Goodbye Japan!

Leaving Japan was the most emotionally draining experience of my life. Rather, leaving my friends, colleagues and students in Japan was the most emotionally draining experience of my life. After all the places I’d visited, all the festivals I’d seen and all the experiences I had, I realised they were meaningless compared to the people I’d become friends with doing them.

I’ll tell my last week in Japan through photos.

Final day at Takefu Daini Junior High School

Two years on and I was stood in front of the sea of students and teachers once again, but this time I knew them and they knew me. The principle introduced me before I gave a speech in Japanese. You can tell I look nervous in this one!

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After getting through my speech, with just a few stumbles, I was a lot more relieved, but wasn’t ready for what was coming next. The teacher acting as MC decided it would be a good idea if I stood at the front of the hall while the students sang the school song! After the first verse, I looked at the students singing and felt so sad that I wouldn’t be seeing them again, I couldn’t help but well up! I avoided any more eye contact with my students and pulled myself together in the third verse, hoping that I could get out of the limelight soon.

I was wrong. The MC made a signal for some music to begin and the first few bars of ‘Amazing Grace’ came on. He asked me, “You know song? Very good song.” Yes, very good song… for a funeral! What happened next was another surprise planned by the MC, the students parted like they do for a graduation ceremony and I walked through them like a celebrity. Maybe, a bit OTT, but it did make for an unforgettable last day at school!

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Sashimi party!

My supervisor organised a relaxed farewell meal with my closest teachers and I. I chose the restaurant I’d had my first enkai (work party) at because I still remember how good the sashimi (raw fish) and the meter long plate of sushi was. Unlike two years ago, when I’d only eat the salmon, this time I was able to eat and enjoy everything on the sashimi platter, even the big prawns that slipped down a treat!

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image3I’ll never forget these teachers and all they taught me about being a teacher. I have so much admiration for them! They were also kind enough to buy me this amazing cake that says “Otsukaresama deshita” (You’ve worked hard). A very Japanese sentiment.

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As well as the cake, I got presents galore from students and teachers, and enough hand towels to last me my whole life! Giving presents at the end of a job contract is pretty common, but still, I was pretty overwhelmed by the number of people who made an effort to write a goodbye note to me. I’m not quite sure why I was given a marching gorilla, but hey! Thanks! IMG_3631

The final few days

Leaving Japan isn’t easy. There are endless forms to fill out, contracts to end, things to sell, bags to pack and people to say goodbye to. The last couple of days were filled with these chores, all done in the 35’C heat, but in an hour of calm, my friends and I went to take some last photos together. I took the the opportunity to wear my new yukata, because I’m not sure where else I’m going to wear it!P1070883

These guys, the people I’ve shared an apartment block with for the last two years, were the hardest to say goodbye to. We’ve shared so much, laughed ourselves silly and danced until dawn together. I’m so lucky to have got to known these guys, as well as so many other friends in Fukui.

P1070902From Takefu Station to Narita

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After an emotional goodbye at the station, Holly and I were speeding away from our valley in Takefu for the last time. We had to drown our sorrows with some beer in Tokyo!
IMG_3672Then, I spent a sleepless night in a very modern looking capsule hotel that was actually inside Narita airport, so there was no chance of a rerun of the nightmare I had last year when I missed my flight!IMG_3683Flying home

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On the plane there was a Japanese boy in front of me who was excitedly, and slightly annoyingly, looking out the window the whole journey back. As we came over East Anglia and did a circuit over London, I enjoyed pointing out the landmarks and assuring him that those buildings were not in fact castles, but just houses. He was excited as I was when I first flew to Japan and everything looked different to me. Now, I was returning to the UK for the next chapter of my life and that too is very exciting. But the people I met and loved in Japan will never be far from my mind. Thanks for a great two years! 

Living in the present

Last week I had a “Wow! I’m in Japan” moments. It was on the coach ride home from a school trip in Nagoya and I’d just woken up and looked at the stunning scenery outside. In that millisecond I’d remembered I was in Japan, something I used to do in the first few months of moving here. The journey back from Nagoya was reminiscence of when I first saw the green mountains, sea views and rice fields of Fukui nearly two years ago. Now, I’m seeing the world around me in a different light, with the eyes of someone who is leaving and wants to take it all in before I no longer can.

Heron in rice field, Fukui

Traditional Japanese house, Fukui

Sunset over ricefields, Fukui

I will be leaving Japan next month and feel like I’m chugging closer and closer to the top of an emotional roller coaster. I’m sure it will breach when I get on a train to leave Echizen for the last time. At that time, I’ll allow the tears to flow but in the meantime I have a lot to do; forms to fill out, ceramics to send home, clothes to throw out, a car, bike and snowboard to sell and sayonara speeches to give.

View over Echizen

I’ve left places I’ve loved before, and it’s not easy as a place is the setting for so many memories. After four years in Cambridge, I had to leave my antiquated house, my friends and all that went along with them – playing tennis in the afternoons, formal dinners and bike rides along the river. I remember it was a sad journey home, but that is just a reflection of how good a time I had there. If the same theory goes for Japan, I could be crying the whole 12 hours flight back, but hope I won’t be!

The physical packing up and turning the key in the door of my flat will be a poignant moment. The moment that connects the present tense ‘I live here’ to the past tense ‘I lived there.’ I’ve decided to delay packing up my stuff until the last couple of weeks, so I can enjoy the last month with looking at my flat’s bare walls and empty shelves and feeling like a stranger in my own home.

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Yet, as my friend whose read “The Power of Now” has told me, I have to live in the present. To enjoy every day and not reminisce about the past or worry about the future. It’s not easy to do, but knowing I’ve made the most of my time here; travelling far and wide, making close friends and hopefully inspiring a few students along the way.

With only some vague ideas of what I’m going to do when I get home, I will have time to reflect on my Japanese experience by continuing to write this blog, talking to anyone who’s interested and sorting through the thousands of photos I’ve taken (including way too many of rice fields and flowers).

Iris in Fukui

Wisteria in Murasaki Shikibu Park, Echizen, Fukui

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I don’t like making a big deal out of farewells, but I know it’s important to do them well. Of course I’ll be able to keep up with my friends on-line, but it isn’t the same as drinking together on Friday nights and laughing until our sides hurt. What will keep us together are the good, the bad and the embarrassing memories made in here, like the time I misjudged where I should sit in this photo!

Friends

Before I leave Fukui, I want to spend as much time as I can with my friends here. Yet at the same time I’m mentally adjusting to stepping back into my old life, with a new pair of shoes. I’m excited to make up for missed time with my friends and family again but apprehensive about experiencing what they call ‘reverse culture shock’, but is probably less of a ‘shock’ and more of a gradual readjustment to a different lifestyle. It’s going to be a big change, but one I’m looking forward to embracing the ups-and-downs of.

One friend who went through this process last year said, “It all becomes like a dream.” Well if it does, it will be one of the best dreams I’ve ever had.

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