By Ashlea Norton / Special to The Japan News Ashlea Norton shares her experiences as participant of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, which is administered through the collaboration of Japan’s local and national government authorities and promotes grass-roots internationalisation at the local level.
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On one’s arrival in Japan, it is easy to be dazzled by the flashing neon lights of the big city and the endless conveniences that the metropolis of Tokyo can provide. After a while though, this can leave you searching for something or somewhere to satisfy a craving for the outdoors.
Having grown up surrounded by wild animals and untamed nature, it has been my aim to explore as much of Japan’s countryside as possible. I find that camping is the most appealing way to do just that. The fact that campsites here are well-maintained, easily accessible by public transportation and extremely safe (with zero chance of getting eaten by a lion) prompted me to gather my camping gear and head out into the unknown.
Distant lush forests and rugged hiking trails coaxed me out of the Kanto bubble and onto a ferry bound for the Izu islands. With a full backpack and only half a plan, setting off to explore one of the more remote areas of Japan was both an exciting and daunting experience.
After a long, stomach-churning ocean passage, the Jurassic Park-esque island of Niijima began to emerge along the horizon. Once on the island, I found that the campsite surpassed my expectations. The vast campground sits atop a grass-covered hill surrounded by excitable birds in whistling trees where the cool shade from low-hanging branches offers respite from the summer sun.
Experiencing a different side of Japan, away from lightning-fast internet and blinding fluorescence, is the perfect way to reset your body’s clock. Out here in this somewhat parallel universe, you rely on Mother Nature to dictate your plans for the day. The warm sun bakes you out of your tent and lures you down to the foamy blue sea. At night, the sun sets over the mountains while your belly growls, urging you to get the fire going.
With no artificial light to keep you up, retiring to your mesh tent to enjoy the all-encompassing darkness and the rare star-speckled sky seems instinctual. Here, lying on your thin air mattress, falling asleep has never been easier. Especially when lulled by the hum of crickets and frogs, rather than by the static of rushing cars punctuated by the clonking of your refrigerator.
In such a technologically advanced country, where nature is still highly celebrated on national holidays, in festivals and through seasonal delights, it’s possible to embrace our earthly connection without ever leaving the confines of the city. However, Japan has so many incredible places to see that can only be truly appreciated when one goes further afield. From dusty dunes and heart-shaped caves, to icicle-fringed cliffs and prehistoric islands, I hope everyone will be fortunate to discover the wonders that the Land of the Rising Sun so generously bestows.
— Ashlea Norton was born in South Africa but raised in Botswana. She is a first-year Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) on the JET Programme, working for the Ibaraki Prefectural Board of Education.