Letter from Jonathan Walburg --teaching in Karatsu, Japan

Happy New Year everybody! It’s been a long time since I’ve written. I hope you all had a great Christmas and a fun New Years. I’ve enjoyed the emails I’ve gotten from you, and hope to email more often… though I’m not the best at frequent emails. I truly love Japan and am keeping myself very busy. Much has happened since I last wrote… I’ll try to remember the highlights:

Last time I wrote I had gone to Okinawa – south of Japan. Since then, the town I live by (Karatsu) had their yearly festival (kunchi), I’ve also traveled to Kyoto in Japan and over the holidays traveled to Thailand! I'll try not to write a novel - here it goes:

First things first:

Kunchi was awesome! It is one of the most popular festivals in all of Japan with way over 30,000 people coming to experience it. It is a 3 day event (Nov.2-4) where 14 floats are pulled through the streets by teams of people. The floats are all over 400 years old representing Samurais and fish just to name a couple. Each float represents an area of Karatsu and includes traditional drumming (taiko) being played and responsive chanting ("Enya, Enya, Enya") and cheering as each float is being pulled through the street- it takes over 100 people to pull the floats ranging from 6 years old and up. Each float is an amazing art display of skill and color. The atmosphere of the town during this time is of pure celebration. Several times as I just walked down the streets, strangers would invite me into their home for huge feasts. It was so much fun. I’m excited to see it again next year.

Next, I traveled to Kyoto. It was amazing. It is the most culturally rich city in Japan. Its cultural gravity is so great; it was intentionally spared from any bombings during WWII. There are over 100 temples and shrines (totally guessing here ?) and amazing gardens throughout the city. I spent 4 days here and saw maybe a third of what I wanted to see. Being from such a young country, it’s overwhelming to be surrounded with such deep history. I went with 3 other friends that are in the JET program. I’m limited to how many pictures I can attach with this email; which is too bad. Attached are a picture of a Geisha doing a tea ceremony and a picture of the Golden Pavilion (kinkakuji). We went over thanksgiving break, which turned out to be the best time to go. The fall colors here are amazing and we happened to catch them right at the peak of their color. The area is full of maple trees and the gardens are so thoughtfully designed that it accentuated the rich colors. Because of this it was peak tourist season and was packed with travelers… and therefore things were more expensive than usual. If you are curious about Kyoto, I’d be happy to send more information and pictures of my travels. Such a short description of this place does a huge injustice to the experience.

Next, I traveled to Thailand for the holidays. The plans came up quickly and I had no time to talk to many of you who traveled and lived there before. It was spectacular! For 2 weeks I traveled around southern Thailand hopping from one island to another.

What an experience- my first Christmas without snow and I was more concerned about getting sunburned while enjoying swimming on sugar-sand beaches surrounded by palm and coconut trees. Just paradise. I went to Ko Sukorn, Ko Lanta, Ko Pangan, and Bangkok. I had no time to travel to the north but if I’m able to go back I will. To stop this from being a novel, I’ll stop here for Thailand, if you want to know more, just ask.

As for my normal life outside of teaching in schools, I’m kept very busy. I have my pottery wheel set up in my house and throw Mondays, Tuesdays I still teach English to a 33 yr. old guy whose family runs one the most traditional and beautiful Japanese Inns (Ryokan) in all of Kyushu if not Japan. Wednesdays I teach English to a potter’s son (Nakazato Taureroman) and in exchange I get to help in their studio all day every Saturday and sometimes am able to make pots there - though they usually just treat me as another apprentice which is awesome!- i'm pretty lucky.

Thursdays I either trim pots I made on Mon. or go to Capuera – a Brazilian martial art / dance. Fridays are open for my leisure to spend with friends.

Saturday I spend at the Potter’s studio until around 6pm, and Sundays I rest and prepare lessons for the upcoming week.

I’m having a blast and making good friends. I’ve been able to see many wood-firings and it’s been a blast learning Japanese- it’s so much fun.

I hope you are all well, send me an email.