In a world teeming with nearly 8 billion people, it’s easy to feel lost and disoriented. We spend our lives searching for meaning amidst vague symbols and attempting to discover our purpose, only to find ourselves with more questions than we had before.

Yet, in Japan, I feel as though I am finally found. It’s a peculiar sensation to feel so at home in a country that I had the pleasure of experiencing for just 14 days. Prior to embarking on this incredible journey, at least four individuals who had visited Japan before expressed the same sentiment: you’re going to fall head over heels in love, and you won’t ever want to leave. At the time, I merely chuckled and brushed it aside.

Throughout my short 21 years, I have been fortunate enough to explore a multitude of countries. While each one offered a unique and memorable experience, I never felt truly changed or challenged by my experience. There was always something I could nitpick and find fault with or something that I found myself unable to connect to.

However, Japan is different. It exudes a serene and tranquil energy that I hadn’t realized I so desperately craved in my day-to-day existence. I am delighted to admit that my peers were absolutely right; I have utterly and completely fallen in love. 

Sometimes I would find myself simply walking the streets of Japan. Normally, if I was at home, walking on campus or taking my dog on a walk through the neighborhood, I would have my headphones on, trying to drown out any unwanted sounds or conversations. But in Japan, I found myself strolling, headphones out, just simply taking in the sounds, or lack thereof.

I made sure to take full advantage of my time. Chatting with vendors on the street, observing the flow of tourists and locals through a temple or shrine, or browsing the shelves of a convenience store. Among the many wonderful encounters on my trip, witnessing the magnificence of the Great Buddha for the first time left an indelible mark on my soul. 

The air felt thick with anticipation as I approached the gates of the Kotoku-in Temple in Kamakura, Japan. I was about to witness a spiritual masterpiece that had captivated the hearts of countless pilgrims for centuries. I had always seen pictures and wondered what it would be like to see it in real life, but nothing could have prepared me for the depth of this experience.

Stepping into the temple grounds, a sense of tranquility enveloped me, as if I had entered a sacred realm. The weathered stone path led me closer to the majestic turquoise statue that stood before me. Standing (or rather sitting cross-legged), at 43 feet, it completely knocked the breath out of me. 

As I gazed upon the Great Buddha, I was instantly overcome with a profound sense of reverence and awe. Its serene countenance and gentle smile evoked a sense of peace and harmony that seemed to transcend the boundaries of time and space. The sheer magnitude of the Great Buddha was incredible. I couldn’t help but marvel at the intricate details carved into the bronze surface—the flowing robes, the delicate fingers, and the eyes that seemed to radiate wisdom and understanding, as though they were looking straight into the depths of my soul and whispering, “I see you.” It was nothing like I have ever felt before. 

In that sacred moment, I felt a deep connection to the spiritual essence of Japan. The Great Buddha became a symbol of the country’s rich cultural heritage and its commitment to the pursuit of inner enlightenment. It was as if the statue had absorbed the hopes, dreams and aspirations of countless generations and was reflecting it back on all who chose to open their hearts and their minds to it, myself included.  

However, the true magic of this experience lay not only in the presence of the Great Buddha but also in the company I shared. Throughout my journey in Japan, I had the privilege of being surrounded by incredible classmates who not only shared my love for street food, karaoke, convenience stores and fun beverages, but also exploration and discovery. 

Together, we embarked on countless adventures, soaking in the vibrant energy of Tokyo, Kyoto and Kamakura, exploring ancient temples, and immersing ourselves in the country’s unique traditions. It still doesn’t feel real, as though I was living the events of a movie or experiencing a dream and at any moment I’m going to wake up, wanting desperately to fall back asleep. 

As we stood before the Great Buddha, some of my classmates and I were united in a shared sense of wonder and gratitude. We had each come from our own little corners of the world, drawn together by our thirst for knowledge and our desire to delve deeper into the curiosities of this life. In that moment, we stood united in our admiration and amazement, feeling the true weight of the statue sitting peacefully before us.

I am immensely grateful for everything my classmates bestowed upon me during this short yet profound period of time. They supported me during countless tearful moments, which usually consisted of me crying at a temple or shrine because it was all just so beautiful. However, they never made me feel judged or stupid. They simply stood with me, sometimes offering a hug or warm smile, other times simply standing and appreciating the moment with me.

They created an environment where I could freely explore and embrace the significance of my spirituality, with utmost respect and without a hint of embarrassment. Their infectious laughter, capable of leaving my ribs aching and my laughter sounding more like wheezing than actual laughter, brought immeasurable joy to my heart. I will forever cherish the person they allowed me to become during our shared journey.

Japan opened my eyes to a world of simplicity, harmony, and inner peace, inspiring me to continue seeking spiritual growth and nurturing the bonds of friendship offered to me through this experience. The Great Buddha became a symbol of my potential. I did not know I was capable of feeling such spiritual energy, or that this side of me resided beneath the surface. But I will take this experience and this energy that Japan has given me and cherish it for the rest of my life. 

2 thoughts on “A soulful journey

  1. So happy you had a life-changing trip full of great memories. You are a talented writer and brought Japan to life for me through your words.

    1. Thank you for taking us along on your journey via your prolific words. There’s nothing better than immersing yourself in a new culture and allowing it to lead the way. Beautifully written and cannot wait to hear where your adventures and words take you next!

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