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  • Writer's pictureAruna Byers

Real Taste of a Japanese Community - 日本で地元の生活を堪能

Those who know me well are aware that I really appreciate differences and love expanding my experiential horizons. That is why I have been to 34 countries, and enjoyed extended periods of stay in several of them. I am not a typical tourist, as I have very little interest in sight seeing. What I enjoy most is getting to know the people, their culture, the tastes of their food and their way of life. I appreciate it all— often with the awe and excitement of a child, as I discover what’s new and different. I observe myself in every situation and have always asked the question, is this a place where I would enjoy living? The answer has usually been “yes,” with very few exceptions (I have never been in a war zone, or a place in crisis and for that I am very grateful). I have been to a number of places I would happily move to if called, but the one place where I feel I belong is Japan.

This week I was reminded of why I love Japan so much. It’s because of the Japanese people, their culture and food, and how they interact with each other, and with me. And I also must add the foreign community in Tokyo, which consists of expats from all over the world, including the most interesting and enjoyable people I have met anywhere. Most of them are well travelled and their openness and experiences adds to what makes them so much fun to know.

I was born in the United States, and as I recall my life there, I can honestly say that I never felt like part of any community in which I lived. I knew those few neighbors by name who said hello when we passed, but I never felt welcome to visit anyone on our street, and no one visited us. There were no neighborhood activities, which brought us together. We had to seek people outside the neighborhood to become friends with through religious activities, our workplace and schools, or clubs. But my life here in Japan has been very different from that, as was vividly demonstrated once again for me this third week of July, 2015:

The place where we now live, Hashirimizu, in Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture, is an example of what I consider an ideal community. The people here come together for friendship, to pursue mutual interests and to support one another, and for a couple of foreigners, my husband and I could not feel more welcomed.

We live a parking lot and two houses away from the Hashirimizu Jinja, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Prince Yamatotakeru (son of Emperor Keikoh, the 12th) and Princess Ototatiabana. It serves as the anchoring point for ceremonies for a number of small neighborhoods to come together as one large community. Last Tuesday evening (July 14), we were invited to participate in a 4-evening lantern ceremony, and a 2-day matsuri (festival) of blessing the town and its harbor. We most certainly were blessed. We participated in two community dinners, five days of processions, and our house was officially blessed by the shrine gods.

This ceremony week was about unification and working together in service to the divine and each other. The entire experience was a beautiful example of love in action, the essence of what I teach. We are so grateful to be living in this community where we are getting to know our neighbors and the way they live. This particular group of ceremonies only happens every other year, so the next one will be in 2017. We plan to attend, and have placed an order for “Happi coats” with the Nakanocho community symbols on them that our neighbors wear for such occasions.

And now we are looking forward to the next community ceremony on August 22. I will wear yukata for the Obon festival dances that our neighbors have already offered to teach us.








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