This will be my last post. It's amazing to think that three years have gone by since I first decided to take up this blogging thing. It started as an attempt to keep up with friends and family (vs email) and to provide them with a glimpse into my experiences abroad, but in many ways, it's become an intimate setting for me to record three of the most amazing years of my life. It may have come off as boring to some in Japan (
- not to name any names), but maybe that's also a sign of how normal these events were to us? Looking back now - and as I start the next chapter of my life - it's hard to not start by reflecting on how I've grown and changed in so many ways since I left Minnesota. Someone recently said to me that coming back must be a much bigger deal than leaving in many ways. You know what, I think they are right... it really is.
So what did these three years mean to me? I'm not sure I can express all of it here in one post, but I will say this. Personally, I believe
. Or preferably not foreign at all (dare I even venture to say familiar?). So much can be learned from the world around us and taking the time to understand the differences that make people, well, people also helps us to understand ourselves. I left Japan this summer confident in the fact that I had fulfilled this aim, but moreso, knowing that this place will forever be a more intimate location to me and that I will undoubtably be back.
Somewhere in the middle of my time abroad (this time)... I think I grew up, really feeling like an adult for the first time. The lifestyle in Japan, especially living alone for three years, shaped this experience and affected the transition in many ways. Living on two major train lines in the cultural heart of the country afforded me the luxury of being able to jump on a train (to wherever I wanted to go) whenever I wanted. Nobody to report to and an expat community of like-minded, travel-fixated individuals that not only understood and accepted this, but also encouraged it. There are cons to this situation, such as being thousands of miles away from many people you love, but the freedom of going through my mid-20s with such an independent status has been huge for me. Liberating. There were other life experiences over the past three years that also happen to people everywhere, but really characterize part of my Japanese life or experience and also greatly contributed to how I see this time and myself. My first real, grown-up break up, for example. And then finding love when I didn't expect it. Acquiring new friends that became as close as old ones (especially when you are so far away from home and know you're on a contract for X amount of time). Even my job, which got a little repetative toward the end, offered me a source of community and substitute for a support network, when mine was thousands of miles away. And little things.... like new lectures worked into my curriculum at school, weird new foods in Ito and using new vocabulary in (otherwise really normal) situations... made the nuances of (almost) everyday an adventure.
As I mentioned earlier, living in Kansai (and my Japanese vacation schedule) also gave me the opportunity to travel the entire country and explore the Pacific. India, Nepal, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand (twice!), New Zealand and Australia are among the other places I have seen, felt and roamed through as part of this Japan adventure, reshaping my perspective of Asia in general, of (my second home-away-from-home in) Japan, and - of course - of my own culture.
Memories & Moments - A Hodepodge of things I will/do miss... and will remember:
First and foremost: PEOPLE. There are so many amazing people that I miss dearly already and also those who taught me some important lessons that I am pretty grateful for. I can't list all of the names and stories and - in fairness - I don't think making a list can totally capture what all of them mean to me, anyways.
And my reason for being in Japan(legally at least)... work. My coworkers, who include some of the kindest souls I have ever encountered. To name a few... Nozaki Sensei (my twin), Mori Sensei (my coach), Mr. Hayashi (my mentor - knows the system), Miyake Sensei (my Japanese mom - she reminded me of my mom in some ways and was so helpful), Tsutsumi Sensei (also like a mom - or a big sister), Satoshi (who helped me when I was fresh and confused), Onishi Sensei, Moriguchi Sensei, Asai Sensei (one of the sweetest people I have ever met!), Ume-chan (who I always wished I could have deeper convos with... if my Japanese was better), Okamoto Sensei, Yamamoto Sensei (the Boss), Hattoji-kocho (who reminded me of a movie star and would try to teach me characters and talk to me for an hour in Japanese when I understood 7%), Kocho Sensei (who was just a really nice and funny guy), my first Kyoto Sensei (who was a huge Twins fan & sort of took on the role of my Japanese dad when I was first adjusting), "the Grudge" (who at least kept things interesting & gave me some stories), Shima Sensei/Angelina (who was so funny - and sarcastic!!), Arai Sensei (who always teased me and stole my Reeses, but was so much fun), Tanaka Sensei (who scared me when he was mad, but I still think is one of the coolest and most sincere men I've ever met), Nomura Sensei... even Mondays with internet news & AJ. I could go on, but there are too many stories and people that shaped my professional identity in Japan and made it fun.
I'd be lying if I said my students didn't also have a enormous impact on my expereince. They inspired me on so many levels and taught me so many lessons. I was also so lucky to get 2-1 as "my class"! Practicing for the speech contest with Mass, culture festivals, sports days, ESS parties and meetings, decorating the classroom, making lesson plans, creating IS. Even those OC journals, which were a PAIN to correct (300 every two weeks!) but gave me an outlet to communicate with the kids and an opportunity to get to know some of them well.
There's mystical Yakushima. Kyoto's temples. Shinsaibashi's lights. The Akashi bridge, which still felt enchanting after hundreds, if not thousands, of times passing it on trains (and by bike, by boat, by bus, by car... and even by airplane). Castles. ONSENS.
Outside of Japan... the flight around Everest was phenonenal. The international elephant races. My first banana-pineapple shake. Camel rides in Rajisthan and Saris at the Taj. Thai massages and missing boats and planes due to them. Feeling the freedom of falling on my first Skydiving experience, with mountains, volcanos, the ocean, the city and farm plots below me was spectacular. Showing up in India and being greeted by cows on the runway. There was that rather frightening New Year's in New Delhi. A rather shocking and exhilarating New Years on the Moon Party Island in Thailand. And the rather low-key New Years in NZ.
Going to visit the Mekong River valley with the students we met on PEPY and learning about all the inspirational programs working to make the world a better place was a priviledge.
Then there's also stuff like AJET. Getting to know people through Saturday meetings at Starbucks and those horrible little dating articles I used to write. Oh, and the Halloween party when the building burnt down! Tokyo Orientation and everything with the national committee over the last year.
I'll remember fondly Akashiyaki and the little shop run by the old Japanese women who didn't speak any English. My bentos from Gruppe, the coffee shop in Takasago that made homemade lunch to go. Meeting my old ladies on Saturday mornings when I was often much too tired from the night before. Late night training runs with Lena. Learning how to really run with Takiko. My very first long run on my own to Akashi and back (especially after a night in Akashi with Kelly). Meeting Kelly at the park in Harimacho for silly or serious chats on the swings. And the day we first found a yukata hanging in her closet and took pictures in the "kimono," so excited by the exoticness of it all. Our group of girlfriends and our secret santa Christmas parties and "meat nights". The Cho.
Other memories... Spending time with the infamous Kazu and the gang at the little izakaya in Mukonoso and cutting through the rice field to return to warm blankets and icy floors. Gossiping about pop culture with Jane. Parties with Daisuke. Pure during our first year. Barbeques. Spontaneous dance parties to spontaneous Youtube playlists. With sometimes suprisingly sponataneous people. Taco Nights. My first cockroach(es).
The adventures with all of my lovely friends that came to visit: Joe & Brianne on the boat to Korea (not to mention that bike ride in the rain, 4am prayers & the hunt for "sweet balls"!), Claire and my "tropical" roadtrip to Shikoku (and getting busted for wearing the wrong shoes on Koyasan - だめ is one of the Japanese words Claire knows best!), running around Kitano with Shinya and Jess, Kiyomizu in the rain at night with Andrea & Andres, the Sapporo Snow Festival with Kristin, Kimonos with Krystal, purikura with Shannon, my first frisbee golf game with Bek & Chris, joking around with punks outside the convenience store in Harimacho with my brother, Sweets Paradise with Caroline...
I'll never forget my first Ghible movie with Ben. Those weekly TV sessions with Tam and Clayton (WWJLD?! and illegal baby). Drinking on the bridge with Tu-chan when he first arrived. Balcony talks with Mibs. Going to the foot doc with Miwa after the marathon, which felt more like a dating show than a treatment visit on several occasions. Mischief at the Re-contracting Conference. Volunteering at the Midyear and Yashiro. The roof and fire extinguisher at Yashiro! Pulling pranks with the Chelsie cutout and all the IFA events. Language classes in Harimacho, then in Kobe with Caoimhe. And almost setting a boat on fire during the 4th of July fireworks! Or then there's the next 4th of July at the park (still hope there wasn't a camera...). My joint birthday with Kelly at Elephant Cafe. Then my wine birthday at Alberta Alberta the following year with one particular guest in the fountain. Hiking through Rokko. Bus and Shinkansen trips to random places in Japan.
It would take me years (maybe about 3?) to tell all the stories.
The point is that the moments truly transcend the experience, leaving me ever so grateful that I was lucky enough to be the normal girl who got to experience all of these extraordinary things.