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Saturday, August 7, 2010

♥ Final Call

I always prefer to write in Courier New. I think it has to do with the fact that I like history, that old feel, that vintage, rustic feeling that typewriters emulate when print first became attainable for all. I love the look of old newspapers, I love how simple, yet distinct this font is. Beginning this “final words” bit talking about font is a bit odd, I’ll grant you that, especially since you won’t actually read this in courier new. However, I think it’s good to start with that little blurb because it tells a lot about me.

I like tradition, love it, and that is what attracted me to Japan when I was twelve-years-old. In America we don’t really have deep set traditions that have been passed down through culture. Sure, we have Thanksgiving and the 4th of July, but are those traditions? Really? Getting together with your family and eating yourself silly while either watching the Eukanuba Dog Show, football, or shit blow up may just be another day for the average American. I think we, as Americans, have more family traditions rather than national traditions. Sure, there is the Macy’s parades and the lighting of the Christmas Tree at Rockefellar, but maybe Joe in Oklahoma doesn’t watch these with the majority of the East Coast, or even Bethany in California. Japan has national traditions, they have city traditions, town traditions… everything is almost a tradition, or a ceremony, or everyday services well practiced to a fine art.

The traditions and culture I found so fascinating as a pre-teen continued to fascinate me here, and occasionally annoy the crap out of me. I leave Japan in two days and I’ve found myself increasingly contemplative. What has Japan meant to me? What has changed about my perception of it? Is it telling that I spent the days post-contract in other countries and not Japan? I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone who knows me. While I made amazing friends, and established very deep friendships with some teachers and students, my ultimate Japan experience I busted out into tears about when I heard was going, wasn’t everything I had hoped it would be. I think Japan is beautiful, yes, but the culture, I think, can only be appreciated in small bits. Having lived here for a year I’ve determined, for someone of my personality and such, that Japan is an amazing place to visit, but not a place I’d want to live again. The people are kind, yes, but they’re so shut off. When you ask for help, they shuffle inside as if they can’t see you. I know they have this big thing about respecting everyone’s privacy, but dude.

When I left Yaizu Chuo, there was a student whom I had grown very attached to, and her to me. We wrote each other all year, bought presents for one another, baked things for one another… but more importantly, we talked. We talked about everything; her dreams, my dreams, boys, food, culture. When I thought I had hit my lowest point, she would come by and say “I always cheer you up.” Usually I’d just smiled and nod my head, but one day I said, “You really do,” and she understood how grateful I was. On my last day she waited patiently inline to say goodbye to me, a massive bag filled with presents in her hand. She greeted me as always and we opened each other’s gifts. She had made me handmade sandals, given me a book of art she liked, and gave me a cup… “I have the same one. When you see it, you can think of me.” We stalled saying goodbye for nearly a half hour, and when it was time, all the sudden she started to cry and has a realization. “Wow… I’m… I’m really sad.” The suppression of feelings in Japan is horrible, and this open realization for her caused the floodgates to open, as well as my own. I hugged her and the way she just fell into my arms and clung made me wonder… when was the last time this girl was hugged? Really hugged?

My negativity outweighed a lot of my feelings about Japan, even now as I’m on the shinkansen to Kyoto from Tokyo. I think a lot of this is just a direct reaction to the experiences I had here. I went through a lot this year, and naturally that’ll effect my opinion on my year here, as well as the people and the country as a whole. I didn’t really get to teach, at all, and after trying so hard the first semester, I felt defeated, so I stopped caring. Could I have changed things in April? Yes, and I did try. I wrote personal letters to every teacher, encouraging them to ask me anything, to have me come to class, anything. They’d ask me grammar points, and I graded some practice exams, but that was it. I fell in love with my new ichi-nensei, but only got to teach them four times. When I left it was acknowledged that Yaizu Chuo had a problem, and I think it was because of how I reacted. Once very genki and excited, I became very depressed, very quiet, tired, ill. The teachers, and especially my supervisor and vice-principal noticed something was wrong. After a few doctors visits and health scares and such later, it turned out I had Panic Disorder and Depression with Insomnia (as my very frank Japanese Dr. put it… you have psychosis and depression).

I had had these symptoms for years, since high school, but I had never made the connection, and when I came to Japan, I was put into a society that festered it, and then I just lost it. I never let on, as I dislike whining to the utmost extent, and figured I was just crazy. Well, I was crazy, but at least I knew why. Everyone checked on me, stopped by, made sure I was ok. Everyone knew something was wrong that last month and a half (as rumors go wild in the staffroom), and life got a bit better. Earthquakes, typhoons, stress, London, classes, friends, ex-friends, home, Japan, anything and everything; I was going crazy and I had never felt so alone. I hated Japan for a good part of my time here. Hated it with a passion. I tried to book as many trips as I could (and as such I’ve been told by a variety of people I win the “most traveled in a single JET year” award), anything to just get out. Now as I only have two days left, I’m heading to the cultural capital of Japan, one last time, to reclaim what I initially loved about this country.

I don’t hate Japan, but we’re not a match made in heaven, and that’s okay. I had an experience, and no, not all of it was good, but it is one that made me discover a hell of a lot about myself. I know what I want now, I know who I am and what I have to do, and I also know how to use chopsticks like a pro. I bow and mutter “atsui” and “samui” to myself, I say “sugoi” instead of cool, and “kawaii” instead of cute. I can’t imagine life without rice and I have a hankering for green tea. I’ve adapted enough Japanese customs to make me a freak when I go back home, but perhaps these little quirks (like my habit of using British swears and insults over American ones) are what will define me. Traveling is me, and that’s okay. I’m not a crazy backpacker that’ll just jet off, and I don’t immerse myself deep in the mountains to get to the foundations of a country’s culture, but I take in a lot, even if I don’t mention it or write about it. I’ve taken away a lot from my visits this year; China, Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Asia is a different world, and not one I fit in. I’m a Europe girl through-and-through, but still with a connection to my American roots. I appreciate that so much now. The variety, the openness, the fact we are a can-do nation, not a you-should-not-do-that one.

I leave Japan with a generally pleasant feeling though. I am sure I will miss somethings, and be happy to be rid of others. I will miss the connections I’ve made here, the things I have seen. I will miss the beauty of the shoji screen, the laughs of my students, the cultural misunderstandings that shaped so many of my misadventures. I will miss Kyoto and the little shrine by my house in Yaizu. I will miss onigiri and soba, I will miss walking to the train station, and I will miss Mt. Fuji hovering overhead. I will miss kimonos and matsuris, nomihodais and karaoke, I will miss the adventures, the misadventures, the good, and the bad. I’ll miss the music that played in the morning and afternoon, and the nice little old ladies at the local bento shop. I’ll miss the sound of the shamisen and the sakura, and I will miss riding my bike through rice fields. I don’t know when I will come back to Asia, but when I do, I imagine only the positive memories will come back.

Until then, sayonara.


3:02 PM

♥ Kristina

      The Curls. The girl. The Nippon.

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      22 yrs old
      ALT for Yaizu Chuo HS
      Has really curly hair
      These are my musings

      This blog is rated PG-13 for language, occasional violence, crude humor, and lack of pie.

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