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Flying Home August 5, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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I’ve been at my keyboard for some moments now and the words are yet to flow. My time in Japan is over. Today is the last day of my contract and tomorrow I will board a plane back to England. This time last year, I was arriving in Tokyo for the Orientation Programme and now, with what feels like much less than a year behind me, I am saying goodbye to the country that has housed me.

It’s easy to get maudlin and reflect on how brilliant it’s been at times like this. My life is once again condensed into 3 bags and I find myself once again jobless and homeless. But Japan hasn’t been a walk in the park. It’s been harder than I thought it would at times, but much easier than I expected at others. It’s made me feel frustrated and impotent as there were many opportunities where hands were tied by etiquette or serf-like worship of occupational superiority. When I first arrived in Kuga, I cried and told myself that within two months I would be home. Add 10 to that and that is where we find ourselves today. Has it made me a better person? Maybe. Am I glad I stuck it out? Yes, indeed.

But life moves on. I’m writing this at just gone 7am, me not being able to sleep thanks to the copious amounts of adrenaline being shit through my system. This morning I will say goodbye to Brooke and Wakabayashi and board a train for Tokyo. The prospect of finishing packing with my bags as full as they already are is enough to keep anyone awake.

On Sunday, I joined Martin, my English teacher and his family for karaoke. His two daughters are in classes of mine at my favourite elementary school and so they both know me. Karaoke was fun, especially as there were lots of children’s songs being sung and I got to see the weird animation with which they entertain their kids here. Afterwards, we all went for sushi and I wasn’t allowed to pay for my share, rather directed to donate a pittance just for show. So an afternoon in good company with good food and entertainment cost me the equivalent of a fiver. A far reach from Gaz’s karaoke place in London where one is charged £65/hr for the use of a room, drinks on top of that.

Yesterday, having attended the official goodbye meeting with the Head of the Iwakuni Board of Education, I went into Kuga Chugakko one last time to see the teachers. It being the school holidays, not many were in, but I got to see a few. The school nurse sought me out to give me a present which lies still wrapped on my desk. The thing is, it’s a very small package and I want it to stay that way for the time being for packing purposes! What struck me most about this is that I’ve swapped very few words with the woman and yet she saw it fit to buy me a parting gift. Martin gave me letters from his two little girls that included photos of them for posterity. As I left school and made my way for the last time through the tennis courts, I was set upon my the boys tennis club, who always saw me off after every day at Junior High. It kind of made it real that it was over.

The thing is, I’m not sad. I know that to stay another year would be a huge mistake. But I also know that the idea of ‘the future’ is scary and unknown. I relish the challenge however, and hope that this year abroad has helped expand my horizons. Who knows what it will bring…

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Mama (and Papa), Welcome To Japan August 1, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Travel.
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I’m a bad blogger. What can I say? It’s been almost 2 weeks since I last wrote, but I have been entertaining my parents like a dutiful son, so I hope you don’t hold it against me for too long.

My parents arrived on Saturday 19th July and I met them on the Shinkansen and brought them back to Kuga. They were tired, but we journeyed to Joyfull, a Little Chef type restaurant that sells edible food at incredibly cheap prices. It was there that my mum discovered a taste for a local tipple called umeshu which is plum wine.

The next day, we didn’t travel too far afield – into Iwakuni. We toured around the castle area and the Kintai Bridge. We had some sushi and that evening, a group of us went to Sanzoku to try the amazing chicken on a stick they serve.

Monday 21st was a bank holiday and we went to Hiroshima to pay our respects at the A Bomb Dome and visit the museum. We did a little shopping and generally strolled around and then went to Miyajima to see the Itsukashima shrine and the floating Torii gate. My mum got too hot, so my dad and I went off to walk around the mountainside town, taking photos of typically Japanese architecture. We got back to my house quite early, so we could pack for the next day.

On Tuesday, we were out of the house very early to get to Fukuoka to catch our flight to Naha, Okinawa. Okinawa Prefecture lies between Japan and Taiwan and used to belong to a Kingdom called the Ryukyu. At the airport, as my dad and I went to get my mum a drink, we saw lots of cameras and people crowding around the exit to an executive lounge. Hanging around just to see who it was, imagine our surprise when none other than the Emperor of Japan strolls out and boards a flight to Sapporo!

Anyway…Naha is similar to a lot of Japanese cities (which, on the whole, are ridiculously ugly), but it has a much more Asian feel to it. Everyone seems a lot more laid back than on the mainland and I now think I would rank it as one of my favourite Japanese cities. It was also where my parents discovered their secret karaoke diva sides!

The next morning heralded another early start. Our ferry left Naha Port at 8:30am, bound for Kumejima, a small island 4 hours off the coast of Okinawa proper. Along the journey, we saw a hell of a lot of flying fish and generally it passed without incident. We got to the hotel, checked in early and made our way to Eef Beach. Supposedly one of Japan’s top 100 beaches, we had a good time, but the beach was littered with coral debris and the water was very shallow, no matter how far you went out. That said, the waters were as clear as you could ever want and as warm as a bath. I did some snorkeling and saw a puffer fish and an octopus. All in all, despite a little sunburn, a great day.

The next day, we lounged around inside; the midday sun being much too strong for us to venture outside. Getting the free bus that our hotel ran, we went onto Ojima, next to Kume, to see the Turtle Conservation Project where we got to see baby turtles. We also visited Tatami-ishi, which are pentagonal and hexagonal shaped rocks that stretch out into the sea. Apparently it was caused where lava solidified and then melted and solidified once again. Either way, it was quite impressive and we swam off the coast from there. Everyone was agreed that it was better than Eef Beach. The sea was as warm as the day before, but this time we could stand up and the water would cover our shoulders. I did some more snorkeling and that evening we enjoyed another good meal at the Eef Beach Hotel.

The following day, the 25th, we were back on the boat and into Naha. Cue another meal out followed by karaoke. That was our last night in Okinawa and on 26th we made our way back to Fukuoka. On the train back, we changed at Tokuyama, where there had been some type of festival. The train was packed, but in true Japanese style, no one had enough courage to sit next to me, the foreigner!

We spent a lot of the next morning packing everything up as it was the last time my parents would be in Kuga. Loaded up with bags, we travelled to Osaka, saw the castle and the Aquarium and had an amazing meal out – sort of a Japanese tapas. The next day, Monday 28th, was a bit of a washout. It started brilliantly and we went to Universal Studios, enjoying the first 3 rides we went on. Then a thundercloud broke overhead and we were held for an hour inside, unable to throw off the guard keeping us there for our own safety. Eventually, having escaped, we found that most of the park had been shut down with no real chance of them opening anything back up again. So we spent about £50 for 3 rides. Not the best day of the holiday, if I’m honest.

Kyoto was our destination for the next day. We made the trek out to the west edge of the city to see the Golden Temple, Kinkakuji. Coming back into the central area, we toured some more and I bade my parents farewell and came back to Kuga. They have since made their way to Tokyo and will be on a flight shortly after I finish this.

Back here, I’m just wrapping things up – closing accounts, paying final bills, packing. I feel very lazy because I’ve not done a lot of that stuff just yet, but I know that I’ll have to get my arse into gear at some point and do it. Ah well – once Tuesday rolls round, I’ll be saying goodbye to Kuga and getting the Shinkansen up to Tokyo for my last night in Japan.

Till next time!