By Cheranka Mendis
She might not be a Sri Lankan, but Sachiyo Iwase with her long black hair and slanted eyes knows Sri Lanka like the back of her hand. She has walked for miles in sweltering heat, been woken in the middle of the night by cruel biting mosquitoes, climbed big rocks, walked among ruins and endured through the horn-blaring traffic of Sri Lanka.
Do not be deceived by her naturally straight black hair that falls down her forehead and slanted eyes, she might be Japanese but for her Sri Lanka is her second home.
A writer with a note pad, address book and a pen always in her handbag, Iwase has got the best deal of mixing business with pleasure. A freelance travel writer, Iwase is a Sri Lankan enthusiast and considers her time here a relaxing experience.
She was the winner of the ‘Best Foreign Journalist Promoting Sri Lanka’ at the Tourism Awards 2010 held at the Waters Edge a week ago. Having travelled down to Sri Lanka 21 times since her first ever visit in 2002 on assignment, Iwase has seen the deep blue of the ocean, the greenery of the hills and the old ruins and heritage sites but still, there is so much more that has gone unnoticed, she noted.
“My first visit here was for a piece on Ayurveda. I was so surprised when I learnt about the ayurvedic medicines and practices in Sri Lanka,” Iwase said.
“From what I know Sri Lanka inherited this art of practices many years ago, almost close to 2000 years. You have preserved the best of it all these years and is now using it for all the right reasons.
It was very interesting for me and also exciting.” Her next visit was to report on shopping and hotels and things to do in Colombo. And since then she has been a constant traveller.
“This country is so small but there are so many things happening here. There are beautiful gifts of nature, gems, elephants, and other resources available in abundance.
There are also all kinds of climates in the country- Sri Lanka suits everyone in every mood.” Enthusiastic in her praises on the island home, Iwase expressed that she feels that this is her fate. “It’s in my fate to be here and to enjoy and discover the little treasures of Sri Lanka”
Iwase expresses with a laugh, “I wrote two books to tell you I love Sri Lanka.” In her blog, (http://blogs.dion.ne.jp/ayubowan) Iwase writes, “I write but I cannot convey the charm of Sri Lanka.”
Her two books- ‘In Sri Lanka alone- Buddhist Ayurveda mind’ and ‘Green island of Sri Lanka Ayurveda’ goes on to explore two areas that she is very interested in- Buddhism and Ayurveda.
“In Japan we practice the Mahayana Buddhism whereas in Sri Lanka its Theravada. This is what got me interested and looking into the Buddhism practised in Sri Lanka.
I wanted to see the difference and similarities between the two areas. What I did realize is that no matter what people say Buddhism is an integral part of the community and its beliefs and practices.”
Iwase draws the South West Coast as the most visited part of the country by her.
The many ayurvedic hotels there has been a major lure for her. “I love the Sigiriya rock fortress.
It’s impressive and to get there- it’s like you pass on nothingness and then suddenly the rock looms over everything,” she recalled. She does not like King Kasyapa, she said, “I have heard the story and I must say I despise him because of what he did. But it’s a beautiful structure.” Anuradhapura Sri Maha Bodhi is another one of her favourite haunts. She also loves Trincomalee, and Weligama beach stretch and makes faces when saying that Unawatuna is too “yucky” for her taste.
“This is a healing country. Here you find solace- peace in body and mind,” she said. “May it be a walk on the beach, wind blowing or just watching the elephants it is healing.”
She does not hesitate to recommend the island to anyone, “More Japanese people should come here. They need to come here and think about life.”
She also likes the food and comments that Sri Lankans use a lot of vegetables in the dishes which makes it healthy eating. Her favourite however is something that fits “not-very-healthy-eating”’- Godamba roti and seeni sambol.
Going into how she became a writer, Iwase said that she had always wanted to travel and always wanted to write. “When the opportunity came I grabbed it with both hands.” Her first job (in the 1980s) was as an assistant in a magazine on Volkswagen Beatles from there on she went to a restaurant and hotel based magazine as a writer. And now she travels extensively writing.
Here for a whole month, Iwase commented that however beautiful Sri Lanka is there is much more to be done. Relic and other historical areas must be conserved more than what is done now and staff at hotels- even in plush Colombo hotels need to be trained on customer care. Little things can both make a person happy or sad, she said, Sri Lanka should concentrate on doing more of the former.