Have you ever walked away from a famous destination or gorgeous tourist attraction feeling like you didn’t get enough of the place? Perhaps wishing you got to see it from different angles, different weather, different seasons, or even got to know the people and the stories behind the attraction? That is how I feel every time I travel. Especially if it was a short visit, I would feel like I really missed something — I might as well have just Google-imaged the place and saved a couple of bucks.
That is perhaps the main motivation behind why I decided to do a one-month volunteer exchange here in Yamanashi, Japan. Although one can still argue that a month is not nearly long enough to immerse, I am able to stay at a Japanese-style home, eating homemade food, learning the work ethic and living the local way. It has allowed me to briefly escape my own reality, and also learn the real lifestyle of a culture so different from my own. It’s made my trip much more worth it than if I had splurged on visiting all the nation’s biggest postcard destinations.
As I bike down every morning from our dormitory to the family orchard, each day I soak in the beautiful view of Mount Fuji, always different depending on its temper. As it continues to take my breath on the following days, I’m beginning to understand why Fuji is the significant cultural symbol that it is here — why centuries of art was devoted to capturing its majestic stature. Why locals and tourists alike seek comfort in its presence. It’s not something that can be understood from taking a few photos of the mountain while surrounded by tourists who spend more time taking selfies than actually looking at the sight. It also can’t be understood from staying merely a month of volunteering, but I’d like to think I’m getting more acquainted with the answers.
Stay tuned to hear about what goes on in a family orchard in the quaint town of Minami Alps, and the perks of sleeping on tatami mats.