Lost in Hirakata

A Wrong Turn Turned Right

August 25, 2013

Walking into the dorms of the Seminar House on Day One, I was unsure of what to expect. After traveling more than 30 hours alone, I was craving human contact more acutely than I had ever thought possible. The hour and a half car ride from the airport gave me the chance to talk with a few other international students, all of us weary and excited for this next adventure.

Once we arrived, we were all greeted by the familiar scent of incense burning at the front door, which thickened the air in a way I found simultaneously musky and soothing. We removed our shoes and broke off to our respective floors, boys on the first and girls on the second.

I walked into my dorm for the week and immediately thought of Mulan (note: this is not an accurate reference and would probably be offensive to the Japanese because that story took place in Ancient China). The floor was constructed with traditional tatami mats, made of delicately woven bamboo. Atop the floor sat a table with curved edges that appeared to have been constructed from a single block carving rather than nailed together in pieces.

Japanese Dorms

To the right were three futon beds, rolled up and out of the way- presumably where I would be sleeping for the evening. Directly ahead was a paneled wall that when opened revealed a study area with two desks. The frosted glass window let in just enough light while still affording privacy in an area with a relatively large population density.

With the whole day ahead of us, and nothing better to do, a few of us decided to go out and explore our new surroundings. Our aim was the grocery store, as we were bluntly told upon arrival that we would be on our own for food until the following Monday. Taking a left outside of the Seminar House rather than a right prevented us getting there. I took in the small, relatively narrow streets of Hirakata. Front gates are the only separation between the streets and the homes of those who live here. There are no front yards and the single, sideways driveways that meet the road would cause anyone with parallel parking anxieties severe discomfort.

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There are no sidewalks and yet everyone respectfully shares the same space, with cars, pedestrians and bicyclists cautiously yielding to one another. Vibrant green rice paddies can be found intermittently in surprising and unexpected places. The cloudy sky only enhanced the already spirited color. Off in the distance stood a mountain ridge that was hazy, but visible and dotted with cell towers. After a few more wrong turns, some smiling faces of our neighbors and a lucky shortcut, we managed to make our way back to the Seminar House with our stomachs audibly grumbling.

Despite the hunger, I could feel a smile coming on as I made my way back upstairs to my room. I think I’m going to like it here.

The fact that I packed about a week’s worth of Cliff Bars in my suitcase probably didn’t hurt either.

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