Special Sakura: Arigatou

It has come to a final close, this chapter of my life in Japan.

Experiences as grand and deep as this never truly comes to a full closure. The places, that life and above all, the people, continues to swirl around in my head long after I’ve left. I’m lucky. There are a special few whom willingly spends the time to remain in active contact with me, and whom will extend this already amazing year into an even greater collection of memories. Besides, my next location won’t be too far off from the land of the many firsts.

I’m currently sorting through the mess that have exploded from within 3 luggages. As I place each memento into its new place among old souvenirs and memories of travels and peoples past, I can’t help but smile at what those objects carry. This August will be packed with reminiscence, nostalgia, reversed culture shock, all tied up with a reluctance to move on. But time doesn’t stop for anyone.

So, as much as I hate to do this…

The first cut away: this blog.

It has been 365 steps, 365 wonderful days of my life. All of you who have followed me since the beginning, or halfway through, or sporadically read some of my posts, or only discovered it today, I want to say…

Thank You.

Without all of you, I most likely would not have made it through to this day. This blog would have long been desolate and I would not have discovered all the joys that comes with writing/blogging. So thank you, truly, for reading. I hope I brought smiles to your faces, warmed your hearts, and made you feel less alone like you did for me.

Hontoni, arigatou gozaimashita!

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P.S.: I will continue blogging. It has become a passionate hobby of mine, thanks to all of you. The new blog is still in the making though, so I’ve got no link to share, for now. When I do, I hope to see you on there! In the meantime, enjoy the beautiful summer and the company of the lovely people around you. Till next time!

359.1 Consequences

If you are leaving, and you don’t want to be reduced to a puddle of liquid sadness, I suggest you close this tab and go back to Imgur or Reddit or whichever site that makes you smile silly. Trust me, you don’t need any more reminders of how depressing this whole departure experience is.

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There is a moment between two worlds, when you have just left behind people you’ve grown close to and you have not yet reached the familiar faces and company of old friends back home. You are completely alone, despite the crowds milling about around you. Within you, there lies a silent hollowness.

In that instant, there is an overwhelming sadness and loneliness. You are torn between the desire to be reacquainted with old friends and the intense wanting to stay back in the temporary life you built to live out all the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys”.

You realized that because you chose the nomadic lifestyle, this darkness and these tears will continue to haunt you. They will come, time and time again when you have to let go of a life in pursuit of that elusive shadow of a future. No matter how technology has evolved and progressed, no Skype chat or social media can ever replace the happiness at being able to physically touch that person and at hearing their laughter and seeing the details of their faces without the distortion of distance.

This is the first time I have truly understood the darker consequences of my choice to travel the world. As much as the world has to offer, I want nothing more than to remain forever at the sides of my dearest friends and loved ones, not having to choose between one set or another.

The world isn’t getting smaller, it’s becoming unbearably larger. I have been leaving pieces of my heart everywhere I go. How much longer can that last until I run out?

At times I wish there was an off switch to these stomach-wrenching, heartbreaking emotions.

It’s almost cruel to be human sometimes.

Special Sakura: A Letter

Dear Japan,

I am at a lost for words to describe just how wonderful these last 365 days have been.

A year may not sound like much in the greater scheme of life, but that doesn’t mean it can’t pack a powerful punch.

You gave me a beautiful seaside town to live in. Yasuda may be remote, but that’s how I like to experience a country, its culture and the myriad of traditions and quirks. Remember all the countless henpais that resulted in some crazy, loud nights? I may only hazily remember what happened, but I won’t forget the absolute euphoria and invincibility I felt on those wild nights.

You gave me enthusiastic, hilarious students to teach. That time I walked into the class and the students cheered at seeing me because that’s how much they enjoy my classes. In that moment, all frustrations of lesson planning, unsuccessful lessons, and irritating coworkers gave way to feelings of pride, joy and fulfillment. I have accomplished what I set out to do, make the students love English classes, thus loving English.

You gave me a job that came with the monetary privilege to travel in a country filled with history and a unique blend of East and West. Trips to Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima with my mother, and my last trip up to gorgeous Hokkaido. Those photos contain memories that will last for a long time to come.

But above all, you gave me the chance to meet some truly beautiful people. My JTE, what a fun person to have worked with! She is always full of smiles and kindness and always accepting and accommodating of my diverse attempts to spice up lessons. My supervisor and a fellow co-worker who just happens to speak amazing Chinese! They were the ones there for me at some of my most troubled times, getting the house all set up, carrying away my more inconveniently large trash, and helping me sort through an unfortunate car accident.

Then, of course, there are friends I’ve met here. Where would I have been if not for them and all those interesting conversations and dinners together, all the laughter and vent sessions, all the parties and after-parties, all the firsts and all the lasts. I would still be the sheltered, naive, oblivious girl I was before I came to this place. They have changed me so much, in so many different ways, all for the better. Their faces I will never forget.

Time never lasts as long as you want. It has a funny way of wrapping things up for you. These last few weeks have been an all-time high for me in Japan, and as much as I don’t want to say goodbye, I know it is the best possible place I could leave it. No doubt there will be tears involved, the flood gates have already opened twice, once when I said my farewell to the lovely group of people I played volleyball with every week and the other when I finished my last English Conversation Class. I will be a mess come Thursday. My eyes will water at the goodbyes. My hands will refuse to let go of the things I cherished here. My heart will ache for just a little more time. But I will have to leave, and the memories of this place will be forever framed in flowers and fireworks.

Thank you, Japan, for your most warm welcomes and unbelievable surprises.

Thank you truly, for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I will see you again. So I won’t say “sayonara” but rather “mata aimashou!”.

Love forever,

Jade

357.1 The Side-effects

There comes a moment before you finish off a year abroad, and/or an amazing experience, when it finally hits you.

You are leaving.

Time isn’t slowing down for you to get everything you want done or get enough of something. If anything, the clock is actually ticking faster.

In that instant, you begin to feel uncomfortably giant butterflies in your stomach, not unlike the kind you get when you lay eyes on a guy you like or before stepping out in front of a thousand people to perform. Those butterflies, in turn, might make you slightly nauseous and possibly give you a headache.

On top of that, if you are working a job similar to mine, you will be stuck in an office with nothing to do for 8 hours, forcing you to constantly focus and refocus on those damn fluttering imaginary creatures in your gut while imagining all the things you could be doing right now, like saying farewells properly or hanging out with your friends some more. If that isn’t bad enough, the weather and humidity gangs up on you as well, resulting in you transforming into a big ball of irritable, easily- yarn.

That is the current state I am. Plus, I have very vocal coworkers amplifying my headache and nausea. My head is in a constant state of war of emotions and all I can do is pluck at a flower, “I’m happy to go. I’m sad to go. I’m happy to see my family and friends again. I’m sad to leave behind friends and the life I had here.”, hoping this little daisy could wipe out all the conflicting feelings and just let me rest. The sudden urge to weep is not far behind the intense urge to scream in utter rage and frustration at my inability to slow or stop time.

I’m a mess.

In 3 more days, I will be off. I have tried my hardest to not think about that, including attempts at not packing. My room is an explosion of clothes, souvenirs, farewell presents and dust which pushes me near tears every time I look at it. My bed is indistinguishable from the floor. My diet consists of chips, takeout and the occasional instant noodle bowl. My sleep cycle is completely out of whack. I can’t even look at myself in mirror without cringing at the ungodly sight. I sat alone in my room the other night, with balls of tissue on my lap, sobbing my heart out while slobbering on ice cream because I had to say farewell to the amazing old ladies and gents at volleyball practice.

I’m not good with goodbyes.

I hope for those of you who are also leaving the JET Programme or Japan in general, that you are cooping with this much, much better than I am.

My apologies for not having any recommendations on how to deal with pre-departure messes. I find crying it out helps, a little. It does also entail future face-flood sessions though, so maybe not. Try naps.

And in case you are wondering, yes, this blog will stop getting updated sometime in August. It was intended from the beginning for this one year in Japan and I will keep to that. But I’ve got another project in the works, a more wide-scoped, all-encompassing blog. So I hope to see you on there come September!

In the meantime, keep your spirits high! Or you could join me in this dump of an emotional place and we can share chips.

353.1 Gorgeous in Hokkaido, Part III

The last full day on Hokkaido got dedicated to the town of Otaru, 1-hour or so from Sapporo. We started our day, like all the other days so far, with a Starbucks and a 10-am wake up call.

We drove our super smooth ride into the little town, and the first place we hit up was a small restaurant recommended by Wikitravel. We ordered a seafood dish in honor of the famed seafoods of Hokkaido.

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It was…

disappointing.

The sauce was more of a soup, and the crabs were so meatless it’s wasn’t even worth getting through the shell to eat it. But at least I gave it a shot!

I also tried the locally famed Otaru beer

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Should have guessed that it would let me down, since I have not acquired a liking to beer of any kind due to its bitterness matched only by its nasty aftertaste.

So, lunch was a real letdown. But then we headed into town and it all went uphill from there. That’s beauty of starting at a low point.

I was very curious about the Museum of Musical Boxes that is housed in Otaru, so we grabbed a map, grabbed some gelatos and headed that way. But just before we arrived on its doorstep, we passed through the town’s small European-style square, and a taiko group was in performance.

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They were quite creative and diverse with their movements and changing of positions. It was definitely a different kind of performance than the ones I’m used to with my taiko group.

That might have been the highlight of the square that day, but beside it was this Christmas-tree shaped structure, with bells hanging all up and down it.

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Some…were quite interesting…

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This was my favorite.

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After loitering around and watching the taiko players sweat under the blazing sun, we made our way across the street to the music boxes.

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Right in front of the entrance stood a steamclock. But it wasn’t just any steamclock, it was a chiming steamclock given to Otaru as a gift from none other than Vancouver! I was thrilled and nostalgic at hearing its little chimes.

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what a museum it was. There was every kind of wondrous music box the world has ever seen, on three different floors.

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Some were so elaborate, they created miniature worlds. Others were wonderfully simple. It was like entering wonderland.

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Of course, as it is Japan, they had a table filled with sushi music boxes of all shapes and sizes.

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Plus, because I am an owl-lover, there were numerous tables hosting owls of every cuteness you could imagine. How many owls can you spot?

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There weren’t merely just music boxes. There was also a room with a long display case housing miniature setups that traced the history of urban landscape of major landmarks as well as the average home set up from the 1600s with great sail ships and sparse population all the way until 1920s with the titanic and giant flying machines.

Regrettably, we had to step out of this gorgeous world back onto the streets of Otaru because we had one last destination to visit. That was the Otaru Canal.

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After strolling along this old canal and happening upon a live karaoke performance with an actual band (these Japanese take karaoke very seriously), it was time for us to leave this little town behind. But not before making one last trip in a locally-recommended gelato place. It was a family-run shop, small, standing hidden between bigger business, unnoticeable if you don’t purposefully look for it. Its speciality? Strangely-flavoured ice cream or “soft cream” as it is referred to in Japan. How strange? Example…

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That, my dear readers, is squid-ink flavored gelato. You heard me right, squid ink. Top that with the shop’s other adventurous attempts, like natto (formented beans) and sake (Japanese alcohol) flavoured ice cream, and you have the ultimate Japanese triple threat.

I might have thrill issues, but not when it comes to what I put into my mouth. So I settled on the cheesecake flavour and had a delighted time watching a group of young Japanese bravely lick away at the squid ink.

After that, it really was time to head back. We were exhausted, slightly sunburned with stomachs full of gelatos. It was definitely a great finale to four days spent being gorgeous in Hokkaido.

The numerous Canadian things we encountered on this trip brought back small waves of nostalgia for my home. Good timing, considering in 7 days, I will be boarding a plane that will take me back, cutting short an amazing year (a few days shy of that, actually) in Japan.

351.1 Gorgeous in Hokkaido, Part II

Day 3 entailed the receiving of a rental car from Toyota Rent-A-Car in Sapporo. We lucked out in getting a brand new white-plated Toyota. Did I mention it was a white-plate?!

It drove so smoothly and soundlessly, we were both dazzled and endless words of astonishment and admiration came pouring out of us. Mind you, we both own small yellow-plates that churn and whine whenever we so much as step on the gas. So this was absolute heaven.

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In the comfort that is a new white-plated car, we drove ourselves to Lake Shikotsu, 1.5-hours outside of Sapporo. As if I needed more reminders of how lovely Canada is, this caldera lake was very reminiscent of Lake Louise and, basically all other lakes I have been to in Canada.

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Just look at all that beauty!

Of course we couldn’t stay on land with this gorgeous blue spanning out before us. So, we immediately jumped onto the local tour boat. But it wasn’t just any old tour boat, it was tour boat with underwater seating!

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We got to see some lovely fish…

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and the remains of old volcanic activities which stands as vamped-up-eeriness factor #2.

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After having a delicious curry lunch, the big event of the day began.

Kayaking.

We originally wanted to canoe but because of my total inexperience on a boating device of any kind, they suggested we kayak instead (Uh, what? Put me on a boat that could flip over, would ya. That’ll make my zero-experience safer).

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But how Canadian of us right?

Even though I was freaking out half the time because the boat was rocking too much for the safety of my things on-board. Poster-child consumerist here. Not worried about myself falling in the water or getting trapped under a boat, more worried about my things getting wet. Of course, not to brag or anything but my things can’t swim as well as I can.

We were exhausted, especially considering that on our way back to shore, we were racing against time and several swan paddle boats, none of them nearly as cool and hip as these guys

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Because regular white swan boats are just too mainstream. I would have loved to have gotten into a drag race with one of these.

By the way, we won the impromptu race by a handful! Don’t mess with Canadian girls in a kayak.

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This was the view that accompanied us on our way home: a beautiful end to another wonderful day in Hokkaido.