Will this auto-publish to Twitter?
Hi, everyone. 🙂
I’m going back to Japan for 2 months, and this — my blog from my 2 years on the JET Program a decade ago — seems like the perfect venue for chronicling my travels.
This time around, I’m doing the Shikoku 88-temple pilgrimage: a ~750-mile circuit of the 4th-largest island of Japan (the one where I lived). I have about 6.5 weeks to do as much as I can, from February 27 to mid-April. Preferably I want to walk as much as I can, but I’m not athletic enough and I haven’t trained enough, so trains/buses/taxis will also factor in.
It’s been a shamefully long time since I’ve written anything longform, so I’m a bit rusty. I also don’t know if I’ll feel up to writing regularly, due to how physically strenuous the trip will be (and because typing on an iPad is a pain). I’ll have a physical journal/sketchbook with me, so that, combined with Twitter and Instagram, may make this into a low-key transmedia storytelling experience. And I aim to augment these posts with a map describing where I am.
As a user experience designer, there’s some expectation of a clean, well-designed blog representing myself…and this won’t be that. Form follows function, right? And this will be largely functional. I want to document my experience, first and foremost.
Anyway, it’s less than 48 hours until I depart for Tokyo. From Tokyo I’ll fly to Takamatsu, the 2nd-largest city on Shikoku, and spend the night in Tokushima City before starting the pilgrimage the following morning. The first few temples are in the town of Naruto (yes, I do believe the anime character is named after it), ~30 minutes north.
The route will be flexible. I’ll go largely in order — there are some points where going out-of-order makes the route shorter and more manageable — in a clockwise circuit around the island. I’ll figure out where I’m staying each night as I go. This isn’t a camping trip; while there may be a few nights where I sleep more-or-less outdoors, largely I’ll aim to stay in inns and whichever temples offer lodging.
And I’ll be sure to report on the experience of being a vegetarian hiker, and a nonwhite hiker, and potentially a nonwhite female hiker (intersectionality, etc.). Living in Japan as a vegetarian isn’t so bad if you have a kitchen…which I won’t.
For now, back to packing and prepping; the decade since I last updated this site hasn’t seen me become any less of a procrastinator. 🙂
I should warn you right now, this is going to be one of the longest entries I’ve written in a while…but it’ll be the last long entry from me that you ever read in this blog. This is kind of where it all culminates.
That last post had been sitting there for nearly a month, collecting dust. Luckily, I’d nearly finished the recap already, so all I had to do was recap my 30-hour travel day, though I did leave off the awesome flight attendant on the Denver-Atlanta commuter flight who really had fun with her job and threw around little quips like:
“The cabin lights will soon be dimmed to enhance the beauty of our flight attendants.”
“If there is a change in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead panels. If you are seated next to a child, or someone who’s acting like a child…”
“Thank you for choosing United Airlines out of all the bankrupt air carriers out there.”
“We’ll soon be coming around to collect trash, empty cups, (lists a few other things), credit cards…”
“Please take out the safety information card from your seat pocket and pretend to follow along. This will be your only inflight entertainment, so please watch closely!”
If I weren’t so jetlagged and wavering between misery and panic over the rather expensive and fragile doll I had to check in, I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more.
But I’ve now been back for nearly a month now. Man, how time flies! I’ve been pretty busy ever since I got back–playing catch-up at work, then moving into my own place (I walk to work every day! SWEET), now settling in and buying furniture and getting out and being social, and (as of today) wrapping up work on a big and visible project I’d been slaving away at for the last two weeks.
Oh yeah–I also got my first ever kanji tattoo request, passed on by a very embarrassed coworker of mine. The request was for a tattoo “in Chinese or ‘Asian'” of any of the following:
After I stopped laughing, I sent my colleague a link to Hanzi Smatter to pass on to this guy. It was the most tactful answer I could think of.
Despite my busy schedule, though, I’ve also been putting off updating because I just wasn’t sure what to write here. I knew that this trip would be the last major thing to report in this blog, and the task of drawing to a close (I hesitate to say “ending” or “finishing”) the blog chronicling the most unforgettable two years of my life is really, really daunting.
One thing I can say, though, is that I’ve noticed a marked difference in my attitude and viewpoint since the trip. I’d hoped for this to be a really sweet epilogue, and I’d hoped that this would give me the closure that the end of my JET contract–a pretty abrupt end for any JET Programme participant, no matter how you slice it–unfortunately did not.
And this trip did not disappoint. It was the perfect epilogue, the perfect way to achieve closure. It was as fulfilling as I could have hoped, and I have no real regrets at all. For every former JET who really misses Japan and the people you’ve met there, if it’s within your means, take a trip back within a year or two, to see JET and Japanese friends. Do it!
Every single day, some tidbit of my life in Japan comes to mind. (I also now use my futon set, as well as the circular paper lamps from Loft, so in their own way, they’re constant and quiet reminders.) But now my thoughts are fond memories to brighten my day, not emotionally weighty recollections.
And I’m no longer insecure about all this “successor” business. Life goes on. The only people shocked to see me were the ones who had no idea that I would be there–I got a very warm welcome from everybody, even passing acquaintances around town.
And you know what else? The farewell I received from my junior high this time was what I’d hoped for when I left last year. Even the welcome I received was surprising–teachers I wasn’t even all that close to greeted me warmly, one even clasping my hand in hers in a surprisingly emotional show and telling me how moved she was that I would come all the way back to visit Ikeda.
Upon my final exit last August, the room was mostly empty due to club activities, and nobody, not even I, realized that it would actually be my last time there before my departure, so all I received was a distracted “otsukaresama” and a couple of smiles…but temporal hierarchy seems to surpass emotional intent, and I regretfully do have stronger images of that final afternoon than I do of my own emotional farewell ceremony, which had occurred several weeks earlier, though I don’t mean to cheapen how emotional that ceremony was.
But now, my freshest memory of my junior high now is the vice-principal warmly inviting me to come back to visit as often as I wanted (I only wish I could, but the school will shut down before my next trip back), and all the teachers–all of them–standing up and smiling warmly and bowing. That alone made the money I shelled out for my plane tickets worth it.
My being gone doesn’t mean I’ve become inconsequential to them. Didn’t my eikaiwa ladies constantly give me updates on what my predecessor Dave and his family were up to? (Shizuko even continued to update me during this trip.) How many ALTs were there in Ikeda, in Miyoshi-gun, in western Tokushima before him? That didn’t bother me at all, that they kept referring to my predecessor. It didn’t mean they were hung up on him to the point of distraction when it came to me. And my being gone doesn’t mean that I was any less a part of their lives.
I will always have friends in Tokushima. Ikeda will always be my second home and will always have a very special place in my heart. I can return any time I want, and I know that I will go back again in the future. I know all of this beyond a shadow of a doubt now, and I will never forget these places or the memories they’ve given me.
But that part of my life is over. If it happens that I’ll live in Japan again, then great! But metro Atlanta is my home for at least the next year or two, and I want to really make the most of my time here, reconnect with old friends and meet new people and make the most of it. Without even trying, I’m suddenly able to let go, to stop always reminiscing and making references and looking over my shoulder at where I used to be. I’ll always carry it in my heart, but I’m ready and able to move forward, and since stepping off the plane in Atlanta last March, without even thinking about it, I already have been.
It took me a while to get here, and I’m glad it’s finally happened.
And now that this trip is behind me, with the exception of uploading my photos to Flickr, there really isn’t anything of substance that I can contribute to this site anymore. Its function has been fulfilled. I’m so glad I made the conscious decision in early 2005 to begin writing in here–documenting my thoughts almost daily has helped to cement them, and skimming old entries gives me a good window into that way of life, into that part of my life, and into how I’ve grown (so, so much) and changed over these years.
I may make further cosmetic updates, I may flesh this out into a whole standalone website on my time there. I don’t know yet. But I know that these daily (or weekly, or monthly…) updates are effectively over, and it’s better to end it swiftly and gracefully(?) than to just let it wilt away slowly.
To everybody who’s kept up with my adventures regularly or in passing, to everybody who’s commented, even to people who only have dropped in on very rare occasions…thank you so much. I wrote this for myself, documenting the good with the bad, so it did get long and weighty at times. But I also wanted to put new material out there for future ALTs to help them in the way that the websites of ALTs before me helped me immensely, and based on comments and linkbacks I’ve received, I think it has.
And if you have any questions about Japan or JET, you can comment on any of these entries or e-mail me personally any time. Even if the blog won’t be updating, I’ll still be around.
Tuesday (18 March): walked 45 minutes from Kiet’s place to Kamojima Station (man, that shoulder bag was heavy) and just barely caught my train, went to Julie’s place, repacked my bags, shipped a 10-kilogram (22-pound) box of SXSW/souvenir/clothing stuff via sea mail back home, went to Ikeda and to Terumi’s house, walked to Marusho (Takahide and Masumi’s kimono shop) and visited them because Masumi would be out of town on the day of our eikaiwa parties, called Mitaka (and forgot that in this culture, “I’d love to see everyone in the beginner’s class” translates into “Will you organize a beginner’s party for me?”), went grocery shopping with Terumi and had temakizushi with her and her husband
Wednesday (19 March): after a big breakfast (cheese toast with basil, eggs, salad, coffee, mikan (mandarin orange)–they seriously eat this stuff every day), we drove to Takamatsu in search of a doll (nihon ningyo) for my mother
— store #1: from the time of ordering, it’d take them 2-3 days to make one
— store #2 (You-Me Town): nothing, but we also went to Lush and wandered for a bit
— lunch: after driving for over an hour, after which we realized that our map was totally wrong, we found an Indian restaurant with so-so food, though the Indian chefs subbed chapatis instead of naan for me as a treat
— store #3: had several dolls in stock, and I chose and purchased one
then we came back in time for dinner and had delicious udon and tenpura at Sanuki-ya, and then I got in touch with Julie, and later met up with her and Brian for 2 excellent hours of nostalgic karaoke in Ikawa
Thursday (20 March): a national holiday, so I wanted to leave the day free to spend time with friends; because of rain, the plans people had fell through, but while shopping at Daiso, I got in touch with Ashley and Ange and caught a train out east to Kamojima, where I met them and Kam and Lou for a very late lunch, and then rode back with Ashley to Ikeda, where we had dinner and hung out, then I went back to Terumi’s and we stayed up late talking
Friday (21 March): eikaiwa parties! Beginner’s party was at Toshiya (a coffeeshop/cafe), for 2 hours, and the intermediate party was at Seikai, the old and gorgeous ryokan right next to the community center–the girl waiting on us kindly gave us a tour afterwards at my request, and we got to see the room that Emperor Hirohito (the Taisho Emperor; we’re now in the Heisei era*) stayed in when he visited Ikeda during his tour of Shikoku! Afterwards, I returned to Terumi’s place and loaded my bags into Shizuko’s car, and Shizuko and I headed to Oboke with Katsue to take what ended up being a gorgeous boat ride through the canyon, then back to Shizuko’s house, where we made dinner and hung out with Rie and the rest of the family, and actually ate dinner in their irori room (a tatami room with a hearth built into the floor and a pot hook hanging from the ceiling)
*A note on Showa/Taisho/Heisei and the like: those are names of the periods that each emperor reigned. I was born in Taisho 56, or 1981. The current year, 2008, is Heisei 20. Official Japanese date-keeping involves these years, sometimes concurrently with the Common Era/A.D. dating.
Saturday (22 March): got an early start, and was seen off by Shizuko, Terumi and her husband, and Kazumi, which kicked off nearly 30 hours of traveling: Ikeda to Tokushima by train, Tokushima to Kansai Airport by bus (I slept and just narrowly missed our trip over two of my favorite bridges, the Naruto-Kaikyo and the Awaji-Akashi (longest suspension bridge in the world!), linking Shikoku with Awaji Island and Honshu), then Osaka to San Francisco to Denver to Atlanta; I was really losing it by the time I got to Denver, and had to deal with a kind of bitchy flight attendant who swooped down and ordered me to check the doll I was carrying, which made exhausted/jetlagged me nearly start panicking, but all was well in the end.
I didn’t get a chance to write anything in the lead-up to the trip because I got absolutely slammed. I was at work till 9 PM the night before I flew out, I spent an hour at the post office trying to make the lady at the counter understand the Japanese address format so I could express-mail the reply letters to my students, I had a list of people I “needed” to buy omiyage for and brought an extra bag full of cookies and chocolate and tea and coffee (though I had to leave a few people off the list for my own sanity)…
Then two very relaxed days in Houston happened, I spent some good time with my aunt, and I caught a cold.
Then four less relaxed but fun days in Austin at SXSW Interactive happened. I learned a lot and had fun, but the evenings were boring since I was there by myself. I hope I can come with a friend or colleague next year–it was more web-oriented, so it wasn’t directly relevant to what I do, but it’s where I want to head, and I still got a lot out of it. And Austin is an amazing city.
Then I checked out of my hotel room at 5 AM on Tuesday, caught a 7 AM flight from Austin to San Francisco (half the passengers were SXSW attendees), and caught a slightly uncomfortable and interminable flight at 1 PM to Osaka. Then, as if it were second-nature and I’d never been away, I chatted in friendly Japanese with the immigration and customs agents (and actually, they made the foreigner fingerprinting process painless and cutesy-happy, with smiling anime character images, so I didn’t really register what it was till it was done), dropped off my suitcase for shipping, picked up my gorgeous AU rental cellphone, drew some yen, bought a konbini dinner at Lawson’s (egg sandwich, strawberry yogurt, and mugi-cha), and traveled several more hours by train and shinkansen (I passed some of the time by calling Yaemi and Tomoko and Mayumi–it was so good to talk to them again!) to get to Ikeda, where Julie was waiting to pick me up around 11 PM local time.
The feeling of getting off the JR Shikoku Nanpu at Ikeda’s train station, of stepping onto that same platform I’d walked across over a hundred times, of going up the two flights of 13 steps to the overhead walkway and down the two flights of 16 steps to the entrance and ticket window, of the silhouetted mountains looming around and the tracks merging and curving out of sight around the buildings and trees on either side…I nearly laughed and cried at the same time. What an amazing feeling it was to be there again.
We got to Julie’s place in Mikamo a little while later, and stayed up till midnight talking and hanging out. Now it’s 9 AM and I’m wide awake, relishing the comforts of her futon and kotatsu (AAHHH OHMYGOD KOTATSU!) and the familiar scent of tatami, though I know I’ll really crash early this evening from jetlag, which mainly concerns me because I’m going to my JTE’s home for the evening around that time.
The luggage delivery people said they could deliver the suitcase “gozen-chuu“, but I’m not sure exactly what that means. I just know that if I go take a shower, the Kuroneko Yamato delivery truck will come by while I’m out of earshot; maybe I should call. I’m remembering how thin the walls are here–I can hear people walking outside, I could hear the neighbors talking and laughing…I keep jumping at sounds, thinking any of them’s the delivery guy, but no such luck yet.
The plan for today: laundry! I did not get to do laundry in Austin, as planned, because the hotel charged an arm and a leg for it. Once my suitcase comes in and I’ve showered and everything, I can wash my clothes, then go wander around Mikamo and have lunch at Paparagi and kick off the first of many reunions. (And drink lots of coffee, to stay awake as long as I can past my inevitable 6 PM jetlag wave.)
I just hope the delivery truck comes soon, though. I feel guilty for having come this far and just mooching off Julie’s internet all morning. And it feels strange, being here and not being at school. It’s…wait, it’s Thursday, since I lost most of Tuesday and Wednesday in transit. They’re practicing for tomorrow’s graduation ceremony in the freezing-cold gym, probably laying out the tables and tarps and chairs and wiping down the floor. Man, it’s going to be crazy to be at my junior high again tomorrow! (Tomorrow!) Once I do my laundry, though, I can hit the ground running–today’s that “limbo” day, resting and waiting off the jetlag, but it won’t be a total waste. I’m keenly aware of how precious and scarce my time here is and I can’t wait to make the most of it.
This is a quick one to just sum up everything I’ve been doing since I got here.
Wednesday night: landed in Osaka, picked up my cellphone, had a konbini dinner, caught a train/shinkansen/train to Ikeda and met Julie
Thursday: slept in, did laundry, went to Paparagi and saw Yasuyo and company, caught a ride with Mayumi’s husband and spent the evening with their family
Friday: attended my former junior high’s graduation ceremony (and said my real goodbyes, because the school will be shutting down next spring), got a ride back to Mikamo from Caitlin, had dinner at Chonmage with Julie and saw Fumi (current hair color: black and hot pink)
Saturday: had lunch at Masala in Matsushige, went to Naruto and finally took a whirlpool ferry and got up close to the Naruto/Awaji-shima bridge, went to Ryozenji (pilgrimage temple #1) and bought an English-language pilgrimage book that Claire translated, then went to the musical (Momotaro and the Revenge of Akaoni) and the afterparty and saw a ton of people
Sunday: went to Paparagi for breakfast, then the Awagami Factory in Yamakawa, then shopping in Takamatsu (Muji, Donguri Kyouwakoku, Loft) and dinner at the Cheese Cafe with Julie’s lovely friend Akane…and realized that I forgot my water bottle at the afterparty and probably can’t get it before I leave
Monday: visited (surprised, rather) all five of my shougakkous, and had lunch with Tomoko in Ikeda, and caught a train to Kamojima and had udon with Kiet and played frisbee golf in Naruto Park (wtf, how did I not discover this game earlier?) with Chris, Jill, Patrick, and Sarah, then back to Kiet’s and catching up over Ureshii Wine…and today was the day I finally realized that I don’t live here anymore and that I really do miss these people and this wonderful town
And it’s now Tuesday morning–Kiet’s off to work but I’m stealing his internet for a bit before I walk 30+ minutes to the train station and head west again. The plan is to hang out with my eikaiwa ladies for several days, visit Hashikura Temple and wander the streets of Ikeda, meet up with Ashley sometime, and just do whatever they have planned. Some people have asked if I’ll be free Friday night, my last night in town, but that’s the one and only night Shizuko will be here, and she really wants me to stay with her family. Maybe we can do something Thursday.
This has been a really whirlwind, amazing, and (as of yesterday) emotional trip. I’m so glad I made it out here, and I can’t wait to see what the next few days bring.
Now’s the point where I start wondering: will they really be happy to see me?
How awkward is this trip going to be? She’s their ALT now, not me. Will the teachers and students really be happy that I’m back, that I’m there to attend graduation (especially when I was overly shy and not nearly as involved as I could have been at my junior high), or will they wonder why I’m there?
I do read my successor’s blog on occasion, and at first I totally felt inadequate at how immediately she was able to immerse herself, at the gifts she was given and the opportunities she’s had or found that I never did. She’s already gotten to wear a kimono a few times–other than Awa Odori, which involved a specialized sort of kimono, I never wore a traditional one even once. (Granted, it’d probably look awful on me, but that’s not the point.) I got over it before long, which came hand-in-hand with my finally really letting go and looking ahead instead of backwards. But now that I’m going back again, I’m nervous.
There are people there who are looking forward to seeing me. There are people I’ve stayed in regular and spotty touch with, some of whom have welcomed me into their homes while I’m back or written me cute and sweet notes. There are also people I didn’t get to properly say goodbye to last time, due to lack of time and losing my cellphone and their contact info, and I’m looking forward to surprising them. And there are those acquaintances I’ve built up around town: the sweet short-haired lady at Daiki, the Passion Bakery ladies, the La Tavola lady, the Mac engineer at the internet school, and others.
And former ALTs have totally visited during my time there. Ellie came back for a visit. So did Christine’s predecessor. And they’ve definitely gotten warm receptions, from what I can tell.
So why on earth am I so apprehensive about this? It was my home. It has a strong presence in my heart that nobody can take away. I shouldn’t be so hung up with these doubts that people may not welcome me warmly. I know the area and its people better than that. They welcomed me with open arms when I first arrived there and I’m sure it’ll be similar this time.
I hope, anyway.
I came home yesterday and found a big manila envelope with my address hand-written in large letters across it. Upon closer inspection, after dumping my bags (shoulder and gym), I did not see an actual sender name, but I did realize that the envelope came from my junior high in Japan!
Upon opening it, I found a clear folder with about 12 hand-written notes from my girls (er, former students–it’s still so easy to say “my kids”), with photos attached, and a pretty postcard with a handwritten note on the back from Mayumi, my JTE. As part of the “Sentaku Eigo” (Advanced/Concentrated English, as opposed to the clothes-washing “sentaku”…it took me months to figure that out when I first heard her say it) class, she had the students write me notes, and she mailed them all to me!
If I have time, I would love to reply to each of them and mail them off on Saturday. Of course, at this point, I could just bring the replies with me and deliver them in person, but it’s much more fun and exciting to receive international mail.
I’m so freaking psyched for this trip. I rented a cellphone earlier this week that I can pick up and then drop off at Kansai Airport. I have e-mails to return to Shizuko and Yaemi, inviting me to stay with them (as did Terumi) and already suggesting things we can do, and I received a letter on Monday from Mitaka, suggesting we go bowling and eat udon again. I laughed a lot at that. Udon, oh yes. Bowling, absolutely not. Besides graduation and the musical, everything else is still totally up in the air. I can’t wait to see what happens.
I just got the e-mail notifying me that I passed level 3! I got 328/400, and rocked sections 1 and 3 (kanji and grammar), but screwed up on the listening section, and I know exactly why: I forgot and/or didn’t realize that the listening section only plays once, so I didn’t listen as closely as I should have.
But, I mean, come on. It’s so unrealistic to think that a Japanese speaker will say something to you only once in a conversation and then refuse to repeat it, especially if you’re a foreigner. S/he will be more than willing to repeat him/herself if you didn’t quite hear it all.
…okay, well, 49 times out of 50, the speaker would think that my asking him/her to repeat him/herself meant that I didn’t understand, and not that I didn’t hear it properly, so s/he then would try to reword and simplify it instead of just repeating it, which was frustrating.
And I do get why they only played it once: to force you to listen closely. It just doesn’t really jive with the real thing.
But–yeah! To celebrate, I’m going to go watch the lunar eclipse, which just began about 10 minutes ago. Sweet!
Whoops. I ended up finding my passport at work of all places. I’d taken a folder to my work orientation session with me and stuck my passport in it, and brought that folder to the office and stored it in the locker where I keep my work-issued MacBook Pro (*siiiigh* my next home machine will totally be a Mac), where it’s been collecting dust for the last five months. On a whim, and at the general suggestion of my boss, I decided to check it, and voila! That’s a big load off, for sure.
And the trip is looming. I’ll be in Texas in two weeks–in Houston for two days, visiting my aunt, then to Austin for SXSW Interactive, then off to Japan! Among the letters I’ve received recently was one from one of my dearest eikaiwa ladies, who finally wrote down her e-mail address for me. I’m hoping to stay with her and/or one other lady for a few days, with my JTE the night before graduation, and with friends the rest of the time. I’ll definitely need to get a prepaid phone at Kansai Airport to keep up with everyone–hopefully it won’t be too expensive.
And the apartment hunt has been dragging on and on…but as of today, I think it’s finally coming to a close. There’s a gated condominium complex just down the street from my office that has a couple of very promising units. The area’s safe, my office is 5 minutes away on foot, and there are numerous grocery stores and restaurants and even a public library and a MARTA rail station within reasonable walking distance (woo, easy airport access! Much better than driving 1-2 hours to Takamatsu or Tokushima’s airports, or traveling five hours to Kansai Airport outside Osaka). All I can say is it’s about damn time. Holy crap, man.
And Genna’s flying into Atlanta tomorrow, and Japan Night #2 is on for this weekend! Have any of you been to Momo-ya in Buckhead? My Japanese teacher cautioned me that it may not be the most authentic experience…but at least we’re doing karaoke afterwards. You can’t get much more authentic than that.
So in the next two weeks, I’m hoping to move, unpack and repack (which will be a challenge; it’s warm in Texas and snowing in Tokushima), buy a ton of omiyage, dust off my camera (or buy a new one…), and ship out. I’m feeling pretty genki about this next month, and really looking forward to the changes and new beginnings and reflection it will bring.