By Mark Sobnosky ’19
I still remember the feeling of the cool wind on my face as it blew across the water. It was a lot warmer than we all thought it was going to be, and the brisk breeze that met us on the ferryboat was a welcome relief from the bright sun that blazed overhead. In the distance, the famous vermillion Torii Gate stood proudly in the water just off the beach of the largest shrine on Miyajima Island. Already, the shore was alive with a crawling mass of people, and the twenty-two of us were on our way to join them.
Miyajima Island is famous the world over for the fact that the entire island is a shrine, because the Torii Gate which was built in the water just off the shore. Passing through a Torii Gate is typical before entering a shrine so the idea behind the construction of the gate was that by passing through it on your way to the shore, the entire island would then become a shrine. While our massive ferry boat did not fit underneath the gate, the sanctity of the island was nonetheless honored by the hundreds of people that stopped to pray at the numerous shrines on Miyajima.
Shortly after disembarking from the boat, our entire group split in our various directions. After eleven days of group travel, I seized this day trip to Miyajima to find some alone time and reflect on the adventure that had been the last week and a half of my life. After finding a map, I decided to forgo the cable ride up to the summit of the mountain on the island, opting instead for the 90 minute hike up to the top, and the 90 minute hike back down to the base. This decision proved to be a rewarding one, as the trail gently wove all the way up to the summit. Away from the bustling throngs of people, I was able to more fully appreciate the beauty of the land around me. There were occasionally other hikers that would pass with a quick head nod and a brief, “Konnichiwa,” as they came down the mountain. The incline gradually increased as I got closer to the summit but luckily the thick canopy overhead provided much needed protection from the heat radiating down from the clear sky. I listened to the soft gurgling of small streams and the surprisingly loud croaks of frogs that collected around little pools of water. I heard the cries and calls of birds that I had never heard before. I heard the footfalls, light and heavy, of myself and the other hikers that I shared the trail with. And somewhere mixed in among the other noises I listened to my own thoughts, which were as unhindered and free as the lush environment around me.
As I walked all the way to the top of the mountain, my lungs were quite tired but my spirits were high, bolstered by each step in this serene mountain environment. I started to understand why someone would want to call this entire island a shrine. Up there on the trail, the unrefined wilderness seemed to possess that certain magic that some places just seem to have. The path calls out and compels you forward. The bliss of solitude and letting your mind wander with your feet seems to recharge the mind—at least it did for me. The week and a half of traveling with others had been, up until then, punctuated by short bursts of alone time. But having the whole day to hike alone on a mystical island made me appreciate just how different and splendid of a place Japan truly was.
I can’t truly describe the action of hiking that mountain because hiking is actually pretty simple: you walk. But what I can describe is something that this hike taught me: the importance of taking time for one’s self. Whether it is studying abroad, working, studying, or anything else, take time to get away and just think. In today’s world, it is so easy to be connected to everyone and everything at all times, especially in the age of smartphones and social media. But don’t get so caught up in how you relate to others that you don’t know how you relate to yourself. Don’t lose track of who you are and sometimes, just go for a walk.