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!
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!
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!
I’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.
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!
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!
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.
From Takefu Station to Narita
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!
Then, 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!Flying home
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!