Trip recap #2

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.

Awake in western Tokushima

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.

The trip so far

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.

Questioning the reception

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.