There were letters about rooms with straw mats and hanging scrolls, women in kimono practicing tea ceremony, rice fields stretched for miles like squares on a patch quilt, and food so delicious that you could smell the taste even in your sleep. He painted a fantasy for me out of the concrete world he called his life. It was better fiction than any I ever read: I travelled 8000 miles to see for myself that it was no fantasy. It is what foreign residents call the Japan experience.
I lived in a suburb of Kobe for three years where I taught English in a reputable academic high school. I fumbled my way through the language, travelled coast to coast and made friends for life. What I witnessed from the balcony of a fifth floor classroom at my school was the construction of the longest suspension bridge in the world, Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. As I travelled east toward Kobe, I marveled at the expanse of sea stretched south and gravitated toward the plush mountain range in the north. The Rokko Mountains served as my compass when travelling around Kobe.
One of my most poignant experiences while living in Japan was in February 1997 when I was invited on a class trip to climb the mountain range. I am not a hiker by any stretch of the imagination and, like many instances in Japan, did not know what to expect when I enthusiastically agreed to go. In preparation, I bought my first obento, Japanese style lunch box, and packed an American version of Japanese food. Bundled in layers to fight the frigid air that bounced off the sea, I travelled cautiously toward my destination.
Four hundred tenth grade students, a homeroom teacher for each group of ten, and I marched upward, the ground at first bear, snow gradually revealing itself the higher we climbed. With each trembling step and the onset of sweating in cotton clothing, I slowly removed the abundance of layers. Without question I handed my backpack, my coat, my outer sweatshirt to whoever was willing to help. Then in all my blind commotion I shouted in poor Japanese for students to walk carefully along the ledge overlooking a steep cliff. I am proud to report that they all survived the hike with their crazy foreign teacher.
It is not only the hushed dusting of snow across the mountain peaks in winter; but too, the song of the Cicada in summertime that invites a visit to the Rokko Mountain Range in Northern Kobe. No matter what time of year or season, there is something for everyone; from the Country House to the Pasture; the Alpine Botanical Garden to the Garden Terrace. In the morning, a quiet respite; and in the evening, a magnificent view of city lights, sparkling like gemstones.
I have been many places in Japan and because Kobe is my home away from home, I recommend a visit to a place from which you can gather your bearings.
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