It was bound to happen sooner or later

I was at our local YMCA getting a membership today. When I finished and went out to the parking lot, I promptly walked right up to the right-hand side of the car, opened the door, and got in, without even batting an eyelash. I sat there for several seconds and wondered why the wheel was on the left side of the car before it hit me.

A couple of people were staring at me, so I tried to play it off by opening the glove compartment and pretending to search for something. It wasn’t very convincing. I just hurried around to the driver’s side, got in, and left in a hurry.

I blame it on the fact that I had another completely random Japan encounter today! My second in two days! I was chatting with one of the ladies in charge of membership, and it became relevant that I’d been away for a couple of years. This woman had worked for Georgia State University and took groups over to Japan annually for eleven years.

Yesterday I was at the library picking up some books for my brother, and it came up that I’d been away for two years when I renewed my library card and realized that I had late charges dating back to 2005. (Thank god they don’t charge interest…) The woman behind the counter had lived in Japan around the time of the Tokyo Olympics and was married to a Japanese man and spoke fluent Japanese, and her daughter had done JET too. We spoke in Japanese to each other, which felt so good after speaking barely any these past two weeks. She let me know that there used to be a Japanese conversation group that had sort of fallen apart, but there was still an English/Japanese book club that met once every two months. She took my information and promised to pass it on to the people who run it.

And it’s now 1:00 AM on the 29th, and I just realized I’d left this sitting here for the last couple of hours, as I got caught up in playing online Scrabble with some friends (who are totally kicking my butt). Today’s my 26th birthday! It’s also the birthday of Michael Jackson, Bae-Yon Joon (Yon-sama), and Slobodan Milosevic. Happy birthday, gentlemen.

Not in Kansas anymore

A few people have asked me if I’ve stopped updating this journal, or if I intend to stop updating it. I will eventually, and nearly every other Tokushima ALT who’s left Japan has stopped already…but I started this before I came to Japan, to talk about my preparations and feelings, and I feel like this won’t be a complete encapsulation of my experience if I don’t talk about how I feel now that it’s over.

So far, three boxes (winter clothes and the first shipment of books) and my futon have made it home safely. I should have another six boxes of regular things and two smaller boxes of books on the way, but it should still be a few weeks before they arrive. I’ve ordered some design books to prepare for my new job, and they should be here any day now (and one art book by two Pixar artists and a friend of theirs, which arrived today: Three Trees Make A Forest, which is a kind of in-joke explaining the kanji for “forest”–Tadahiro Uesugi‘s work has such a wonderfully natsukashii Japanese feel to it). I’m hoping to buy a car in the next couple of weeks, hopefully in time for me to start commuting to work, and then it’s time to start thinking about moving.

But the honeymoon period is definitely over. In small ways, it’s finally hitting me that it’s over, that I won’t be returning to Japan in the next few weeks (or months), and that it’s time to start establishing things for myself here. I’ve spent most of the last week and a half just resting up and hanging out at home, since I had jetlag for a solid week and since most of my close friends have moved away from metro Atlanta. But the jetlag has passed, and I’ve gone out to see a few people, and I’ll be seeing more tomorrow when we get together for my birthday and more this weekend during DragonCon.

I’ve found myself stumbling in situations where I have to use English around strangers–it’ll get easier over time but it’s so strange that I’m having this problem to begin with. I guess I just got so used to using English mainly with people I already knew, so I’ve forgotten how to make small talk. Seeing my friends, and running an animation panel at DragonCon, will definitely help that along, I think. I didn’t realize how good we had it in Tokushima–nearly all the ALTs lived fairly close to a train station, and having my own car made getting out so much easier. Now, we don’t live anywhere near a MARTA rail station and I’m borrowing my mom’s or brother’s cars any time I go out, and most of my friends are too busy or live too far away to come out on a whim. There also isn’t nearly as much to just go out and see–no temples or beautiful natural drives untouched by traffic and the urban sprawl.

I know that moving out will go a long way towards helping me establish things for myself here. I’m feeling almost exactly how I’ve felt during my last two visits home–I’ve just snapped right back into the routine I always am in whenever I live at home, and I don’t do much for myself. I made some curry for the family one night, which felt familiar, since I’ve become a better cook these past two years out of necessity, and I’ve come to enjoy it as well. I’d like to do it more often, but I think I only will get that chance when I live on my own.

My homes in the US and Japan are two very distinct things for me right now, and I’m looking forward to the chance to merge the two in my own personal living space, with my futon, lamps from Loft (by the way, the little spherical paper lamps do work in the US!), wall decorations, and other little things that remind me in major and minor ways of the last two years. And of course, I’m looking forward to moving forward, to painting walls and framing/mounting my favorite Japan photos and decorating my place and settling into a place where I know I’ll stay for several years. It would’ve been nice to go to a new city, now that I have this insatiable exploration bug; I feel like I’ve already seen a lot of what Atlanta has to offer. But you never know, right?

More on jetlag

I’m really getting tired of waking up at 6 AM sharp daily and then totally conking out around 1-2 PM every single day for several hours. No matter what I do, I can’t keep myself awake, and this has happened nearly every single day since I got back. It’s nearly 6 PM and I’m still groggy–I went into my parents’ room and sat down on the bed and turned the TV on, and two hours later I woke up when my mom came in and shook me awake. I just got off the phone with Jen, who’s been in town since Thursday and is flying out tomorrow, and who I might get to meet up with tonight, and I was stumbling all over myself with grogginess- (and long-time-since-my-last-long-phone-conversation-)induced awkwardness. Hopefully I’ll be more awake if we do indeed get to do something tonight.

I’m definitely glad that I can finally get out and start meeting up with friends. I may see her tonight (and at least I could talk to her!), I’m seeing Ethan tomorrow…it’ll be nice to be social again. But they both have kept up with this blog pretty regularly, so it’s funny that I now have to kind of be careful not to be too repetitive–that’s the downfall of writing so much in here these past couple of years.

I wonder how much of this is jetlag-induced, but Japan is feeling like a kind of strange dream. I really can’t believe that it was only several days ago that I left! It feels like I’ve been in Atlanta for a really long time, if not forever. I’ve just snapped back into my old routine as if I’d never left. I’m looking forward to building some new ones that build off the routines I made for myself in Japan. Mom encouraged me to keep up my Japanese studies and to go for the JLPT level 2. I think I should register, and try to be ambitious. I know I won’t do nearly as well as I would have last year while I was still in Japan, but it’d be good motivation to keep trying, and maybe I can find language partners or groups to join where I can keep the language up.

From Atlanta, with love…and jetlag

It’s been exactly three days since I’ve landed stateside, and jetlag is still kicking me around. It usually doesn’t take me more than two days to get over it, but I woke up inexplicably at 5:30 this morning, decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood as the sun rose, and then was really wiped out (though we went shopping and I picked up a She-Ra: Princess of Power DVD! Score!) and dozed off on the couch for the second time in two days around 1:30, only waking up 3 hours later when my dad woke me up. I’m still feeling a bit sluggish, though the sleep and all the water I drank when I woke up both helped.

Yesterday, my dad woke me up bright and early at 7 AM (gee, thanks), and we went out to order me a new pair of eyeglasses, since I snapped the pair I’d ordered a couple of weeks before coming to Japan cleanly in two just 3 days before I returned to the US.

But on a positive note, the official offer for the design job came through last week! I haven’t responded yet–I’ll be doing so tomorrow, and calling to specify a start date and things like that. This is definitely good news, and totally balances out my misplaced cellphone 2 weeks ago, the speeding ticket I got on the river road last Sunday as Julie and I were returning from watching Awa Odori in the city, and the snapped-in-half glasses the very next day.

So that’s been Life After Japan so far. Leaving was tough. I cried quite a bit. Yaemi and Terumi, two of my eikaiwa ladies, came to see me off at the bus station. Chalice, whose floor I’d crashed on, very kindly drove me there, but returned home after I told her to please not wait to see me off since we’d had a late night. My boss didn’t come out but she’d been out sick on Wednesday, so I figured she was still ill. My JTE had let me know that she’d be visiting relatives on the other side of the prefecture for Obon and couldn’t be there either. Honestly, the fewer people that came, the easiest it was for me.

The flights weren’t a big deal–I didn’t realize that I’d evidently paid extra for EconomyPlus seats on United Airlines, which give me considerably more legroom than standard economy seats, but if I had a choice I would totally pay it all over again (Hamza’s theory is that we’re paying extra to have the same amount of legroom we used to have, before they decided to cram in as many extra seats as possible). I had a tight connection in San Francisco, and was witness to two of the guards at the security checkpoint cracking stupid racist jokes (Guy A: “Hey, Steve, how do you say ‘strange’ in Japanese?” Guy B: pause, stupid grin, then random “oriental”-sounding word)–I gave them a really disgusted look, and I was unfortunately in too much of a hurry to call them on it. I speedwalked/jogged to the other end of the airport to make my flight, and got there after boarding had started, and got to sit next to a really kind and friendly lady from Austell–a far cry from the last time I had to sit next to an elderly woman when traveling.

I was feeling pretty exhausted and emotional when I got to Atlanta, but upon emerging from the T Gates and making my way towards the standard arrival lobby (for the rest of the concourses), I saw my parents, brother, and Laura waiting for me, with flowers and signs! That was a really pleasant surprise. I talked to Hamza later that night, who said that he’d also wanted to come out to greet me (meaning, he wanted to drive two hours from Auburn to Atlanta just for this) but didn’t know if I would want a more low-key homecoming or not. I love my friends.

My grandmother was at home waiting for me, as was a south Indian fresh home-cooked meal. I slept about 12 hours that night, and my sleep schedule has been kind of wonky ever since. I hope it’ll be more normal tonight.

So, okay, I’ll say it–I’m still in denial that my time in Japan is now over. I feel like this is yet another visit home, and honestly, it feels like it could be, since I’ve come to realize that I’ve seen my family twice a year during my Japan “tenure”. At the same time, I know it’s over, but I think the realization will really hit home once I start my new job and find a place and buy a car and take those steps to make my time here more permanent. I’m looking forward to moving forward, but not to the associated emotions that come with finally letting these past two years go.

So long, farewell

My last full day in Japan is here.

I had such high hopes for this week, in terms of visiting places and stuff like that–I’ve been requested to revisit Hashikura Temple and chat with Miwako’s supervisor, who enjoyed the minute-long conversation we had when Genna and I went there, and I really wanted to visit the Awagami paper factory/museum in Yamakawa. However, it’s after noon and I’m still at Brian’s house, wrapping up. I inadvertently slept in a bit because I got home after 1 AM.

So far I’ve spent this morning evading the cats (keeping them from clawing up my stuff and each other, and keeping them from leaving the house), trying to clean up (and discovering that Yukino really doesn’t like brooms–she was growling at it), pack, and put my things into boxes. I now have to go return 2 boxes and buy 1 smaller one, for the few items I have left. I just got word that my first two boxes made it home intact! That gives me hope for all the rest, then, though it may still be weeks till they arrive.

This evening is dinner with the westie ladies who’ll be around, and Ikeda’s Awa Odori. Tokushima’s was a blast. Besides one guy being a jerk about the fact that I messed up during one set and it threw him off (give me a break, we aren’t a professional dancing group!) and a near-fight that broke out at the end of the night, it was a spectacular time, and I’m so glad that I’ll leave with those memories of a revitalized Tokushima City fresh in my mind.

Before tonight, I have to revisit my board of education to settle final stuff like utilities and payments (I’m really proud that I was able to successfully close my account and get a bank draft on my own, though doing the latter meant going to the main branch in the city, but that’s all right), pick up thank-you gifts for my boss and landlords, and write and give a note to the Paparagi mama-san, whose aunt made a really nice silk quilt wall hanging that I bought, and she wants to know more about me. I also have to go vacuum my car and dispose of all the temporary trash bags I’ve been accumulating as I’ve lived out of my car and my friends’ places, so I can prepare it for Caitlin.

At the airport, I have to look for my airport toiletries bag, which I think I packed by accident, and swap that out with the actual toiletries bag I’ve been using but can’t take on the plane with me. I hope I can find it, but if not, at the very least I have my toothbrush and travel-sized toothpaste, a small bottle of lotion, and a small enough deodorant stick with me at the moment.

I thought today would be pretty sentimental, and there’s still time for that to happen (I really want to find some time to walk around and take photos of stores and areas around town that I haven’t yet, and I hope I can, and to drop in on a few more people to thank them for all they’ve done for me these past couple of years)–but in the meantime there’s still a lot left to do. It hasn’t sunk in that I won’t be here tomorrow, that this is it. I don’t know when it will sink in–maybe only when I wake up at 5:30 AM tomorrow and take my bags to the bus stop. Definitely when the bus pulls up to the terminal. I’m ready, but thinking about leaving is making me feel like I have a heavy weight in my chest.

In case I don’t get another chance…okay, I just sat here for about 15 seconds, staring at the screen and hoping something would come to me. Nothing is. What a daunting prospect this is–I’m leaving my home in Japan for good. I’ll view it as a home in future visits, but I know I won’t be living here ever again. I’ve never experienced this sort of heavy finality with any of the transitions I’ve made so far–it wasn’t a big deal when I finished university because I was still in Atlanta anyway. But this, though…this is something else entirely.

Of course I’ll keep updating from the other side, about reverse culture shock and the like, but for those of you who’ve been reading, thank you so much for sticking with this blog and with me these past two years. Hontou ni osewa ni narimashita. My next entry will be from America, so I’ll see you on the flip side.

Transitions and tears

I started this list a few days ago, but ever since I got back from my trip, it’s just been go-go-go, nonstop. I’m at Julie’s house right now (spent the last two nights here, and the three nights before that at Brian’s, and am heading back to Brian’s tonight, to watch over stuff while he’s in India)–I need to finish doing laundry and head out to run many errands around town (make a copy of her key, go to my BOE and talk to my boss about all sorts of stuff, hopefully close my bank account, finish packing and shipping my things). This is what I’ve been up to…

  • Hakodate – ika odori (squid dance), rude rude rude people
  • cool train in between Hakodate/Aomori, with exclamation points on the sign board when we entered the undersea tunnel connecting Hokkaido and Honshu
  • Aomori (canceled hostel stay at the last minute) – Nebuta Matsuri was FREAKING AWESOME!
  • train mishap, slight layover at Morioka shinkansen station
  • Sendai – awesome! Sendai Mediatheque (masks, interactive and traditional art/media exhibits), the nice view of the city from Aoba-jo, spending two days with my wonderful professor and her wonderful family, taking in the really neat Tanabata Matsuri decorations
  • return Osaka-Tokushima bus ride – sat next to an older woman who looked startled/horrified once she realized I’d be sitting next to her, and then proceeded to STARE AT ME FOR AN HOUR STRAIGHT
  • saw a really sweet teacher I work with give me a big wave and smile in Tokushima Station, which made me feel much, much better
  • got home, cleaned my place, my landlord helped me pack out of there
  • stayed at Brian’s 3 nights, got used to keeping his cats out of my things
  • greeted Caitlin, spent ~6 hours 3 days in a row taking her around, helping her out, taking her to all the schools and city hall and giving her a driving lesson
  • went out to lunch with two of my favorite eikaiwa ladies (they already said they’ll gladly come to America for my wedding, haha)
  • went to a farewell dinner (which kind of ended up being the westie post-Group-B-arrival meetup) thrown by the head of the Miyoshi City International Society, then up to the castle/pirate ship park in Mino, where we watched the stars; I saw 11 meteors
  • canceled my cellphone account, finally
  • had a man, a bus driver who recognized me from his routes in Ikeda, pay for my lunch at Paparagi
  • went up to Nishiyama with Chalice and her mother and Julie
  • said goodbye to many teachers, to friends, to my lovely eikaiwa students, to my wonderful JTE
  • cried quite a bit
  • went out for what might have been my last round of karaoke in Japan
  • went to watch Awa Odori in Tokushima City last night, on opening night–today’s Packing And Shipping Day, so I don’t know if I can make it out again tonight…I’ll be dancing in the city tomorrow night and spectating in Ikeda Wednesday night
  • called my parents today for the first time in a while, and probably for the last time before I leave

It’s Monday morning now. Three mornings from now, I’ll have left Ikeda and Tokushima and will be in or near Osaka. Three full days–that’s all I have left in Japan. The number doesn’t mean much to me right now, though. But the reality of the situation is sinking in–dealing with my suitcases and remaining parcels, seeing how Caitlin has begun to redecorate what used to be my apartment, and all the tearful farewells I’ve gone through and will continue to go through. It’s just impossible for me to fathom that this past weekend was my final weekend in Japan, and that next Saturday and Sunday I’ll be in Atlanta.

I’ve thought a lot about what sorts of things I should write in this entry, since it may very well be the last entry I write while I’m still in Japan. I’m coming up blank, though. How do you sum this all up? What can you say to properly capture something like this in words?

I think I may have to do some paper-journal writing and then come back and post it here. I really need to get going–so much to do in such a short time. At least I’m out of my apartment, so that’s one big stress behind me.

The trip thus far

I’ve had my fill of going out this evening, as I ventured through the crowds gathered for the Port Festival and was witness to the rather strange Ika Odori (squid dance), and dealt with copious amounts of staring (some by wide-eyed kids, some very appraising and disapproving/disdainful sneers by adults), people acting as if the gaijin speaking Japanese was the most hilarious thing they’d ever seen, and people (at the front desk of the hotel) keeping up very basic and bare-bones conversations and looking at my alien registration card that states I’ve been here for two years and then complimenting me in simpering and overly obsequious tones on how wonderful my Japanese is. Yeah, I’m really enjoying Hakodate so far.

Anyway, since I doubt I’ll have any opportunities to get on a computer for an hour or so again to type out this entry in full before I leave, I may as well deliver the bullet points right now.

MONDAY (2007 July 30):

  • the wallet/bus fiasco
  • train to Okayama, shinkansen to Kobe (probably my last shink ride in Japan)
  • doria lunch (with ZUCCHINI–the first time I’ve eaten zucchini in two years)
  • caught my plane, slept the whole time, woke up as the plane hit the tarmac in Sapporo
  • went to the hotel (super-tiny Toyoko Inn room, right next to the elevator), meant to lie down for an hour and then go out, and ended up sleeping from 5:30-6:00 PM all the way till 7:00 the next morning

TUESDAY (2007 July 31):

  • phone calls to my boss and landlords about apartment/internet stuff (my last keitai calls… *sigh*)
  • amused by how many college students were around, because my hotel was across the street from Hokkaido Daigaku, and especially amused that I think they thought I was one of them
  • went to Sapporo Art Park, visited the Museum of Contemporary Art (saw Modigliani paintings/sketches and African masks), had lunch, walked around the sculpture garden (too much modern/abstract work; there were a few human statues that I liked)
  • got a stamp that refused to dry–even 4 hours later it was still more than half wet
  • Engrish sightings: “SWEET / INVITATION / a body of fascination” (on a shirt) and “Chesty” (name of a boutique, printed on a bag)
  • spent 2 hours (and a fair amount of money) at the 4-story Sapporo Loft
  • saw an older woman with bright lilac hair
  • Italian food for dinner, hung out in Starbucks afterwards

WEDNESDAY (2007 August 1):

  • 2 weeks and a day till my Japan departure, 4 weeks till my 26th birthday
  • totally misread the train schedule–wanted to visit Shiraoi, a town with a lot of Ainu (indigenous northern Japanese tribe, like the Native Americans/First Nations people) artifacts and whatnot, but I read the time the train arrived in Shiraoi and thought that was the time the train departed from Sapporo, and I soundly missed it
  • just barely made an hourlong bus to a small Ainu museum/exhibit outside Sapporo–small but very fascinating; I was really enthralled by it
  • went to a restaurant called Delhi for dinner–run by 2 Japanese people, serving “Indian-style curry” (not exactly, but still tons more authentic than Masala in Tokushima is)
  • wandered around, ignored lots of staring (1. gaijin, 2. solo), holed up in another Starbucks for the night

THURSDAY (2007 August 2 – today):

  • caught a morning train west out of Sapporo, sat next to a girl around my age and we had a pleasant conversation about the world and Italy and Japan
  • got off at Toya Station, after seeing Showa-Shinzan (volcanic peak formed in WWII; Showa = that particular imperial reign, shinzan = new mountain) from the train
  • caught a bus, got off at the Nishiyama Crater Promenade (part of the Usu-zan volcanic complex), walked around several very active craters belching volcanic steam into the air, as well as ruins from that eruption, including a fence and a patch of road that looked like they’d been treated like accordians, scorched and half-buried phone poles and signs, a heavily-dented car, and more, all of which was really amazing and eerie to behold…the Nishiyama crater and others were formed in a big eruption in 2000
  • caught a noon bus to Lake Towa, which was when the cellphone fiasco began (the last time I saw my keitai was at 11:54 AM, when I was checking the time as I waited for that bus)
  • went to the volcano science museum, which I was very happy with
  • as I left around 1:50, prepared to eat lunch and then catch the ropeway up to the top of Usu-zan, I noticed that the bottom pouch of my bag was hanging open, so I closed it, and when I got to a cafe around 2 PM, I took inventory of my belongings, which was when I realized my keitai was missing
  • retraced my steps to the volcano science museum, and the staff totally went above and beyond in terms of helping me look around the premises, calling the police to see if anyone had turned in a phone, and putting me in touch with DoCoMo to suspend my account (and on top of that, they gave me a free pack of Lake Toya postcards, even though I was the one imposing on them!)
  • as I was leaving, I noticed the same pouch had come unzipped AGAIN! I zipped it and looked through my stuff right there, but nothing had fallen out
  • I bought 5 bottles of tea and brought them back to the museum for the workers as a small thank-you gesture for their wonderful show of kindness (and got a totally strange/clueless look from one employee who was there but hadn’t been present when the keitai thing went down, heh)
  • retraced my steps back to the bus terminal, but no phone–checked with the lady at the terminal, but no phone
  • had coffee, went back to Nishiyama, had the bus driver wait for a minute as I got out and looked around the bus stop, but no phone
  • realized as we were heading back to the train station that I could have asked the lady at the bus terminal to figure out which driver was driving that route at that time and ask him to check his bus…but it was too late in the day, a thunderstorm had swept in, and I really needed to move on
  • caught the train to Hakodate, checked into my hotel, dealt with idiot kids cracking up at my Japanese at the Sunkus as I bought dinner, dealt with staring at the Port Festival/Ika Odori, ate, came back to the hotel

And as for tomorrow…I was really set on going to Osore-zan, this geologically active area that is believed to be the place where the souls of the dead reside, but I’m tired and I’ve spent so much money on accommodations and especially on train fare so far (much more than I anticipated; the train fare from Sapporo to Hakodate was 2-3 times what I thought it would be), and it’s pretty far out of the way. I should have rented a car–probably less money, definitely easier to get around. I think I may go to Aomori, hang out there and try to catch part of the Nebuta Matsuri (big float festival), and then head down to my hostel just outside of Hachinohe. We’ll see, though.

Lost my cellphone

Checking in from my hotel in Hakodate in southwestern Hokkaido.

At some point between noon and 2 PM today, when I was in the vicinity of the Usu-san volcano and Lake Toya, I lost my cellphone. I lost it in precisely the same way that I nearly lost my wallet before I even left–the bottom zipper of the backpack I borrowed came mysteriously open on its own. I tried to recover it, but it’s gone.

For the next 2 weeks, the only way to reach me is via internet. If any of you tried contacting me via my cell at any point past noon today, please e-mail me at my personal address, or comment here to reach me. My land line is no more. I’ll be canceling my cellphone account entirely (it’s just suspended at the moment) when I return to Tokushima. I’ll have internet access nearly every day from here on out–maybe not tomorrow because I’m staying at a hostel, but definitely from Saturday onwards until my departure. And I’ll be staying with Brian and Julie alternatively, so you can contact me at their apartments in the evenings.

It could have been worse, since I only have two weeks left, but I’m still feeling really irresponsible right now, and I have a lot of people to contact in these next two weeks. This trip has been a comedy of errors–in mainly silly ways, up until now. I hope it gets better after this.