|Note the sweaty brow.. one thing I don't miss is enough humidity to make the floors and walls wet and the ceilings mouldy...|
I hadn't cried at all up until one of my last days when I officially said goodbye in a speech to all the teachers. At the end they presented me with a huge bouquet I had assumed was for one of the long-standing staff members and I lost it (blotchy face not pictured). The kindness of my coworkers was overwhelming. I thought back to how little attention, let alone gratitude, we paid our own language assistants back in school and felt a little ashamed. No one does hospitality like the Japanese.
Chris and I did our first ever puri to commemorate the end of the year. And we clearly needed to work on our quick-fire hiragana because somehow Christine and Sophie ended up as... Kui and Soso. Yeah.
I also had a wonderful leaving dinner with the English Department and the principal and vice principal, where they gifted me with my very own yukata and made me try it on immediately! I felt so valued for the very small contribution I made to the school.
However it wasn't all polite gift exchanging and farewells... it also included the biggest faux-pas of my whole year there, just when I thought I was safe. A few days later I was having a drink at Jo's place and, clinking glasses, said the classic British toast "Chin-chin!" My Japanese-speaking friend Duncan looked at me askance and asked "What did you say..?" "Chin-chin!" I said. "I was toasting my co-workers with it the other day." His face blanched. Turns out "chin chin" means something very different in Japan. Turns out I had toasted each teacher, by turns jovially, conspiratorially, with abandon and humility (to the principal), with the word "Penis". Now those confused glances made sense. I have yet to live it down.
A few days later we spent a very hot evening at the Miyazaki matsuri parades
After some burgers and cocktails we also ran into some girls with intriguing eye make up, as well as a cross dressing singalong host who tried to get very friendly with a few members of our group..
I took my first and last puri with the queen of kawaii Sinead
After school chillin in the park
Lunch dates with this one
Jo, Hana and I visited one of Miyazaki's main attractions, Sekino Falls, in a bid to cool off
Cuteness at the bakery
My last matsuri was on a hot and stormy day in the 'Jo. The resident gaijin and friends were invited to dress up a dance in the parade and how could we say no?
You might have even mistaken us for the Memoirs of a Geisha cast... but our derp faces would quickly disillusion you.
I was in seventh heaven.
I have really atmospheric memories of the parade. It was raining hard, pouring at points, and we danced on down the streets with the old fashioned music echoing off the facades, our tabi and geta soaked through. At one point Jo and I ducked into a traditional lamp shop to look for a toilet and were allowed to use the hold-in-the-floor style one in the back of the shop, and for some reason the smell of all the wood and tatami in back, plus the wet pavement and the echoing music, all combined to create a very visceral memory. Afterwards we changed, ate festival food and watched more dancing, stopped off at multiple kombinis for energy drinks, and went bowling still soaked to the bone.
On my last Sunday Hana drove Haruka and I to Aya Bridge as the mist rolled over the tops of the trees. The sense of everything coming to a close was very strong but we were also feeling spontaneous and silly and this moment was one of total freedom and happiness.
On my last day at school these guys took me to Sushi Tora, the best place in town, for lunch, and I cleaned up my desk. I'll always remember them waving me off from the front steps of school as I cycled away for the last time.
And so I bring this account of my year in Japan to a close, one year after returning home. It's been by no means comprehensive, and I will definitely be filling in the gaps with scribblings and albums in the future. Japan will always have a special place in my heart, and I hope I'l return more than once. I feel so grateful to have had that year simply to explore a place that fascinates me, not think about the future, live spontaneously and intuitively, and become a version of myself that feels most right. Most of all I'm grateful for the people I met. I learned so much from them about kindness, generosity and free thinking and living, and they made it the most hilarious, weird, enlightening, warm-hearted, bittersweet, best year of my life.