Tokyo, Sayonara, The End

25 Aug

Tokyo is an incredible, vast, diverse city. It is the Japan of our dreams, the one we picture when we think of futuristic billboards, technology, quirky fashions, and so on. This is Shinjuku Crossing, kind of like Times Square, only crazier. I sat on the 2nd floor of a Starbucks and watched the crowds:

I spent my last few days in Japan seeing Tokyo for the first time, and I absolutely loved it. Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad I was able to live in a rural area, where people are friendlier and life is slower. But Tokyo is a phenom among cities.

My last night in Tokyo – my final night in Japan – was quite special. I spent those few days reflecting on my two years there, and thinking about what was to come. On the final night, wanting to go out in style, I headed to Tokyo Tower for a view of the whole city. Tokyo Tower used to be the tallest structure in Japan, and is modeled on the Eiffel Tower. Only it’s bigger. And uglier. But at night, the ugly red-and-white paint disappears and all you see is glowing light:

I rode to the top and gazed out at beautiful, endless Tokyo. And while there, Japan said goodbye to me. First, with the full moon shining down over the city lights.

Then came the fireworks, popping far away on the horizon, one after another. I watched the show for a good half hour, together with other visitors. Then, finally, on my way out, I stopped on the lower level, where a jazz trio were giving a terrific concert on violin, drum and keyboard. I listened and danced for a while, and finally made my way out of the tower, content that Japan returned my love.

I’m now back in New York City, and my Japanese life feels so far away it might as well never have happened.

Back in high school, I spent one summer living with a host family in rural Belize. I had an amazing time, but after it happened I quickly readjusted to NYC life and forgot much of the trip. Then, years later, on my last night of college, it all came back to me. I lay in bed as intense memories of the trip washed over me – and these were physical memories. I could smell the hot cereal my host mother cooked me; I could hear the laughter of my six little brothers.

I remembered tiny details that had otherwise slipped my mind – the way my host mother and I connected over songs played on the radio, or the sight of heat lightning flashing across the sky at night. I recalled everything in such exquisite detail that I can only explain it as a kind of ecstasy. Like the ecstasy of St. Teresa, I was transported that night into another world.

But it took years before that happened. Years of forgetting. And there wasn’t much else that stayed with me from Belize. I can’t let myself accept that for Japan. It’s human nature to move forward, focus on the next step, and let the past fade. But I can’t let something I loved so much fade entirely. Japan will remain a part of my life; its people my friends; its traditions a space of my learning; its attitudes part of my own.

This will be the last entry for this blog. Thanks to everyone for reading, and following along with me on this adventure. It’s been mind-bending and life-altering…. I don’t know what’s next for me, but if I start another blog, I’ll link to it from here. Until then… peace out, and ganbarou!


PS: You can now find me on Twitter.

Last day in Chikugo

17 Aug

My time in Japan has come to a close, and so I spent my last night in Chikugo attending this festival:

The Daijayama Fire Festival features huge, dragon-shaped floats that breathe fire and are ridden by boys and men playing instruments and shooting fireworks. Children help adults pull the floats along the streets, and women follow along, dancing energetically. It was a terrific, lively festival that lasted for many hours into the night, and it felt like a wonderful goodbye party.

Also, since it’s hard to sleep on your last night anywhere, I highly recommend my chosen strategy of staying up into the wee hours with friends, playing Taboo and cooking pizza. (thanks, gals!)

Hey look!

21 Jul

It’s me! On my school website!

This was my farewell ceremony, held in the school gym (like all assemblies). The principal said what I hope were some very nice things in Japanese, and then those two adorable kids in the 3rd pic – student government leaders – made a goodbye speech on behalf of the students. And gave me some lovely flowers.

It was all very sweet!


20 Jul


Bicycles are a perfect invention. I know I’m not the first to realize this, but… it is the smartest and best way to travel.

It runs purely on human energy, no fuel required. And yet it still obtains speeds that dramatically surpass our abilities on foot. With almost no effort, I can bike 3 times as fast as I can walk. With a little effort and help from physics, I can bike 5 times faster than I can run. And yet, I exert less energy.

It’s a miraculous invention, really, and we would all be better off if cities and suburbs were built with bicycles in mind, instead of cars. The people of Copenhagen are doing just this, and it works perfectly.

Oh red bike of mine, I will miss you tremendously. You’ve served me well. And since I don’t foresee biking in the mean traffic of NYC, I will treasure our time together forever.


Today was the last day of school, and closing ceremony. I gave a speech (in both languages!), said goodbye, got flowers, ovations, etc etc. It’s possible that I’m projecting my feelings about leaving onto my bike. If so, I’m OK with that.

Young rice, and reflections

4 Jul

Isn’t it beautiful? In addition to wanting to cheer the young plants on – grow, grow! – I just like the annual ritual of seeing them sprout up.

Japan, or at least Fukuoka, is a place where the planting of rice still makes the nightly news. The other day, I stopped for several minutes to watch a neighboring farmer maneuver his transplanter around a small rice plot, dropping row after row of spiky bundles into the muddy earth. I thought it was newsworthy, too.

We’ve had torrential thunderstorms and flooding over the past few days. The streams and rivers nearby became choppy with waves. At times, the rice crops disappeared under sudden lakes, and I wondered how they’d hold up. Can rice ever get too much water?

Korea in my Seoul!

1 Jul

Annyang! I went to Korea last weekend. Here is a picture post of that trip, highlighting some of the interesting or funnier sights we saw.

Pretty palace roof, far more elaborately decorated than anything in Japan:

Guards outside the palace gates, at varying levels of attentiveness. We saw a changing of the guard happen a couple of times; it’s always startling when the guards change from living statues totally impassive to the harassing antics of tourists, into kinda scary soldiers.

Very authentic dinner at Pizzeria Uno (mmmmmmmm I miss american pizza so much!!):

Couple wear!! (or “pair look” in Japan, according to my coteacher) This cracked me up, and totally baffles me. It is apparently a very common thing in many Asian countries, but I’d never encountered it before Seoul.

Awesome water monument to one of the greatest naval leaders in Korean history, who is mainly famous for beating up some Japanese folks. Anyone in Korea who did anything bad to the Japanese is an instant hero. They really, really don’t like us there. Literally every museum brochure highlights some terrible thing the Japanese did, like tear down a historical building, imprison and torture Korean citizens, build something in an offensive place, invade, attack, etc etc. I’m not saying the hatred isn’t justified; I’m just saying it was a little scary.

Lastly, I really enjoyed this statue of the Chinese Zodiac outside the Folk museum; I think that’s the rat in front, with my ox on the left and the pig on the right:

English club bulletin board!

11 Jun

Here’s a shot of June’s bulletin board, which reports on fun things my English Club did.

If you can’t read the text, it says, in very simple language: “We had a Halloween part… …And a Christmas party! We baked cupcakes. We wrote to students in the USA. We played games… …And we watched many movies!”

(the image size is quite small because I don’t want to show students’ faces. But you can click to expand the image just a little bit)