Another sultry, sticky summer evening in Tokyo, and I have just returned from a final amble along the river that runs beside my soon-to-be-vacated apartment. The key motive was to get some distance between myself and the large piles of half-sorted papers, bin bags of clothes and chaotic nest of extraneous plugs and leads that constitute my possessions. Procrastination was not the only achievement, however. The glimmering tower block reflections, combined with the lazy buzz of the cicadas and faint breeze whispering through the waterside rushes, seemed to beckon my brain towards some fruitful pondering, and consequently maybe some decent blog fodder…
As I plodded along, it occurred to me that the past weeks’ Blog Block may have been due to my desire to impose some kind of narrative on recent events, to bind key moments neatly together under some overarching theme in order to reveal something profound about Japanese society. But the truth is that life is rarely so obligingly cohesive, especially not of late. Or perhaps my brain is just failing to identify any central connections at the moment. Either way, for this post I have decided simply to compile a list of recent highs: some experience-defining, some seemingly unremarkable. But all crucial contributors to my current elation at being alive and at large in Japan!
Highlight #1: Last day of term. There were photos. There were gifts galore. There were tears. There was a ‘pin the toupée on Donald Trump’ game. There was even a spot of karaoke (turns out one student knows ALL the words to ‘My Sharona’, and does some spectacular air guitar work to boot). There was Marmite tasting (see varying reactions below -SUCH FUN). And there were enough sugary snacks to keep the students buzzing all the way through to next semester. But most importantly, there was a group of exceptional students, of whom I am immensely proud and whose eager wee faces I will miss so very much.
For almost a year now, I have been bewildered by their silences, tickled by their anecdotes, awed by their diligence and humbled by their dedication. And mostly, I have been deeply moved by their determination to progress, to smash through the insecurities that I know their previous uncommunicative language learning has created. They have battled the urge to scurry back to the familiar comfort of their textbooks, and have instead bravely raised their heads, opened their mouths and looked me in the eye. And in so doing, they have reached out beyond the borders of their lives and dared to embrace otherness, which for me represents not only an incredible accomplishment on their part, but an inspiring example to anyone striving for a future of tolerance and intercultural understanding. What sparkly, wonderful people.
In this spirit and true to form, I decided to close proceedings with a quick speech delivered in my very best Japanese (Mayu prepped me magnificently). Apart from pointing out that instead of saying samishii (miss you) I managed to come out with sashimi (raw fish), students assured me it was a triumph. More than happy with that!
Highlight #2: My local Maruetsu had been consistently selling the juiciest Jazz apples for the past week, for a very reasonable 94 yen. This pleases me immensely, as you can imagine.
Highlight #3: A return to Yasukuni. Perhaps ‘highlight’ is the wrong word for this one, but it certainly needs mention nonetheless. I was eager to get back to this central Tokyo shrine, which I have visited many times, but which now holds renewed significance for me, in light of having just finished Richard Flanagan’s superb novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Yasukuni stands in commemoration of those who gave their lives in defence of the Japanese Empire. The shrine’s honours list, I now know, includes names of over a thousand war criminals. What’s more, while the Burmese railway locomotive shown below is displayed at Yasukuni as a symbol of Japanese might, spirit and will, there is no mention of the many thousands of POWs who were enslaved in the Siamese jungle and tortured into constructing the railway in some of the most appalling conditions conceivable. Some recognition of this horrific human sacrifice wouldn’t go amiss at the exhibition, I feel…
Highlight #4: Veggie fest and lantern lighting. Mayu and I spent a blissful (if stonkingly hot) few hours in Ueno Park munching on vegan kebab and burger, and slurping down a magnificent bean and soya milk kakigori (flavoured shaved ice in a cup). Tokyo is waking up to a glorious new veggie future, I tell thee!
Post eco grub, we wandered across to the lake which was burgeoning with lily pads so large they would have towered over our heads had we not been standing on a raised platform. We watched the watery smear of a sun melt into the horizon behind the skyscrapers, talking of hopes, dreams, and far-off places. As the darkness gathered around us, a group of chanting monks took to the water in rowboats laden with thousands of little box lanterns, each a dedication to someone who has passed away. As they set the golden boxes a-bobbing on the water, the effect was one of magical serenity – at least until a few wisps of evening breeze seemingly proved too much for the tealights within, and snuffed them out. Lovely while they lasted.
Highlight #5: I found a pair of Hello Kitty flipflops for 54 yen in a bargain bin. I was in the market after my Nicaraguan ones finally bit the dust one evening last week, and what with the smashing cheesiness of the design and the comfort they afford me, this purchase has made its way into my current list of life wins.
Must be off now, dear reader – alas, my flat is still resembling the very bargain bin which coughed up the new flipflops, and I’ve got to be out of here by tomorrow… GAH. So much to do. So many emotions slooshing round my brain, too – currently a disorienting mix of wistfulness for the past few months and anticipation for imminent adventures in the north… keep a look out for a Hokkaido update very soon!
Extra highlights from the week recorded below through photos – have a gander at your leisure 🙂
Happy Friday, lovely people! Otsukaresama deshita, one and all 😀