During my last evening in the freezing house, I meet Ingrid and Önder, who have volunteered all over Europe and Asia for the past eighteen months, and have come to work in Mark’s house and garden for the next three weeks. Listening to their stories and advice over a cup of tea while the kitchen almost warms up, I get so much inspiration for my own plans that I lie awake long after midnight, mentally sketching my future.
The next morning, I spend a few hours in Himeji on my way to my last stop, sitting down on a bench every now and then just to pick up my notebook and write down a few more ideas. Then, after two more trains, the last of which is just a single small carriage, I arrive in Nishiawakura, a small forestry village in Okayama, surrounded by cedar trees and mountains. Hiromi, my host, meets me at the station with one of her young language students and we walk over to her house, where I will stay for the next three nights.
Nokishita Toshokan, ‘the library under the roof’, got its name when Hiromi’s grandmother opened her home library to all the children in the village in 1959. Fifty years later, Hiromi and her husband started renovating the old house, opening a bakery, a bed & breakfast and a language school.
Time seems to fly somewhere else the moment I enter the house. Before I knew it, three nights have passed and I am on a train to Kyoto, where I will spend the day before flying back to Thailand after midnight. Leaving Nishiawakura feels like leaving a family. Gazing out of the window as the fields fade into concrete, I gather all the moments of the past days, etching them into my heart.
Kneeling by the fireplace, thawing at last.
Healing at a yoga class and in the hot-spring bath afterwards.
Walking up the hills, past the house of an old woodworker who has made huge Totoros out of wood for his grandchildren.
Lying down in the grass in a forest park, closing my eyes, just listening.
Speaking a tiny bit of French to Hiromi’s childhood friend.
Having dinner in the living-room with fifteen people I don’t know without an inkling of anxiety.
Riding in Hiromi’s car to the top of a mountain with some of them the next morning.
Spending a ninety-hour train ride talking to Lisa, a German scenic designer I have just met, on the train to Japan’s largest sand dunes in Tottori.
Remembering how easy it can be to connect with new people just by staying curious.
No matter how many beautiful places I have explored during the past two weeks, the people I have met have affected me the deepest. Every meeting has taught me something. Their stories have made my dreams so much clearer, but most importantly, their smiles and warmth have shown me who I want to be.
I will never forget Miki, a 19-year-old language student staying at the house for a month to learn English, who just decided to go volunteering in Australia this summer. I will never forget the Japanese woman whom Miki and I met at the yoga class, who told us she had been volunteering on organic farms in Australia for a year and dreamt of creating her own sustainable home, just like me. Or Hiromi, who turned her house into this magical place where every guest is like family and young people can learn so much more than a language, growing their dreams beyond the limits set by society.
As the train to Kyoto is hurrying through an industrial area in the outskirts of Osaka, I spot two boys running through a rainbow-coloured cloud of soap bubbles in the middle of all the grey. A second later we are far apart and I close my eyes to catch the scene. Another meeting, however brief. Another beautiful moment to keep.