TLT: The Furry Friends We Leave Behind

My cat was collateral damage when I moved to Japan. I often joked that I got her in “the divorce,” a self-deprecating reference to a failed engagement I felt sure would define my life. Billy, my calico American short hair, never wavered; when I stopped eating for two months and dropped thirty pounds in a bout of nearly terminal depression, she sat on my chest while I cried, purring and demanding to be pet. When her sister died suddenly at three-years-old, renewing my devotion to bottles and nights without REM, she demanded the same.The sociopathic beast was my stability for a very long, very dark time. I left her.

Now, I know: she’ll carry on just fine without me, and by all accounts that’s proven true. Selfishly, though, I’ve missed the steady demand for a scratch behind the ears when the world is blocking out the sun, when I’m made to stare my Sisyphean struggle against myself in the scorching, hating eyes.

The recent trek along the Tokai Nature Trail put me in touch with a number of temporary analogues for my quadrupedal therapist. I’ve often said feral cats are to Japan what squirrels are to Western New York, my snow battered home. Whether on a trail in the middle of the Japanese wilderness or snuggled up with kittens beneath a Buddhist temple, you can always find cats. And where there are cats, there is the tiniest smidgen of crepuscular solidarity and sanity.

Miss you, Bill.

This post is part of a weekly series.  Each entry focuses on a single photograph to tell a story. If you liked this week’s version, take a second to check out the rest of Through the Lens Thursday.

“When in Rome…” Needs to Die

Few things are as ubiquitous to the travel experience as the phrase, “when in Rome, do as the Romans.” It’s not bad advice. Experiencing how people on the other side of the world do things — whether that’s communal bathing or getting together to tell bad jokes to foreigners — is the whole point. Why bother going to China, if you’re just going to hang out at McDonald’s instead of expanding your waistline with the wholly sexual treasure that is the soup dumpling.

Do you believe in life after soup dumplings? Not sure I do. #dimsum #food -Dim Sum Go Go, New York

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If you’re about to hit the road, do so with an empty, open mind. Strip off the tighty whities and relax in the onsens of Yamanakako, with strangers’ dangly bits presented in panorama; stuff yourself with one more stick of the starchy debauchery that is La Banquise in Montréal; black out for a spell with some new friends in Osaka and almost miss your train. Take whatever you can from the local way of doing things. Please, though. Please don’t feel guilty when you need a taste of home. Continue reading →

TLT: For Relaxing Times…

For a month before I left to take on a small chunk of the Tokai Nature Trail, the 1700km collection of trail systems ranging from Tokyo’s Mt.Takao to Osaka, I couldn’t stop thinking of how badly I wanted to be out of this city. I was tired of the way I had to stop and wait for the train to pass before I could go home after work; I hated that everybody seemed to know who I was and where I worked; I couldn’t stand another trip to my local supermarket to stock up on a week’s worth of vittles.  Nothing against Sabae, Japan’s eyeglass capital and my current home; I just needed to get away.

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time. #Japan #lostintranslation #travel #whiskey #鯖江市

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When my hiking partner, Travis, and I made it to Shizuoka City and had our tickets to return to our regularly scheduled programming in hand, I felt no real excitement. I wouldn’t have to pay 6,000 yen to sleep on an actual bed for a night, and not walking 25 kilometers a day also had its appeal, but excitement?

The night I got home I was sure I’d flip to where I’d left off in my most recent read-through of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and let the darkness take me at its leisure. Dropping my pack in my apartment with a loud thunk, I realized that I needed to be moving, needed to be out doing something. Continue reading →

Through the Lens Thursday: Home Ain’t So Bad

Woe is any town unfortunate enough to be home. It’s the first place to be maligned when asked, and often when not . The biggest complaint is that there is nothing to do. This may not be true if you live in New York City, Tokyo, or some other metropolis, the borders of which seem to house a small planet’s worth of spectacle.

I’ve never lived in such a place, though. Whether by chance or fate, mine is always the home with more fields and trees than people, more mountains to climb than reliable pubs to soothe what ails you. And so it’s always been that I’ve looked away from my home for my adventures.

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Through the Lens Thursday: Backpacking Through Limitations

Travel, the saying goes, broadens the mind. It puts us in touch with different ways of thinking; helps us to appreciate the different ways people speak and look; and, if we’re especially lucky, makes us better for the time and effort. If that’s true of travel in general, backpacking — the form of travel you need to be the most unhinged to enjoy — not only broadens the mind, but redefines limitations.

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Backpacking 101: Four Tips for Hitting the Trails with a Friend

This time next week, I’ll be hiking around the base of Mt. Fuji on the Tokai Nature Trail with a friend from London. Starting from Mt. Takao in Hachioji, Tokyo, we’ll be bouncing from temple to temple, mountain to mountain over 200 kilometers, finally finishing in Shizuoka. It will be the longest hike either of us has ever managed.

We’re going to want to kill each other once or twice along the way.

Gloomy morning at Letchworth's Hogsback Overlook. Beautiful anyway #nature #outdoors #NewYork

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I’ve been on two and three day retreats in a number of beautifully secluded locales in Western New York before, Letchworth and Stony Brook the most memorable among them. By the end of day three, I’m glad for the experience, but I’m slightly irritable with my traveling companion(s) for one reason or another. Here are just a few suggestions for those among you looking to enjoy nature with friends, but who aren’t looking to “accidentally” push anybody into a ravine along the way.

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Through the Lens Thursday: Is It Time to Leave Japan?

It’s time to decide. In two weeks, I have to let my bosses know whether I want to extend my teaching contract in Japan for six months to a year.  Truth is, I both really want to leave and stay.

You can imagine all the usual reasons for wanting to call it quits — family, friends back home. I also want to make sure that in the next year I can travel a bit more. I feel this need in the center of my chest to get back to Montreal. Last time I was there, I was still so anxious about being alone that I cut my trip short by two days. I was there for a night, a visit to the market, and a gut-filling trip to La Banquise.

Whether my craving for the City of a Hundred Steeples or my want to get to Spain to finally take that hike along el Camino de Santiago, these are things I feel I must do before I head to graduate school in the fall of 2016. I’m just not quite done in Japan.

I can’t leave my kids yet. They’re growing and learning to speak English in a way I didn’t expect. With big staff changes at my school, I feel like I need to be there for the transition, at least for six months. My Japanese, too, is just reaching some semblance of fluency. If I leave now, just when things are getting good, what will have been the point of all this?

So, while so much of me wants to see other parts of the world, to spend lazy summers getting drunk on mom and dad’s patio — or at the wonderful Victoire in Rochester with friends — it’s just not the time. Montreal will still be there in another six months.