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A New World

I feel guilty for falling asleep so soon after the wedding last night and missing out on the partying afterward. This is my first thought as I wake up at around 4am in Japan, over six thousand miles away from home. Jet-lag had been kept at bay with small naps, but all the excitement, food, sake from my brother’s wedding, and sitting for so long in a traditional (and torturous) kimono had wiped me out. As I rise from bed, I am careful not to wake my sister, and I put on my slippers and head upstairs to the windows.

From where I stand on the resort balcony, peering down the hillside, I see Lake Ashi spread beneath me and to my left. There is a small bay where the land stretches an arm out into the water. Lights twinkle around the bay from the shops and up winding paths which peek through the spring foliage of trees. An imposing mountain stands at the far end of the lake in front of me, its tip obscured by fog which shrouds around, hinting at more mountains in the distance. Everything is cast in a bluish haze from the fog that's barely being lit by the sun about to rise behind all the cloud.

A chorus of birds chirps their morning songs. A frog peeps in the distance. I am suddenly not so sad to have slept so early.

The fog rolls away, seemingly into nothingness. The last two days have been filled with rain and this is the first time I've been able to see the shore across the lake. A glint of color catches my eye. A red structure seems to call to me from the distance.

I hastily grab my passport and a few yen and, as the sky lights up, I jog down the road that winds up to our rental house and down to the lake town, Hakone. I slow to a stroll as I pass fishermen who have just come down to the water's edge. There is no sand or dirt shore here and the stone edging disappears under the water.

I hear a small splash and the water ripples from a point not too far from the edge. I peer over hoping to see a fish, when a small, black duck with a white bill pops up from having dived down for weeds. I pass tourist cruise docking points that are dark and empty, either not in season or too early for activity. I see a couple more of the black ducks, and this time they make noise I've never heard before, and louder than I expected. I cross over a small bridge, and a small golf cart-like vehicle passes me. People are starting to go about their day as the sun finally rises.

As I'm rounding the bay area, the road extends into some woods, but before I reach it, I see a peculiar, almost fenced-in area just under the water. It is a small section lined with wooden posts, their tops sticking just over the surface. The road ascends as it wraps around the bay, so as I walk up I can see down into the shallow enclosure.

To my delight, I see three huge black fish! Each maybe three feet long and swimming closely together. They leisurely drift along, their noses lightly pressing into the fish ahead of them. Then one turns around and the other two follow suit. They swim back and forth a couple times until they drift over to a gap and slip through ever so slowly, then quickly disappearing into the depth beyond. Having been distracted by fish... I continue on my adventure!

I step back onto the road, underneath the shade of the tall, thin pines. Trees now obscure my view of the water, but I know I’ll be at the edge again to find what I came looking for. You see, from my view at the house, I saw an enormous, wooden gate across the bay. So with purpose, I continue forward along the ascending forest road. I pass wooden fences with foreign characters inscribed on each post and stone structures that look like they may have served as lanterns centuries ago. I come across what appears to be an abandoned tourist point and I cross a pedestrian crosswalk. I know this must lead to the gate.

Stone steps lead me back to the direction of the water. Birds sing above me, their songs unfamiliar to my ears. The tall pines edge each side, leading me further down. Two more of the stone lanterns stand at the base, a character chiseled into each one. And there in front of me, extending into the water... Reaching 40 feet high into a now clear and bright sky... The huge, red gate.

I walk forward onto the stone base which descends gradually into the calm water. The sun is rising just over the mountains to my left, reflecting brightly off the water and casting long, morning shadows. I ponder about what I’m standing on. Perhaps it had been a docking point? I've seen similar gates elsewhere, even within this same town at its entrance road, and I had seen a tremendously huge one at the entrance to a park in Tokyo.

But I let my thoughts slip away from me and just stand here beneath the structure. My shoes almost touch the water that laps lazily at the stone. The sun mirrors off the tops of the ripples. A duck drifts slowly past me. I listen to the sounds of unique birds singing their own songs. The day is fresh and the smell in the air is clean. I haven’t traveled halfway around the world, I've found a completely new one.

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