Back in London, flew back at Halloween – on a strangely timeless, blue sky daylight flight that took 12 hours but because of the 9 hour difference was officially compressed into about 4 hours. Back to a mild Autumn evening, streets ablaze with evening sun and flurries of brittle orange leaves.

Where to start? First, with prayers for Amami – where, ironically I never got to go. But hope to when I return to Japan one day, hopefully not too far in the future. I now have dozens of new friends and extended family there.

So what happened? In short, a typhoon. Which hit Amami with full force, the night before I was due to fly there from Tokyo.  All flights from Haneda were cancelled due to heavy rain. At Haneda, the domestic airport, I connected with a cute lesbian couple – we all looked at each other, said ‘Grandmothers?’ and realised we were spirit family and would travel together – 3 witches on the way to the moot. One of us was Japanese-American, and on something of a homecoming pilgrimage to connect with ancestors from Kagoshima – which was the closest that we could get to Amami. In our broken Japanese, we managed to reroute our flight there, naively expecting to press onto Amami. Until we saw Youtube footage of what was happening there. 3 dead, 81 missing, roads blocked by mudslides, cars piled up floating upside-down like matchboxes, power lines down and rain continuing to pound down in sheets.  I was struggling with tears of disappointment – it was clear we could not go –  a boat was suggested as a possibility but would have been very foolish and dangerous. Also, we had no idea where the Grandmothers were or whether they had been hurt. We tried to keep our morale up.  I have never been more grateful for such excellent travelling companions – now friends for life.

It was at this point that I spotted Grandmother Clara – our event host, walking randomly in the airport cafe, looking relaxed and cheerful. From then on, events and people seemed to magnetize in a magical way. A whole entourage, from Nagoya, (where the Grandmothers had been staying) was at large in the cafe – it seemed everyone had had the same idea – go to Kagoshima, the Southern tip of the mainland.

Suddenly in the company of new friends, we all relaxed and got booked into Kirishima Royal Hotel – expensive but absolutely magical. Taxi ride there alive with conversations in Japanese and English about synchronicity, past lives and how it was all meant to be.  We stayed overnight in surreal style, sleeping 3 to a room on traditional tatami and swimming in an Onsen (traditional hot spring bath) the size of some kind of shangrila paradise film set. In the morning we walked in pristine alpine woodland and got lessons in Shinto from our companions. By noon we were viewing local waterfalls and dining at a local ‘slow food’ restaurant – our conversations and friendships building all along the way.

By mid-afternoon, we had all booked into a new hotel, also in Kirishima – underneath an active volcano –  an area known for being a national geopark nature reserve, steeped in spirit and prayer, and renowned Shinto sites. Grandmother Clara had decided that, whilst not Amami, this land was holy and sacred in its own right and would be our new base for the event. Before we could even settle we were whisked off to the local shrine for more prayers and walks. Hard to describe how high emotions were running, hopes and fears… the cherished event seemed to be in tatters and yet currents were in motion to suggest that it could be saved. Over the next 24 hours, all the Grandmothers started arriving from Nagoya, also a delegation of Ainu Grandmothers from Hokkaido. Plus many interpreters, also the much revered sacred ceremonial singer from Amami. By dusk, we were all gathered in the hotel lounge, many exhausted and in tears, making formal introductions and getting ready to recreate the event, albeit a day later. The hotel staff were angelic in their patience and resourcefulness and let us build a ceremonial fire and requisition a room for the council meetings. The next 4 days were a highly emotionally charged procession of events. Gradually, as systems were repaired, more and more people trickled in from Amami where they’d been trapped. Each Grandmother had her own ceremony prepared,  themes of indigenous land rights and earth healing grew to embrace prayers for Amami and the weather, and the future – powerful stuff. It need come as no surprise that I got happily roped into the band (!) and found myself drumming and singing with Shamanic pop star Hiro and his friends and family, also celebrated US ceremonial singer Imani. (I think we’re on Youtube somewhere.)

So..it was was it was. More tales to tell, pictures to share. Lucid dreaming and lucid living. Profound healing. A week of shamanising, prayer, blistering Onsen baths and new family bonds forged in national disaster. Repercussions rippling out across the globe. I feel like Bilbo Baggins, stretched a little thin – yet many sizes bigger than before. Many, many excuses to return, and the best bridge possible into a new connection and a possible new way of life in the future.

Much to celebrate. But huge sadness too. The power of the water and the wind was devastating and the clear up job awesome. Livelihoods and people lost – I still have not heard from the travel agent who booked my original hotel, but I hear her house was badly damaged. The Grandmothers encouraged all to think of it as a cleansing, a statement from the gods, maybe the rehearsal for times to come – as 2012 prophecies seem to suggest. But…it’s rough on the people who get caught up in it. Unfair and tragic and awful to have elderly relatives drowned and concussed and lost under rubble. None of it made the international media, but it stopped news in Japan. I will never forget the faces of pristine, ultra polite news readers trying not cry. I could write a book on what I perceive as similarities between Japan and the United kingdom…but just one, is that we are  islands, surrounded by water and weather, and that we should not take for granted the peace and quiet of the elements.

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