Friday, July 30, 2010

So Long Japan, and Thanks for all the Fish

Although I only got home around 1 in the morning, Tuesday, July 20th was a holiday because of the festival that weekend. Although I don’t remember much from that day, I’m fairly certain I cleaned more. That night was my farewell party with Yayoi.

We went for soba and other party foods at a local restaurant. There, I was treated to a speech from Momose Sensei, where he thanked me for the group, saying kind things like how I understood the students well, could be counted on for fun lessons in advance, and that I was always kind to the kids. It was a very kind speech, and a very special night.

Wednesday was another farewell party with some of the Adult Students again, but much smaller this time, and we went for Unagi (eel), a summer specialty. It was delicious if you’ve ever had the stuff, and we bid farewell to each other yet again, as it was the last time I could see them before going home.

On Thursday was my last day at Tatsuno High School. The kids were well behaved, and we played games for my last 2 classes with them. I was very happy for the last class when I said “good morning” the whole class greeted me back. I knew I could finish on a high note. After school, many students came by with many different presents, and we talked for a good while.

When I wasn’t busy, I wrote up thank you cards with my email to other teachers, and gave them parting presents. I couldn’t find any Canadian wine anywhere; so then I looked for Maple cookies. Alas I couldn’t find those either, so I got other cookies, and they were well received. That night we had our farewell party together at another restaurant in Ina. It was delicious again, and Komagome Sensei tried to keep up with me; we had over 2 liters each.

Of the 5 teachers, 3 have been teaching with me for the whole 3 years. Only Kumagai Sensei couldn’t make the party, because he got the chicken pox or something, and has been in the hospital for weeks. Komagome sensei was tasked with my farewell speech, and had many kind words for me, like how I taught him much more than just teaching, and that he would miss me dearly. We all had a hard farewell, the Japanese kind where they stood at the restaurant waving at me until I walked out of sight. I will miss them deeply.

I caught myself taking pictures and movies of mundane things; pictures of my desk, the hallway, driving north, my train station, and more. Even when I look at them now, they bring back good memories, and I’m happy to have records of them. When I look at the pictures of my friends, and those who came to wish me well, I am flooded with recollections of the good times we shared.

After parties everyday, Friday night was more subdued for a chance of respite. I went out for a simple supper with Thi while we waited for Richard to get out of his work party and then had an early night. On Saturday we met up with Sorin and Molly, and went for a quick swim in the Tenryu River near a campground I visited last year.

It was still beautiful, surrounded by rich green trees and grass. We even saw some snake skins lying around. We jumped into the water and cooled down, as the hot summer days of late were very taxing. It’s amazing how a hot, hot day quickly becomes a nice day when you’re out swimming.

We went to Okaya after and saw the movie “Inception” because with a movie rumored to be this good, you need to see it before you hear spoilers; otherwise it would have been a tough call to pick between seeing it, and Toy Story 3. It was a really good movie as we were told, and I still look forward to seeing the new Toy Story sometime, though now it’ll have to be in Canada.

That night, Neal’s friend Michelle was celebrating her birthday at the castle. For it, they had a keg after eating monstrous hamburgers. It was a really good idea for a party, and we played Frisbee in the dark because it had little lights built in. Other teachers came by, and more farewell words were shared; it’s interesting to see how large exoduses play out among social circles.

On Sunday we had more time to take a slightly longer drive to that breathtaking waterhole near Komagane. I hadn’t been there since my welcome party 3 years ago, where I met many people for the first time. It’s funny how things came full circle, as this was my last Sunday in Japan.

It was still a splendor to behold, and still icy to jump in. This time I had the courage to jump, but hit the bottom after a small jump. I guess taking off from high up was not meant to be, but it didn’t stop us from having fun. After a couple hours of this, we started to pack up, and were hit by a monsoon.

The downpour was wicked, and Richard went scrambling for the car to pick us up. As we drove out of it though, it was an interesting freak storm that affected just a small area, climbing over the Alps and washing a line from East to West; just a couple kilometers north and south were dry. It sure was cool to see.

That night was my last farewell party, and it was at Mervin’s house. We only decided on it Friday maybe, and I didn’t really invite anyone. Mervin made some calls though, and it was a fun little gathering with lots of freshly made food from some of his Pilipino friends.

On Monday I taught my last 2 classes in Japan, and that night went to my favourite restaurant, kappa sushi, for the last time. I met up with 7 others, and lined up all my favourite dishes for pictures and consumption. I went to that restaurant maybe every week, and have a profound love for sushi and wasabi thanks to it.

I traded farewells with other people I wouldn’t be seeing again before Thursday, and that night, I slept on the floor of my empty house. I had a cushion I would throw in the garbage in the morning, but despite that, I am very proud of the way I was able to clean up everything in my house and get ready to go; it’s own type of therapy. I realized that I had been cleaning for over 5 weeks, and having hard farewells with many good friends for over 2 weeks that I was all played out.

I had made my peace with Japan, was all cried out, and ready to move on with my life.

On Tuesday I gave my farewell speech to Yayoi and never broke down like I did at Tatsuno thanks to my newfound closure. I got choked up obviously, and so were my kids, and we were able to be happy about our time together in unison. When I walked through the gym this time where they parted and clapped their hands, some would come and shake my hand. I patted some backs, waved, and we all celebrated the joy that was my tenure here.

It was another busy day, as they all have been, with thank you cards, gifts, last minute errands such as cleaning out my bank, handing over my car and house keys, paperwork and more. When it was time, I shook hands, hugged some, and made my way to the door (after throwing my shoes in the garbage; there wasn’t any room in my luggage)

To my surprise, everyone followed me. Soon I was leading a procession to the door, and was joined by other teachers along the way that took notice. At the entrance we ran into even more people, and the girls softball team. I wanted one last picture together, and everyone was happy to oblige. They gave me thanks; I shed my last tears, and had another long walk home, with everyone standing at the entrance, waving to me until I was out of sight. I now understand why they do that in Japan, and it touched my soul.

I went home and finished filling my suitcases. Took my last photos of my empty house, and tried to make the “5-minute” walk with all of my heavy luggage; it took half an hour. I hoped to catch up with Richard for one last beer together, but was obviously falling behind time. He ran up the hill though to shake my hand and bid me farewell before quickly running to his own bus, one taking him to Tokyo and later Vietnam. I hope he has a good trip like what Neal and I had 2 years ago.

I somehow made it to my train on time. I rode it for an hour north, taking in my surroundings, and the novelty of riding a train. Craig and Lauren picked me up at the station, and together we joined Kayo for some subs. A novelty food in Japan, sure, but it was delicious, and it was great to see my good friends again before I left.

Craig took me to Mervin’s after, where I could size up a scale and have an idea of what I was looking at. My large bag was over 10kg overweight. My heart sunk when I saw that, and started doing major surgery to its insides. Some presents had to be thrown out, most of my socks and underwear, and many articles of clothing filled one of Mervin’s garbage bags. While it was fraught with tough calls, it was encouraging to know I was that much closer to being ready for Thursday.

We watched ‘The Shawshank Redemption” that night before going to sleep, and laughed at how we could draw awkward analogies to my departure and that classic film. In the morning, Wednesday, I took the 5-minute taxi to the train station, and it cost twice what my half hour train to Matsumoto was. I sure won’t miss the taxis here, but atleast it took my luggage for me. In Matsumoto, there was a fleet of taxis, all with running engines of course, but it’s a lot easier now to not let things bug me.

Neal came and picked me up, and I parked my luggage at his house. He had work, so I could relax that morning, and later we got lunch; my last bowl of ramen. After lunch I cancelled my cell phone, and looked for a couple presents with not much luck; I hardly had any luggage space after all.

Neal joined me later, and together with Michelle we had all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ for my last supper in Japan. After, we played games at Neal’s house. It was a long hot day, and I was ragged from all the activities as of late, but was still grateful for chance to spend time with my good friend before leaving.

On Thursday morning, I was awakened to Neal making me breakfast. I was exhausted, but forced myself out of bed to try and make the most of our time together. It was short lived, as before long the airport taxi was calling. For $20 than making my own way to the airport, it would pick me up and take me straight there; a huge convenience, especially considering all my bags.

We both refused to say ‘goodbye’ to each other, and instead we look forward to the next time we can meet up again. I’ve said it before (and believe it) with other friends of course, though saying it to the last friendly face before leaving still made me choke up, and I told him to have a good day in an effort to break some of the somber overtone. Life is a celebration, not a funeral. I will miss my dear friend.

So there I was, at the airport, typing this up while waiting for the flight that will end “Anthony’s Amazing Asian Adventure.” I handed in my foreigner card, checked in my luggage, and was even stopped in a random security check. The police saluted me when they walked off, thanking me for my 3 years of service here.

I’m ready to go home, and I am forever grateful for making the best decision of my life by coming here. 3 years have come and gone, and I consider myself a lucky man to have experienced it, to have had the chance to learn and grow from it, and to meet all the amazing people that I have. To all my friends I made here in Japan, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You will be missed, and you will never be forgotten. To all my friends and family back home in Canada, thank you for your love and support, and I will see you soon.

Until we meet again, have a good one and take care ^_^


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