My recent column painted a pretty bleak picture of my life in JET in the age of COVID-19. However, these past two years have given me some of the greatest experiences of my life. I’ve put together a bit of a “highlight reel” of the best of times. There were extraordinary moments that caused me to truly appreciate the surreal and wonderful madness of moving to Japan.

Memories that will forever pop in my mind as quintessential to the time I spent here. I’ve organized my highlights into seasons, beginning with spring. Everything in Japan begins and ends with spring.

We’ve driven for hours out into the mountains. No combination of words could adequately describe the wild beauty of the forests and rivers that adorn the mountainous terrain of Tottori. Tucked away in the fairy tale forest, at the top of a mountain lies a magical place. It’s Mitaki-En, a gourmet restaurant and farm. Every ingredient is locally harvested or foraged from the surrounding woods. Chickens run freely around the property, and beverages are chilled in the crystal clear stream that courses through the area. Somewhere in the distance, the sound of a waterfall washes over us as we take in the unparalleled natural serenity. You can choose to dine outdoors or inside the traditional Japanese house. Normally, my friends are jovial and talkative, but we are so moved by the peaceful magnificence that we can only whisper. We enjoy a stunningly prepared and delicately delicious vegetarian meal that stars the freshest produce I’ve ever tasted. The little obasan (aunt) that owns the restaurant takes a liking to us, and treats us to fresh homemade kinako (roasted soybean flour) mochi and tea that is prepared over a traditional fire pit in one of the houses. We then spend hours exploring the hidden paths that weave through the forest. There is something healing in the air there, something magical. I left Mitaki-En feeling calmer and more centered than when I entered.

SPRING SNAPSHOTS ­— (Clockwise from left) Mika Osaki and friends soaked in the beauty at Mitaki-En, a gourmet restaurant and farm in the mountains in Tottori Prefecture. photo by Mika Osaki

A friend of ours who owns our favorite local cafe invites some American friends and I to his home for dinner with a mutual Japanese friend. We arrive, and see the gourmet spread that he’s cooked. The wine I brought feels inadequate compared to the beautiful dishes he’s prepared, but he smiles and accepts it graciously. One of the American friends I arrived with gives him flowers, and our Japanese friends start to laugh. They explain that the flowers we brought are for a butsudan, or family altar. We had essentially brought funeral flowers as a host gift. We laugh and tell them it’s very common to bring flowers as a gift in America, and are grateful they found it funny instead of morbid. It comes time to open the wine I brought, so I ask the host for a corkscrew. He tells us he doesn’t have one. My American friend then attempts to open it using a butter knife, which of course goes poorly. The cork pops violently into the bottle, and red wine splatters all over the room like debris from a bomb. We frantically clean it up as our host is in absolute stitches laughing at the spectacular disaster we’ve created. Luckily, nothing in the house was stained. We spend the rest of the evening eating, drinking, laughing and reminiscing. It’ll take an hour and half for a cab to arrive to take us home from out in the country (inaka problems), so we opt to walk 45 minutes home in the rain, singing and laughing along the way.

It’s golden hour during sakura season, and I’m hiking up the Tottori Castle ruins. My friends are en route, but they have to drive an hour to get here.

Mika Osaki and friends took in the blooming sakura at the Tottori Castle ruins. photo by Kai Kojimoto

As the only one who lives in this city, I’m on my own for now. I walk around the site, admiring the splendor of the blossoms. The hillside of the Tottori Castle ruins has some of the most incredible hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in Tottori. The sun begins to set, and the warm tones of pink and orange give the blossoms a gentle, radiating glow. I soak in the view of the city framed by the delicate sakura. Then, in that perfect way that Japanese sunsets do, for a few moments the entire sky becomes a shade of deep burnt orange that explodes into a brilliant crimson. The blossoms are set ablaze.

It’s so breathtaking that I become misty. My friends arrive just in time. Standing there with them watching that sunset and looking out at the city I call home during the peak of sakura season was one of the most perfect moments of my life.

When I think of spring in Japan, these are the memories that come to heart. Moments of joy, and of beauty. I’m grateful.

Mika Osaki is a Yonsei and a recent college graduate. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up deeply involved in SF’s Japantown community. She is currently living in Tottori city, Japan as an English teacher with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. She can be reached at The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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