2023 has been a stressful and hard year, and I have a sneaking suspicion this is a preview of even harder years on my path ahead. I am finding myself more tired and having really poor sleep quality, and I’m not sure I see things improving but I am cautiously optimisitic. I’ve been trying to keep positive by remembering my blessings as best I can, and this year came with a lot of blessings for sure. This post I do yearly forces me to acknowledge those blessings.

This year I’m thankful that we could put Covid behind us, which opened up the the possibility to travel. A quick recap of my travels (mostly for my own reference before I forget in years to come):

Following my tradition, here’s some of my favorite photos of the year. Many but not all are from those from those trips:

United States Capitol Building under construction in Washington DC (March 13, 2023)

I was really thankful that my good friend Yuka flew out to visit me in Raleigh. We took a roadtrip to Charleston, through the Smokies, and then finally in Washington DC, just when the cherry blossoms were beginning to open up. I ended up driving back a few weeks later to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom, and also to pick up a lost item from a hotel from the previous trip.

Cherry blossoms in Washington DC (March 24, 2023)
Cherry blossoms framing Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC (March 24, 2023)

In my own backyard I enjoyed a lot of local hikes, which often reminded me of my Appalachian Trail hike. The birds, the butterflies, the flowers of the fields - all these live out their days without worry, with no fear of the future, seemingly with no stress, enjoying their days in nature. How complication us humans have made things, and how detached we are from these simply lives. Our hikes remind us, but at the end of the day we inevitably return to our worries and the lives we have chosen to make complicated and stressful.

American Goldfinch at Williamson Preserve in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA (August 6, 2023)
Red-spotted purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) at Clayton River Walk on the Neuse Greenway in Clayton, North Carolina, USA (July 16, 2023)

In November I was really lucky to have the chance to fly back to Japan at my favorite time of year, in autumn. I was super thankful not only for the well-needed break from work, but also for the chance to hang out with Yuka again. I was able to purchase a JR Pass before a large price jump, and used it to travel all the way from Tokyo to Shikoku, more than getting my money’s worth.

Shikoku is definitely off the beaten path; it’s been on my radar for a long time because it’s home to the [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikoku_Pilgrimage](88 Temple Pilgrimage), which I’d like to do someday. I did manage to see one pilgrim (ohenro-san, お遍路さん) who ended up on the same train back in the direction of my hotel in Marugame, Kagawa (丸亀市).

Before heading to Shikoku I did spend two nights in Kyoto to check out the autumn leaves.

Mount Fuji in autumn, seen from Ao Terrace (碧テラス) (November 26, 2023)
Tree and Serpent Buddhist art exhibition at the MET in New York City, USA (August 31, 2023)
Sunflowers at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA (July 21, 2023)
Early signs of fall at Williamson Preserve in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA (October 1, 2023)
Autumn leaves over water at Tōfuku-ji Temple (東福寺) (November 28, 2023)

I remember an autumn visit to Tofukuji many years back, and I wanted to return. I arrived much too early - I read on the website that they were open from 7:30am for special access, but apparently this was for folks who had purchased tickets in advance somehow. Instead I arrived around 7:20am and learned that I had to wait until 8:30am, so I was the first the queue up. It was worth the wait, but it did become crowded very fast, just as I remembered.

The best thing I did this trip was to instead seek out less touristy areas, namely areas in north Kyoto: Rengeji Temple (蓮華寺) and Yase Maple Path (八瀬 もみじの小径). I found this while planning and the preparation paid off, as both places had minimal tourists.

Moss and autumn leaves closeup at Rengeji Temple (蓮華寺) (November 28, 2023)
Under the roof at Rengeji Temple (蓮華寺) (November 28, 2023)
Torii in autumn at Rengeji Temple (蓮華寺) (November 28, 2023)
Moss path at Rengeji Temple (蓮華寺) (November 28, 2023)
Rainbow of fall colors at Rengeji Temple (蓮華寺) (November 28, 2023)

I feel like I’ve gotten more than my fill of places like Kyoto, and I’m more than thankful to have been able to visit in all seasons. On this trip I felt like it was a sort of bucket list - if I never make it back there before I die, I’ll still feel satisfied, like I experienced a sufficient amount of the city that I’ve really enjoyed. I’ve now been visiting and seeing it change for over ten years now - and many of my favorite cafes are now closed up regrettably (efish and Cafe Rhinebeck), which is the same pattern I have seen at every place I revisit. Painfully, time marches on and these old haunts disappear.

What will maybe never disappear is the Kamogawa River itself, running through the city. Always a place for folks to escape the city and stretch their legs along the banks. On this trip I was also able to capture some video of the Kamogawa at night, and finally with a camera that can better capture the atmosphere: