Taking a moment to do something different.

I’ve spent the past few months largely isolate from most of my community:mostly inside, mostly tucked away, or anxiously sitting at my desk when schools closed and there was no work for me to do. The number of places I went can and could be counted easily on one hand.

Home. Train Station. Work. Supermarket. Daiso.

From March to nearly the end of June, my world shrank to three miles: I didn’t dare leave the central area of the city, and barely left my neighborhood -nor my home- if I didn’t have to. My world narrowed down to the home-work-home, save for Saturdays when I would anxiously go out or for the three week period I was allowed to work from home.

This past week, however, I’ve started to allow myself to breath a little: my vigilance is still here, but as my last few weeks in Japan wind down, I’ve allowed myself the blessing of company and seeing other people. In many ways, I’ve let myself indulge, albiet incredibly safely.

Japan’s COVID situation is -by and large- very different than most countries: whether or not the actual numbers are correct, close to correct, or far off base, things have been relatively steady for a pandemic. I’ve by and large still had to go into work: I’ve by and large felt safe, though I’m constantly taking precautions. When things got real hairy in April and May, I’ll admit that I did worry: I got severely ill with bronchitis right at the same time that Tokyo was doing magnitudes of numbers. I worried to virus was at my door.

And while the country is -by no means- out of the woods yet, by and large the city I live in has been fairly untouched, even when the country was experiencing its first severe wave of infection. As of today (July 6), Fukushima Prefecture sits at 82 reported and confirmed infections with 0 reported/confirmed COVID-related deaths.

(And while those numbers probably don’t represent a complete, accurate picture, they’re still better than numbers back home.)

So this weekend, with all of this in mind, I masked up and let myself safely spend time with three friends out in nature: namely, I went to Korinji Temple, a small temple in rural Fukushima Prefecture. And while it’s Korinji Temple on google maps, folks around here know it by another name.

The Hydrangea Temple.

I’ve dreamed of coming to this temple since I found out about it back in 2016: but it’s a rural place, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, the kind of nowhere populated by more ravens and rice fields than there are people. The kind of nowhere that you use words like “verdant” and “sweeping vistas” for.

That kind of beautiful place.

But with the help from a friend with a car and about an hour of driving, I was finally able to go yesterday, winding South from Fukushima City to Nihonmatsu: specifically to the incorporated town of Towa where Korinji Temple is located.

I don’t know much about Korinji (which uses the kanji for “tall” and “forest”) nor its history: it’s a small, squat temple in the middle of the Japanese countryside, and that it’s probably decently old. Older than I think, I’d imagine. Elegant as can be.

What I can tell you is that there’s over 5,000 hydrangea and my, oh my, does it feel like that in the best of ways. There’s an absolute abundance of hydrangeas in a wide range of colors: mophead hydrangeas in blue, pink, and purple, lacecap hydrangeas in dappled pinks and whites. Truly, I could go on and on about how lovely it all is and was: so instead, I put together a gallery showcasing my little day trip to Korinji Temple for you to enjoy at your leisure.

And here’s some shots of the temple itself!

If I’m being completely honest, this is not how I expected to end my time in Japan: last year, prior to COVID being a thing, I’d imagined long bus rides and train rides through rice fields. I’d imagined weekend trips and three day holiday trips and being able to move freely.

But this is the reality: I can’t do that. I’m incredibly limited in where I can travel, and honestly, even though i allowed myself this treat, I don’t want to travel. I don’t want to add to the problem of the pandemic: plus, I don’t want to get sick, nor do I want to risk making other sick. That would sour my time here. That would be a ruinous end to all of the hard work and lovely memories I have.

Thankfully, Japan will always be here. There will be a time I return, a time when the world is safe and I can fufill old and new dreams. I can do all the things that I still haven’t done. I have the gift of time: and I have years of pictures and memories and things to fall back on when nostalgia and longing makes me yearn to visit.

Maybe it was having some company yesterday, but I just feel much more positive about how this year -and my time here- is wrapping up. This isn’t an ending: rather, it really is a transition into something different. I think I’m really going to do great, no matter what my next steps are post-Japan.

(Thank goodness for hydrangeas!)

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