps. My cheeks were wet. It was... well, I'm not a writer so I can't accurately describe just how incredible it was. But I think I have an inkling of what you felt.

    See you tomorrow.

  4. Annette, I'm also wondering if it's possible for me to come back.
    Vira......thank you for sharing!

  5. Dear Khaya,

    I found your blog while searching online for photos of Takachiho and Shonenji Temple. I met Victoria in June this year when visiting the temple and I volunteered to set up a web site for them (see I've only just launched the site and it still needs much work, including lots more photos!

    Your pictures of the temple grounds and the surrounding countryside are very beautiful and I would like your permission to use some of them on the web site. Of course I would add a copyright notice to any photo used listing you as the owner.

    Would you be willing to help in this way?

    Thank you,
    Damian Jordan