Most mornings, after my kids head off to school, I take a walk through the neighborhood before I begin my work for the day. (I work from home, as a writer and teacher.) A 20-minute stroll isn’t much exercise, I know, but it keeps me from turning completely into a large vegetable and also offers a little quiet time where I’m alone with my thoughts.
While I generally stick to the same route through our residential corner of Hiroshima, Japan, from time to time I plod away in another direction, toward a different destination in this area.
For this post, though, I went a little crazy and did both walks (and felt like crawling back into bed afterward), carrying along my camera to capture the sights I saw today and create a virtual experience of my morning routine and my reflections on the bilingual journey.
So put on your walking shoes and join me!
Up the street from our house is a small Buddhist temple. Sometimes I see the priest, clad only in a loincloth, chanting in a loud voice and dowsing himself with cold water. But today the temple grounds are quiet.
Our house is close to the foot of a small mountain, and my course takes me up a slope past the temple and its cemetery. These graves are a continual reminder to make the most of my days, including my efforts to nurture my children’s language development and our parent-child bond. (See A Friend of Mine Died for much more on my very mindful desire to seize each day.)
A bit farther on I approach a rusty, locked gate. Behind it is a towering staircase that leads to…well, I’m not sure where it leads. (It apparently has some connection to the city’s water supply.) Every time I pass by, though, I can’t help seeing a metaphor in these stairs: The bilingual journey itself is much like climbing an endless staircase, day after day, without knowing exactly where you’ll end up. (This metaphor is featured in How Many Steps Is the Bilingual Journey?, a photoessay of a mountain-climbing adventure with my son that I somehow survived.)
From here, I trek up a quiet street that stretches to the top of the mountain. It isn’t really the peak—which takes another 20 minutes of steep climbing through the forest to reach, affording a glorious view of the city of Hiroshima. But this is as far as the road rises before descending down toward Hiroshima’s main train station.
The view from the real peak is more impressive, but even at this height the city, and the islands that dot the sea beyond it, are a lovely sight. Moreover, I’ve always felt that views from above give us fresh perspective on the lives we live on lower ground. Somehow the difficulties that feel daunting in daily life don’t appear as imposing when we have the chance to look down on the world from a greater height.
I then head back down a different road that winds toward my house. Though this would be the end of a typical walk, if you’re not too winded, tag along with me to my second destination in the neighborhood and take in a surprising sight that looms high on a hillside.
This huge, golden figure is a kind of Kannon statue for Buddhist beliefs in Japan. The baby in its arms reveals that this particular figure is a guardian of children, guiding the spirits of those who have died at a young age. Families that have lost a child may pray here for the protection and comfort of their loved one in the afterlife. Inevitably, I think of my own children, as I do now, and say a quiet pledge to appreciate the time we have together in this world as fully as I can. (See My Son Disappears, I Lose My Mind, and the World Is Beautiful for a defining experience of this outlook.)
Another nice view of the city is available from atop this hill. I breathe slowly, the busy city alive below, gradually reborn after the atomic bomb, which turned this town to ashes. Then I head down a steep flight of steps and follow the road home for another day as a writer and teacher—and parent of two bilingual children—in Hiroshima, Japan. (For my children’s thoughts on this city and peace, see What My Hiroshima-Born Children Think About the Atomic Bombing.)