I can’t believe it’s that time already. After 3 jobs, 2 houses, 1 passport extension, 13 prefectures and countless hours spent on trains, my 286 days in Japan have come to an end. This will be my last blog post of Japan, but when I return home I promise to post my “The Best of Japan” list like I did for Italy, in case any of you plan on travelling here in the future.
Im really happy I chose to stay here to see the autumn season. They really celebrate each season here. It is actually starting get cold here (or I’m just turning into a totally baby), but I’ve already sent home all my warm clothing. So I’ve been doing a lot of shivering while pretending I’m okay with it; walking around in my light sweater while everyone else is rocking down jackets…. seriously. Full on scarf, mittens, toque, weather for them now in Japan. That being said, it still hasn’t cracked 0 degrees yet.
Since my last post, I have officially become unemployed (shout out to anyone hiring in Canada! Get at me). I said goodbye to my kindergarten kids, who were being extra satan-like that day, which made it a lot easier to leave. In fact, one child punched me in the crotch twice on my last day as I was teaching. That was my “I’m finished teaching kids for a while” moment. I said goodbye to my one-on-one adult students that same day, who were a bit more thoughtful upon saying farewell (none of them punched me in the crotch). I received many wonderfully written cards, letters, and small gifts. The next day, I said goodbye to my university students, who encouraged me to one final dance off as we parted ways for the last time, as I’m always dancing while I teach. That’s my thing. Its the best way to learn to enjoy education; dance it out!
Students aside, the greatest people I met here were my coworkers. I had to say thank you and goodbye to all of them. It was overwhelming, and I really suck at goodbyes, so we made it as informal as possible. A few drinks, so many laughs, and a couple of selfies just for good measures.
One bonus of having a house the size of a rabbit hole, is that there isn’t much to clean or pack, and I really don’t have many belongings. As my anxiety issues have increased throughout my travels, I’ve found ways to deal with it… like packing. Packing and list making smooth my anxiety, which brings me to “The Stages of Leaving” list:
- 2 months to go – “ya, I’m going home really soon. I’m so excited, but I haven’t really though much about it yet.”
- 1 month to go – *avoid talking about it, avoid talking about it* anxiety kicks in. Start packing and immediately unpacking again because I realize I still need everything.
- 3 weeks to go – “ok, I’m ready to go home. I’ve accepted it and I’m excited about it”
- 2 weeks to go – “DONT BRING IT UP!” *still packing and unpacking every day.*
- 1 week to go – * buys all the souvenirs, eats all the food, drinks all the coffee, spends all the money*
- 3 days to go – “I have tons of time left. This isn’t goodbye, I’ll totally see you again before I go ” *runs away and never looks back*
- 2 days to go – Everything’s packed. There’s nothing else to do to curb the anxiety.
- 1 day to go – “In my head I’ve already left.” *turns into emotionless potato sack*
- Leaving day –
I’ve been trying to avoid the topic of “when will I see you again” with my friends here, because the reality is I have no plans to return, and let’s be honest, nobody visits Saskatchewan, Canada. Of course most of my time spent overseas is full of amazing adventures and educational opportunities, but the hardest part is saying goodbye. These people have been my crutch while I’ve been here. They helped me through real issues: finding a house, a job, not getting lost, and so on. However, they were also there for me when I needed help on a personal level: brought me food when I was too sick to leave my house, ate countless cookies and chocolate with me as we ranted about our life problems, organized adventures that I would have never been able to do on my own, encouraged me to remember I am not a Japanese person and it’s okay to stray from the norm and use a fork once in a while, and also helping me understand the culture, language, and expectations in this country. Needless to say, without seeking any professional services in my time here, I had a doctor, a tour guide, a personal driver, a bartender, a therapist, a chef, a translator, a real estate agent, and a family here. I will miss everyone dearly. The laughs have far outweighed the stresses.
Thank you Pixie for being as weird and crazy as I am, and always being there to lend an ear and a few curse words of support when I needed it most. I’ll never forget beers and stories by the river, chopstick Jenga, and having a ‘fika’ (did I use that right?).
Thank you Taka for asking me 1,000 English questions every day, but also answering my 1,000 Japanese questions. I will never forget Hiroshima, so many cups of coffee, and hilarious translation mistakes.
Thank you Brandon and Vivi for making every Friday easy to wake up and go to work knowing it was going to be full of laughs. I will never forget giving you all the details of my week adventures in the ten minutes before work, epic dance battles, looking at memes on the train, and courtesy laughing at Brandons jokes that no one understands.
Thank you Hayato for being so sweet and understanding that I am a very picky eater. I will never forget ALL of the adventures you took me on, saving me from cockroaches, and teaching me real, useful Japanese culture and language.
I love you all so much and would never have survived here if it weren’t for you.
My last week I got to finally check out 紅葉 京都 ライトアップ (koyo Kyoto light up). This is where they illuminate the もみじ (momiji – mini maple) trees at the temples. It was absolutely breathtaking, and we enjoyed some traditional warm drinks as we sat and enjoyed the beautiful evening. I had 抹茶 (matcha) and Hayato had 甘酒 (amazake – a hot drink like sake but non-alcoholic).
We finally made it to Hayatos favourite restaurant (he’s been telling me about this place for months) and I tried おばんざい (o-banzai – food/eating style native to Kyoto with many small traditional Japanese dishes prepared in a simple way using foods usually discarded as waste [better than it sounds]). Every dish we ordered that night was a new food for me! I had to take a picture of the menu to show just how traditional this place was.
Yes, we took off our shoes and sat on the floor. No, there was absolutely no English. No, I couldn’t read the menu. Yes, I was scared to try every single food, but he pushed me to. Yes, I would eat it all again. We ordered: おから (dryish tofu), ナス たいたん と しそ (cooked mini eggplants with shiso leaves), おでん (daikon, tofu, and egg in a soup broth with a spicy yuzu [small citrus fruit] dip), あつあげ と カツオ (a type of deep friend tofu with bonito flakes, onions, and ginger), チス と みそ (cream cheese with miso paste and shiso leaves), ゆば と わさび (tofu skin with wasabi). He also ordered me 梅酒 (umeshu – plum wine) which is my favourite drink and told the staff I don’t eat fish or pork. He knows me well, and clearly we have eaten together too many times.
I finally had a free weekend, with good weather, that I could dress up in my yukata and go walking in traditional Kyoto! Pixie and I got all dressed up (I did my own hair with a Kanzashi and tied my own kimono bow. Thank you very much!) We gave up counting how many times people stared at us as we walked down the streets like this. It was too many to count. Two guys about our age stopped us and asked where we were from. We said Sweden and Canada, but we currently live in Kyoto…. it never gets old, telling people that we live here. Their reactions are priceless. They then asked where we rented our kimonos from and again we blew their minds by saying that, actually, we owned them. Ya we are the coolest gaijin around.
- Men with facial hair
- Being literate again
- Tim Hortons
- A real kitchen with a real oven
- Multigrain bread
Things I’m going to miss about Japan:
- Matcha everything
- Being a rare and unique species
- Heated toilets
- Respect for keeping places clean
- Cockroaches (JOKING)
So, after the final goodbyes, I headed to the airport to start my final journey home. Things didn’t exactly go so smooth….First of all, my flight was delayed a half hour. Then, as we were lining up to finally board, a loud alarm started going off and an announcement came on as follows: “The fire alarm has been set off. We are investigating. Please stay tuned for more information.” Okay….. 30 seconds later “A fire has been confirmed. Please evacuate the building as quickly as possible!” Cooooool. There were three non- Asian people in my line and we all were looking at each other like ‘oh my god what do we do now?’ Meanwhile, everyone else was as calm as ever, even the staff. One girl turned to us and said, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s no problem”…. and then we proceeded to board during the fire alarm. I survived and saw no fire…. onto Korea!
I finally got to Korea for my layover. Bags came, filled out the declaration correctly, all was good. Then, just as I found a spot to sit and wait for my flight, over the loud speaker in the airport I hear “would Armstrong Jody please report to gate 8 IMMEDIATELY”. Naturally, i’m the ONLY non-Asian person around at this time, so everyone stared at me like they knew it was me, Armstrong Jody. So I go to the desk like, I guess I’m Armstrong Jody. He tells me I have to follow him to security to be questioned about my bags… um, what?! So, awkwardly I follow him though a multitude of security checkpoints and he says to me “don’t worry, I’ll stay with you the whole time and translate everything for you.” Thank God for this sweet, young man, he was so comforting and explained everything to me as I had to show and re-show my passport a million times. I was taken to this little room behind the baggage check desks. So It’s me and about 10 Korean security staff. They speak in Korean and he translates, telling me they found a bullet in my bag and I need to explain it as it’s forbidden material. A BULLET!!?? A bullet!!? Ohhhh…. that bullet.
So I proceed to explain that I went on a war tour in Bosnia in January and was given this AK47 shell from the minefields. This prompted them to then ask me if I was in the army. No. I’m just a stupid, but harmless, tourist. They told me they’d have to confiscate it and that they also found more metal in my bag they were going to search in front of me. I couldn’t think of anything else that could possibly be a red flag in my bag…. then he pulled out a bag of nickels… yes, I had a bag of 5 cent Canadian coins. After confirming all the details and being satisfied that I was not a threat to the country, they seemed to actually find it funny. I had to sign some documents and then was escorted back through all the security lines. On the way out, my translator told me that he has worked here 3 years and never seen a bullet, and the staff had never seen a bullet like that before either. He said they were all very interested in it and found it amusing that I (a little blonde, innocent, lone travelling Canadian girl) was the owner of such a thing. He assured me all was cleared and they finally returned my passport they had been withholding from me.
Needless to say, I’m sure that bullet of mine will be on display in their office and it’s highly possible that I’m flagged as a suspicious person on Korean airways now.
After that I was allowed to board the plane. After we boarded, we were informed our flight had been, again, delayed about a half hour. They then served dinner, which happened to be seafood friend rice. Im sorry, I know I don’t like seafood, but myself aside, it just seems like a terrible thing to serve on a plane, unventilated and all. I politely returned mine and plugged my nose for the next hour until the shrimp stink started to disappear. The only good part of this day: I had a whole row of seats to myself on the plane.
Stay tuned for my final travel blog: Cambodia and Thailand. I will see you all in 9 days
Your Armstrong Abroad