It’s been an awful long time. This is part 3 of my winter/spring holiday travels and it’s only taken several months for me to find time to write about it. I apologise, but goddam, blogging is hard work.
I arrived in Kobe around midnight and wandered around the main road unable to find the hostel I would be volunteering at. I had to be fetched. I was hungry and tired and just wanted to sleep. I did just that and the following morning I was introduced to the staff, residents and work I would be required to do.
Firstly, the hostel was on top of a bar that also functioned as an English school. It was filled with guests and residents who I barely saw, and the kitchen was in need of repairs. Secondly, it was a poorly organised place with strong personalities and a vibe that kept you on edge. I was able to work the first few days before I ended up feeling more and more sick.
My appetite was weak. I would be hungry, make some food, and after the first bite I just couldn’t stomach anymore. The pinnacle of the sickness came when on an evening stroll with another volunteer I vomited in the bushes. The following day I went to the hospital A&E and after a few tests I was prescribed some proton-pump inhibitors and told to come back tomorrow morning. The whole experience was overwhelming. It was a huge hospital built on one of Kobe’s man-made islands, glassy and modern, I had never been to a place so efficient and high-tech before. I like to tell people that Japan isn’t the futuristic wonderland we imagine, rather their hospitals encompass all that. When I have my stomach issues I tend to get depressed and anxious. I recall having a phone call with my mother, it was maybe 5 am for her, and I sobbed about wanting to book a plane ticket and come back to a place where I could properly communicate. It was daunting that my first experience of a hospital would be in Japan, and worst, I would have to pay. Bless the NHS and let’s hope to Tories don’t shred it.
My second visit came with more medication, an appointment for a blood test, a upper-endoscopy and an ultrasound the following week. I was already feeling a bit better and able to eat again with the medication given to me.Moreover I was slowly feeling more comfortable in Kobe. I had befriended the other volunteer, and found more like-minded people. I went to restaurants and cool bars and spent my days studying Japanese, reading and avoiding my high-tension boss. I also ended up teaching some English classes and for the first time in Kobe, actually interacting with some Japanese people.
Perhaps the strangest thing was working in a hostel where I was around a lot of foreigners who seemed so disinterested in learning Japanese, interacting with the Japanese community, and so comfortable in each other’s company. I felt the other way. I felt uncomfortable around this tight-knit community of expatriates.
A few friends were going to stay that weekend and with them came a sense of stability.We went to some places in the city I knew, a family run restaurant with lots of delicious food and a little jazz bar with dim lighting and few seats, both establishments I’d been to before. I showed them a cool second hand clothing store and we went to Maiko beach and watched the sunset.
The following Tuesday, after they left, I went to the hospital again and had all the examinations done. I discovered that I get stress-induced stomach ulcers. However, I was feeling better.
I started doing my work more frequently and met some residents at the hostel who I really got along with. Akira, Midori and Yudai are architects and designers and invited me to see their workshop. I didn’t realise how interested I would be in making things until I did it. Spending 8 hours building their second floor with them and their friends, practising Japanese and being around creative and giving people made me feel like coming to Kobe was all worth it. I was certainly regretting volunteering at a hostel, but now I was inspired to learn more practical skills. The three designers are behind Team Clap.Ton and had designed some of the bar and hostel I had worked on. They were green and working within a community of do-it-yourself-ers with a creative vision of the world I hadn’t come across from my time so far in Japan.
Spending more time with them and with some other friends I made in Kobe, like Taylor the ‘murrican, Misho and Minami – two Japanese friends, the former a gardener and the latter working for a fair-trade clothing and accessory store, I found a place and community that I could feel comfortable in. After a rainy day spent wandering around trying to access the Nunobiki waterfall and various art galleries with an acquaintance failed, I went with her to a Japanese conversation club called Danran, there I met a lot of friendly students and practised speaking properly, boosting my confidence. Nevertheless, working at the hostel was tense. Personalities were too strong at times and there were some unlikable people that were tiring to be around.
One day I made a trip to Arima Onsen on my own. It’s a small and fairly famous onsen town not far from Kobe in the mountains. I went to a cheap onsen on my own for the first time and found that I truly love the experience. I wandered around the town, climbing up a hill marked by little Bodhisattva and returned to the hostel.
I decided that I would leave the hostel a few days earlier. I met an Englishman when I had friends round and he shared that he recently acquired an old Japanese farmhouse in a tiny village 40 minutes from Himeji. I asked if I could volunteer there for a week and so I went with him and another volunteer and experienced real Japanese countryside. I’ll elaborate on that later.
Thank you for reading my ramblings.