Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Really Leaving Japan...

This is so strange. On one hand I cant believe I’m finally leaving, I’m so excited, really really really excited to see the people in Australia that I love; can’t wait to meet Graeme at the airport, Fraser Island, all of Victoria, and of course Matt and Mark in Sydney – I really am so excited for all of it.

So it’s strange because I think of that and I get really giddy and then I get really sad about not seeing Ojiichan, about how today was maybe the last time I’ll see him. I really hope that if his health worsens, it happens gradually so that I’m able to come back to Japan from wherever I am to visit him before he departs. But life does not always work out the way we want, and so I have to accept the fact that today may have been the last time. I don’t have any regrets, which I am really lucky for, and I know it. The past year and a half, I’ve spent more time with him than the rest of my life combined. Lots of chit chat, lots of shochu and umeshu and being told to clean this and tie this up and wash this, but I did it without complaint because, well, it’s just him. It became our ritual to have an orange after lunch every time I went to visit, peanuts maybe, share some senbei. Our conversations gradually became more simple, just about how we were doing, maybe stuff about Obaachan, after she passed. He talked a lot about the song, Sen no Kaze, where the grandmother who passed away had not died but had instead become a thousand winds, telling her granddaughter not to cry at her grave because she wouldn't be there, she would be accompanying her everywhere. I know Ojiichan knew how much Obaachan’s death affected me, perhaps he was the only one who really understood how much it meant to me, because he was the only one who knew how often I visited and how my relationship with her was. As I left today, after hugging him and holding him for awhile, poorly managing to control my sobs, he made great effort to come to the door to wave me goodbye, managing a big smile. It is incredible, how he, and Japanese people, can manage to smile as though there is no pain and loneliness, when I know that me leaving was a big deal for him. It’s a huge deal for me. I can’t stop crying.

The last days I was in Japan were wonderful, and I wouldn’t have changed how I spent them. On Friday morning I went to see Ojiichan, it was a quick visit, then went to meet Koseki-san in Kunitachi – the only family I’m still in touch with from MLS, which is where I was teaching English. Fua, who I didn't actually teach but who came during parents’ time each week, is a feisty 3 year-old that is, I imagine, pretty much how I was when I was 3. She is a ball of energy, totally disregarding all rules but never doing anything that would hurt others, and her fullness of soul is inspiring. To display that independence from that young an age, and compassion (despite her absolute refusal to share snacks she loves with me; snacks that are mediocre, she happily distributes)…I wonder what she will develop into with time. She had woken up with a cough so skipped school, so her mother brought her and we went to eat at La Maree, a wonderful French restaurant in Kunitachi. I had eaten there once before with the mother, and absolutely fallen in love with it so requested that my last meal with her be there. I had been looking forward to picking up Ren, my ex-student, from kindergarten and playing with them for the afternoon, but since Fua was sick, the mother decided that it would be better if we went to pick up Ren, did our goodbyes, and split up at the station. I started to object but realized it was probably better this way, in addition I was exhausted since I had had my final group dinner the night before in Kyoto. So we went to get him, and I told her I couldn't explain to him that it was a goodbye, so she did, and she explained that it would be awhile before we would meet again. “Shibaraku” – for some time – it’s a vague Japanese term that gives absolutely no sense of how long that might be. He asked me, “Ichi gakki mou aenai?” – we won’t meet for the rest of 1st trimester? (this is through July) – and I said no, and not 2nd trimester either, I told him that it might be next year at the same time, when he would already be in 1st grade. He understood, and was obviously upset. I explained that I was going to Australia and then America to visit my family, then to Cuba and Mexico, and showed him my Cuba guidebook and he said he wanted to go. When we arrived at the station, I said bye to all of them and he held my hand tightly and tears were welling up in his eyes, and he struggled with every muscle to not start crying. I was doing the same, and as soon as I turned away from them couldn't stop it anymore and just let go.

I went to Linda’s, in Takao, and we chatted, then I had a nap. I went back to Kunitachi in the evening to meet the Shimada family. I’ve really known them for a long time, about 10 years, and the first 8 months I was in Japan saw them regularly, but inevitably the busy-ness of people, including myself, caught up and it became more difficult. They are a lovely family, I originally knew their older son much better, Kohei, who is now studying in China. I remember the family before Tatsuya, who is now 9, was born. I arrived at their house, where the father was waiting and we sat in the cool cellar and had fruit – a bit of a ritual, when I started living on my own in Japan I had to cut a lot of fruit out of my diet as it is by far the most overpriced food item in Japan – a far cry from my Farmer’s Market visits in Los Angeles where I would leave with several kilos each trip. Emiko, knowing this, would always send me off with some fruit whenever we met up. Anyway, it was an icky rainy evening so Tatsuyas soccer was cancelled, so Emiko and Tatsuya returned, and we left to go to an Italian restaurant in Tachikawa. They asked me what I found hardest about living in Japan, and as usual, I talked about how there is so much restraint and as people are conditioned to not say what they think, they eventually don’t know what they think anymore. It’s a scary concept, much like Huxley’s “Brave New World,” but in many ways that is the society that exists today in Japan. We joked about the crowdedness of Tokyo trains, where during peak hours (which combined are nearly a quarter of the day!) you may have to ride a train, your body contorted into unnatural positions, closer to other riders than you’d want to be to your friends. Of course, the general busy-ness, lack of free time, and the island nation mentality of not really being aware of what is going on in the rest of the world, and not caring that they don't know what is happening elsewhere. It was something I found extremely frustrating when I lived in the US, and it definitely exists in Japan as well. I told them that it’s funny, as many things as there are that are different between Japan and the US, in a lot of ways they are very similar, more than I would have realized before living here.

Anyway, it was a great conversation, great food, and I was beginning to realize that there are people that I do love and connect with that I’m leaving behind, and will want to come back and visit. It is a great feeling, considering the chaotic spring when I was having a personal crisis of feeling like after losing my grandparents, I would never have any reason to come back to Japan, and now that I no longer have the right to live and work in the States, umm where would I go?!
I went back to Linda’s and we talked more, her husband came home and after a quick chat, off to bed. On Saturday, Linda made me my request, eggplant gratin (yum!), then I went to see Ojiichan. I had lunch with him, and we had our orange…in the afternoon I headed back to Ueno where I was going to meet Blair. I was early so sat at Kinuya and did a bunch of stuff on the internet…we met up, went to use my point card at Kohmen, those shiso gyoza are delectable! Then over to HUB to watch rugby, Oz vs NZ. Excellent evening as we just chatted away. Back to his place after the game and I packed and blah blah blah.

Early morning on Sunday as I wanted to pack more, then over to Uozumi. As with other things, it is often hardest to leave the things that are most familiar, what you get used to doing. I had been giving Uozumi-san English lessons since last January. We grew closer over the months as we opened up to each other increasingly about our families and our more intimate details. She is a spectacular woman, so intelligent and her breadth of interest and knowledge is so impressive. It was strange that it would be the last time that I see her for now, but I know that the next time I come back to Japan I’ll see her – I am quite sure of it, and that makes me happy. After that, I went to Ojiichan again and just hung out for a few hours.

Went to Omotesando to meet Blair, Aki, and Akiko as we were going to Al Solito Posto for dinner. Aki was running late, characteristically, so we went before he arrived. Chatting away and impatiently wanting to order, we kept wondering where he was…over an hour had gone by, and an appetizer and pizza had already been consumed (put me and Blair at a table together and that’s what happens…) so we decide to call him, his mother answers the phone and we find out that he’s left his phone at home and is probably lost (Aki!!!!) so Akiko goes off to find him. All worked out and had a great meal, the staff was mildly shocked that I was leaving but told me to come visit them in their new location when I got back to Japan, and I agreed with no hesitation. Blair and I wanted to go to karaoke after, Akiko agreed but Aki adamantly refused so instead we did a classic favorite pastime of mine in Tokyo; get cheap liquor at a convenience store and sit on some steps somewhere and watch the world go by. It was a great way to spend the last evening with my best friends in Tokyo. If I hadn’t worked for MLS I wouldn't have met Blair, then I wouldn't have met Aki, then I wouldn't have met Akiko. People and networks and relationships are astounding sometimes.

I went to Brodie’s and it was so nice to see him after not having seen him since last summer. Chatted a lot and found the same sarcastic midly taunting relationship hadn’t changed, which was good. Monday morning had brekkie with him then headed back to Blair’s to post off my last box and bring my stuff. I went to Ueno to leave my stuff while I ran errands – met Keiko in Yurakucho, had our last lunch together, trying blatantly to get her to visit me in Mexico or Argentina, and went to the bank, got my hair cut at QB House, the ubiquitous 1000yen haircut shop all over Tokyo, etc. Dropped my stuff off in a locker in Shinagawa then went to Shibuya, cancelled phone service, then met Blair and Jaime at TGIF (how ridiculous, my last night in Japan and I don't want to go to a Japanese Izakaya, I want a Southwest Caesar Salad from TGIF…sigh…) I always have a great time when it’s the 3 of us so was nice, especially nice since I don't get to see Jaime very often. He’s a real character, I always wonder if he even cares about anybody else – not in a bad way, it’s just that he’s so comfortable being on his own and is so secure and is just a real loner, one of those mildly arty-farty London intellectual types. We split up after that and Blair and I continued on my mission to use up all my point cards, so went to Capricciosa and had an enormous pasta dish, yum. Then we went to the batting cage in Shinjuku, I was real rusty since I don't go to hit very often anymore, walked around seedy Kabukicho, then it was time to split. Hardest goodbye excluding my grandparents. I veritably lost it and wished that we could have just stayed at the station without ascending to different platforms. He’s like my brother. Or something like that. Just this constant reliable source of laughter and intellectual stimulation and singing and dancing and everything else that I love to share with people…he embodies it.

So I went teary-eyed to Fujisawa, caught the bus to Tomoko’s, chatted a bit with her then off to bed.

Then it was today, and I went to see Ojiichan and then that’s it. Now I’m on the 4th and last train to Kansai Airport. I’ll be in Brisbane in the morning. Weird weird weird. In fact, by the time I upload this, I’ll be in a country where the water flushes down the toilet in the other direction. Funny how fast we can go places these days isn’t it?

1 comment:

bella.calamitas said...

this is my favorite post of yours ever. don't know why; i just hear you and see you in it and it's great.