June 8, 2008.
As I'm prone to doing, I'm sitting here on the two and a half hour train ride from Hidafurukawa to Nagoya and thinking about my experience in Japan. It doesn't quite feel real that I'll be leaving in less than two months. Well, perhaps it feels real, but it just doesn't mean anything yet. There is still too much school left to teach to simply let it flow past me, and so I have yet to reach the emotional release of this chapter's ending.
But, sitting on this train--while staring out the window into the darkness and an occasional street lamp--I've begun to reflect on some things that I will miss about Japan. These aren't going to be the entertainment highlights--karaoke, clubs or izakayas--but instead disjoint pieces of my transient experience here.
I really like the little town I have been living in. Its small, has a few nice places, and took excellent care of me in its absent-minded fashion. Initially the first thing that struck me about Kamioka is that its surrounded by these tall, gorgeous mountains that simply erupt into the sky in every direction. Its easy to lose sight of those sky-skewering peaks, but when you stop and look around you realize they're still there... and they're still amazing.
Kamioka has been an educational experience for me in so many little ways. Who the hell thought of shops closing on random days of the week? And all of them closing by 8:00 PM? Small town living isn't something I ever experienced quite like this before, and I'm grateful for the experience. Its certainly a complete pain in the ass sometimes, but I'm sure I'll miss it (since I won't have to deal with it anymore, and can just grin at the inconveniences instead of living with them).
Warren. Warren, is the other ALT in Kamioka, and is one of the few sane ALTs in my region. Seriously, if you pull the drawstring on your inflatable psychiatrist and send him out here, the good Doctor Acme will confirm this finding. Warren has a certain habit of looking at an absurd situation and saying "Really?" in a way that makes it fairly clear that the rest of the sentence--if completed--would be "Did that really just happen?"
Warren is among the sacred few individuals who hasn't inspired me to harbor those same "Really?" sentiments about him. And he's managed all of that, despite being a Canadian. Remarkable, really.
El Sol is the best bar in Kamioka. Its perhaps the best bar in Japan, depending heavily on your bar criteria. The bartender, Keiko, is remarkably friendly, the food is good, the decor is comfortable, and nama beer is only 550 yen, instead of 600 like most places. Its basically the Mecca of the friendly bar.
I remember my 11th grade English teacher playing a recording of a poem for us one day. It was about Mary J. Blige, and the piece of the poem that I remember is "Sure, she gained a little weight..." and then it went on to say that she was still Mary J., and thus deserving of our love. Thats kind of how I feel about El Sol. Sure, it could be a little bit bigger, and--hey--it could have a pool table. But its keeps getting better without ever changing a bit. When your local bar has mastered the teachings of the Tao, you can rest assured you are in good hands.
Teiju is the kissatten of Kamioka. Or at least its the kissatten of my Kamioka. We tend to translate kissatten as cafe or coffee shop, but I'd describe it more as cafe that makes like a pumpkin and turns into a restaurant when lunch hours start. The katsu curry is amazing, and so is the katsu-teishoku, and so is the wafu-hambagu-teishoku. Yeah, I basically only eat those three dishes there.
Its a friendly, inexpensive restaurant in a town with a serious restaurant shortage. Kamioka will immediately cease to exist simultaneously with Teiju finally closing its doors. Mark my word, nature abhors a vacuum, even if its only of restaurants.
Yamanomura is one of the three schools I teach at, and its a completely different experience than my other two schools. The school has fourteen students, and most classes have three or four kids. This has let me really get to know the kids in a different way than I have at the other schools. The lessons tend to be extremely different as well, since the goal is teaching rather than survival.
The kids all grow up on farms in a rural community, The school feels like--and in some cases literally is--a family, and its a warm family to be briefly adopted into.
For the past three months I've played basketball most every week with a group of local guys. Their ages range from maybe twenty to thirty, and they are real people. Just people coming out to play basketball once a week and have fun doing it. For a while there, basketball was the highlight many of my weeks. Its still one of my favorite times of the week, and the people I play with are some of my favorite people I've met in Japan. I'm not sure if I'll ever find a regular basketball game again like this one where I can just come and kick it once a week. Hopefully.
I'm sure there are other things I'll miss, but these are the ones that come to mind on this evening train ride into civilization.