Our last month in Japan may have been our best. We were showered with goodbye parties, gifts and even new experiences. Andrew worked like a mad man to try to finish up a bunch of experiments and I packed up our apartment, finished teaching at the school, and got us all ready for our return to Canada.
One of our highlights from September included VIP service at a whiskey bar where Andrew drank whiskey from the year he was born, as well as we had some that had been made in the lovely Calgary Alberta if you can believe it! We had a ton samples–mostly which I could only comment on by remarking “yep, that one is also really strong”. But it was an awesome night with our friends Kensuke and Hiromi.
That same night our friends took us to a “Oden” restaurant that cooks everything in Red Miso–which Nagoya is famous for but which he had never actually tried yet. It was a tiny little hole in the wall restaurant which we felt everyone was staring at us and we felt really out of place but of course we got the restaurant talking and everyone practicing their English and one couple even told us all about their travels to Canada. Coming back to Canada has definitely been an adjustment because usually when I go into restaurants back in Calgary most strangers aren’t quite as interested to chat with me!
We also went to a “Showa-era” restaurant which was like going back in time! It was in this old Japanese style building but intsead of the calm quiet artistic atmosphere of most Japanese style restaurants this was a hustling bustling joint with people yelling and drinking and laughing. It was such a cool atmosphere –wooden tables and tatami, smokey and intimidating, but our friends took care of us and showed us how you just grab whatever food you want off of a counter by the kitchen as if you were at a buddy’s house for dinner, and you could get sake from these giant wooden barrels with tiny silver spouts. It was a really cool experience for sure, and I felt like it was the kind of experience I’d been searching and hoping for from day 1. It seems Japan has some really authentic experiences for us, but it took about 10-11 months of looking for them and then leaning Japanese, making friends and studying the culture before we could enjoy these things!
We also had a sushi party at our friends place, and they have a new baby (her name is Yui) who is a couple months old and is an angel baby that never cries. She even let Andrew hold her!
We went to a cool Japanese restaurant for Andrews Lab going away party (I told you we had so many parties! We were definitely feeling lots of love). I think my favorite part was when one student awkwardly tried presenting Andrew with a gift on behalf of the lab but got nervous and didn’t know how to express herself in English so handed the gift to another student sitting next to me who then also got confused and just started opening the gift himself! Then he just handed us the opened gift which was an awesome sake set with cups. Awkward delivery, but amazing gift!! This night we also were convinced to eat Fugu which is blowfish and if it is not prepared special you can actually die from eating it! But we were told the bacteria that is poisonous is only found in the ovaries of adult fish and we ate baby ones so apparently it’s not a problem. Also apparently if the fish are farmed they can prevent it being exposed to the bacteria that is toxic to us. Regardless, we felt wild and crazy for eating it.
My Ikebana teacher Hideko dressed up in her Kimono and wrestled me into one of her Kimono’s as well on my last day and we had one last tea time. I was so sad to leave her. I realize it might be weird that I was close friends with a 62 year old woman, but we honestly had a riot together and she really took care of me–she always had different recipes and food to give me, tickets to shows, art exhibitions and of course helped me appreciate Ikebana and the tea ceremony. She was really awesome and I already miss spending Wednesday mornings in her strange little apartment arranging flowers and drinking matcha.
I had to say goodbye to all my little students as well! Nana and Eito’s parents took Andrew and I out for amazing dinner during our last week too, and Nana started speaking full sentances of English by our last week! It was so rewarding, although on our last lesson just when I was actually reminiscing on how proud of her I was she said to me “I am Nana bathroom” and ran out of the room to the bathroom. There’s obviously still some work to be done. I’ll miss those little guys!
I think it was a great time to leave Japan. I didn’t want to and didn’t feel ready, but I think it was better to leave in that mind set rather than wait until we were so homesick and tired of our life in Japan that we just couldn’t wait to leave. I will definitely miss many things, such as seeing elderly people with subtle green or bright pink hair, sweet beans and obscenely cute food. I think I will always feel Japan when I smell that incense that is always burning in temples or drink green tea from a ceramic cup. I will always appreciate the punctuality, precision and attention to detail that we experienced over the last year. I think I will miss all the rice based and soy based food, as well as being welcomed into the homes of strangers or mere acquaintances and given food and gifts. The thoughtfulness and hospitality of friends has been overwhelming, the kindness of strangers we will be forever grateful for. I’ll miss holidays that we celebrated like the one where families throw dried beans at their father figure dressed up in a devils mask, or the holiday where you use a chopstick to make legs for eggplants and cucumbers so they can act like vehicles to transport ancestors to your home. Or the practice of having a one eyed, armless, legless dharma to wish for something on, and when your wish comes true you pain the other eye on…why? you may ask. No one seems to know! Or people tell us it’s ‘Japanese culture’!! I will miss socks playing a role in fashion and in major part of ones outfit. I’ll miss always sitting on the floor and having tables and chairs and everything closely oriented to the ground. I’ll miss the country where fireworks, cherry blossoms and trains are appreciated and celebrated with enthusiasm, where mushy and slimy food is favoured. I’ll miss this country that is at once so diverse and contradictory that it can never be generalized or summed up. It was an amazing unique and personal experience, full of miscommunications, hilarious translations, incompetence (mostly on my part!), new tastes, flavours, textures, words, perspectives, experiences, and worlds tiniest and most efficient uses of space. We had to trust a lot in other people and let go of trying to control anything. I have to say though it somehow worked out for us and we are leaving the country carrying new components with us. Just as I have my roots with me everywhere I go, I am certain this year of tsurumai, sakura and the sound cicada is written in my heart forever.
Here we are home safe and sound in Calgary relishing in the closeness of family and loved ones. It feels good to be back!!
Andrew just arrived in Florida yesterday, and I’m headed down in a few weeks, so if anything exciting happens to us I will definitely try to keep the blog going, which I definitely hope will happen since we are moving to a state riddled with sink-holes and pythons, and where not so long ago a man’s face was eaten. I’m positive we will have things to write about :) Until then…Sayounara!