Fall sets fire to the greenery of Japan. Maple forests are engulfed in a blaze of colors, which ignite emotion and wonder within viewers participating in a time-honored ceremony know as momiji gari : the autumn leaf viewing. Last fall, I found myself blanketed under canopies of red, climbing sacred mountains and exploring serene temples near Kyoto.
I arrived in Japan a year ago this week. My four seasons in Japan marked changes in my life that I am just beginning to understand. Winter saw snow in Tokyo. A novelty for many within the metropolis. Trains stopped, taxis spin, and time seemed to stand still on the streets next to businessmen complaining of meetings missed and children playing in merriment. Flurries laced this five-story pagoda at Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, which was originally established in 645 and rebuilt after World War II as a symbol of peace.
Spring brings Sakura: the cherry-blossom season. Philosophically, the fragile and transitory beauty of Sakura represents the preciousness of life. Shortly after the moment of full bloom, the wind gently stirs the blossoms from their branches in swirls of pink.
Summer is welcomed across Japan with the bon lantern festival. Celebrants dressed in traditional, beautifully decorated yukata dance, sing, drum, and drink to honr the spirits of those passed. At this festival I attended in Tokyo, a special service was held for those lost in the March 11th Tsunami. Between dances, the music would stop, smiles would face and eyes would close in prayer.
In four seasons, I learned a language, experienced a rich culture deeply rooted in tradition and respect, and made a strong connection with a kind and welcoming people. I was asked if I was Tom Cruise when this picture was taken. I may not be the last samurai, but I feel a connection with Japan that is rooted within my soul. Our lives are made of many seasons, but the red leaves, snowflakes, and Sakura blossoms that fell on me last year mark the seasons that the passage of time will never take from my memory.