At least this time, I go for the celebratory white shirt per Japanese rules. I will wear that tie in 2015 should the need to look good matter. It matches everything.
After three years in Japan, I am going home in six days' time.
I had never planned on staying in Japan for three years. Just one and done. That was the plan.
I didn't even want to go to Japan… I just signed up because a woman I liked in Toronto was doing the same.
Yes… then as now, Andrew is ruled by his gonads… though I do like to think that every once in a while his heart will fall down the rabbit hole with him.
I got home from work and had another shower. I can still smell Noboko in my nostrils, and while a more wonderful scent I can not think of to carry around with me all day, I am unsure if I am also carrying around a scent of sex, too.
The guys wouldn't have a clue as to what they are smelling on me, but the women would, as I have had, over the ensuing years, more than one woman sniff me and comment inappropriately.
It's July… and while it's usually very hot and humid here in Ohtawara during the summer months (as it is in most of Japan), this evening there's a cool, comfortable breeze coming from the northwest that might have a chance of moving my hair if it weren't held down by a thick and heavy ponytail.
I walk the 10 minutes comfortably to the hall, and look around and see my bosses, who all come running up to me, bowing and scraping and welcoming me to my own good-bye party.
In fact… I think all the junior high school teachers in the city are already there. Mayor Sembo and other politico's, including Matthew's soon-to-be father-in-law are here, too. I sit between Tomura-sensei and the Mayor (he's still the mayor as of 2015).
|Tomura-sensei sans jacket, myself, and Mayor Sembo pointing. I think that's Matthew's father-in-law-to-be in the middle with his back to the camera.|
Japanese punctuality at its finest.
I would actually have arrived 15 minutes earlier, and noted as much, so I walked around the block a couple of times saying konichiwa (hello) to everyone who dared look up at me, which, after three years, I am delighted to say was everyone.
Noboko is there. She gives me a slight smile, but quickly glances away in case anyone should notice.
No one knows she and I are dating. She has gone through great pains to assure herself of that comfort of mind for her job and personal security.
Hanazaki-san wanders over to me, puts an arm around my shoulders and squeezes lightly in a fatherly embrace, and nods over in Noboko's general direction: "Kikuchi-sensei is very beautiful. You are very lucky."
Yeah, like I said, no one knows.
Brief speeches are given in Japanese, translated by Wakakusa Chu Gakko head English teacher Mr. Tomura, who in my mind bears a strong resemblance to Mr. Sulu from Star Trek fame, but I would never tell him that. I am 'out there' as far as being quick-witted, but that doesn't mean I get off on jokes or comments at other people's expense.
|Tomura-sensei and family. I'm going to do a story on them someday.|
The speakers stood on a raised platform. I stood on the stage facing the crowd of maybe 70 people as the OBOE Superintendent gave a speech, thanking me for my hard work or something—to be honest, it was all a blur, as I glanced at each and every person in the audience and had my thoughts flip around to all the wonderful times I had with everyone.
|The charming, witty and very sarcastic Ishihara Noriko (surname first) on the right, who deserves a blog within the next week for the wonderful goodbye gift she presented to me.|
A stupidly large bouquet of flowers was given to me, and then it was my turn to speak, ably translated by Mr. Tomura.
|Mrs. Banai-sensei immediately to my right - I swear, if she was single... The poor bastard on the far-right, Arai-sensei, taught at Kaneda-Kita Chu Gakko.|
But I spoke of how a very scared Andrew came to this country, not knowing how to do any of the simple things in life such as cook or clean, do laundry, or shop for food (to which I think confused all of the men in my gathering, as I'm sure they didn't know, either), but thanks to their friendship, and understanding that I didn't know anything but wanted to learn, every single one of them was MY teacher.
I went on about how much I loved Ohtawara, the teachers, vice-principals, principals, and especially the students…
And that was when a teacher at one of the other schools yelled out, "Except for Kaneda Kite, ne?"
Yeah, that school—Kaneda Kite Chu Gakko—had for the past 2-1/2 years been awful (think Hitler Youth, but without the personality)… but not since the new school year began in April… no… those kids were great, and I corrected my enthusiastic, but mostly accurate heckler.
I did tell them one little story, that at least made it easier for me to end my AET (assistant English teacher) career.
"In my first year, everywhere I went, people would should and welcome me: 'An-do-ryu-sensei!!!! Yay!!!! - and I would shake hands and sign autographs for all the kids."
In my second year, people would politely bow and say: "Konichi-wa, An-do-ryu sensei."
In my third year, people would ask: "Are you still here?"
It got the requisite laughs. Everyone knew I wasn't completely serious, that it was a joke, but yes, becoming a familiar face does have its drawbacks.
I followed up with a smiling: "Jodan, ne (A joke, eh)."
Me speaking Japanese always messes up Tomora-sensei, as he tries to figure out why those words sound familiar but doesn't know how to translate it in Japanese - and then he gets it and repeats my response in English. Great guy.
Then I told them about my FIRST impressions of the OBOE.
"When I first arrived in Japan and was being driven home by Kanemaru-san and Hanazaki-san...
I pause for the translation...
"Kanemaru-san looked stern compared to the always-smiling Hanazaki-san.
"The non-English-speaking Kanemaru-san decided to sit down beside me in the van, pulled out his Japanese-to-English dictionary and proceeded to tell me a joke in English, pointing to each word one-by-painful-one in his dictionary.
"The joke he told me wasn't very funny, but it didn't matter. I laughed loud, and I laughed hard.
"Kanemaru-san and his effort made to make me feel immediately at ease, and typifies how the society inhabited by the students, teachers, co-workers, people of Ohtawara, the men, and especially the women (here I glanced at Noboko and then devilishly winked at very cute and sexy Mrs. Banai-sensei - who covered her mouth and giggled)… of Japan.
"I mean… he told me a joke (I'm pointing right at Kanemaru-san)… in English… one finger and one-word at a time.
"How can I not love people like Kanemaru-san and Japan?
"I love you all and will miss each and every single one of you."
|The affable Kanemaru-san, who took all of the photos at my good-bye party.|
The speech earned me a standing ovation, which I'm sure would have been given even if the speech was crap... a final toast... and then we started drinking.
|I pour some orange juice for the fantastic Nagashima-sensei who introduced me enthusiastically to Noboko, as though she knew she should be someone important in my life.|
For many of the married female teachers, I don't pour beer, I pour apple or orange juice. Noboko had Coke. I told you they listen! You don't have to drink alcohol in Japan. But... it helps (I'm looking at you, brother).
For the male teachers, married or single, and for the two unmarried female teachers—Ishihara-sensei (who should be married, but is as independent a free-spirit as Noboko) and my Noboko—I pour them all drinks in small juice glasses, which could be easily sloshed back if so desired… and apparently all the men, excluding the very smart Tomoura-sensei, felt that need tonight.
Me… every time one of those bastard teachers swilled down a shot, I was expected to do the same, so after 20 minutes or less, I probably had the equivalent of six beers—and not those wimpy little bottles of beer you can buy readily, no… I'm talking of 633mL bottles, which means I was already bloated on 3.8 liters of golden nectar.
|Shibata-sensei seems quite surprised at my ability to drink large quantities of beer, but I don't know why...|
Like I said… I'm unsure if there was food… there must have been… and I'm pretty sure I would have sucked back a skewer or seven of yakitori (grilled chicken on a stick) or I would have been completely screwed up.
Here's the thing… after three years in Japan, I had propagated the theory that all foreigners can drink, coming by the nickname "Hebi-Durinka (Heavy Drinker)" quite honestly.
When I first arrived, the Japanese were constantly testing me out, to see if it was true about what they had heard about foreigners, which played well into my hands as far as the Japanese women were concerned.
- Foreigners don't like o-cha (green tea). It was 1990-1993, and green tea wasn't as proliferate as it is nowadays in western society. I preferred the 'house' green tea, but did not care for the bitterness of the powdered high end stuff one could get at a real Japanese tea house. I also did not care for green tea ice cream, which was served to us Tochigi-ken neophytes on our first official dinner get-together, where I first met Ashley, Jeff and Matthew. Matthew probably liked the stuff, Ash and I were blasé about it, but Jeff just hated it - later letting on that he hated all Japanese foods, keeping the gaijin stereotype alive for the Japanese. Since Jeff married a Japanese woman, I wonder what she cooks for him?
- Foreigners don't use chopsticks very well. I don't know where that came from. True I had no clue how to use chopsticks when I arrived, but Hanazaki-san taught me using a pencil and a pen one morning in the OBOE office, and in the ensuing weeks, I only dumped food on myself four times, but became adept enough at them to win a speed-eating contest against a fellow Japanese slob. I use chopsticks at least once a week when I have Chinese or Japanese take-out for lunch at work.
- Foreigners like to drink. A lot. Again… many do. Most don't. Some not at all. It's like Japan. Now, because I was surrounded by Japanese men all the time, I got to see a lot of heavy drinking Japanese. However... if any Japanese person was to go to a bar in downtown Toronto on a Friday or Saturday night, he or she would see a lot of heavy drinking partying Canuckleheads pounding back the booze to stem off the frostbite and suffering of another terrible season of hockey by their local team (provided said local team was the Toronto Maple Leafs). Me? I can out drink most people, though admittedly, I haven't been drunk in nearly 16 years, so I am completely out of practice and would now be considered a 'cheap date'. But in Japan, I could pound them and pound them and pound them, and not be afflicted the next day with any kind of hangover. I did barf a couple of times, but I was probably already sick from something else.
|More beer, Master?|
|Killer legs. I should ask her out.|
By 10PM—it is a work night for the teachers—the party is over, and the after-party stuff begins.
I say 'okay' to the after-party stuff, but remind the party-goers, that while I don't have to work tomorrow, they do, to which all the people—everyone male, and everyone in their 40s+—acknowledged that fact and then dragged me out to a mama-san bar for some whiskey and some hot ramen noodles.
Buddha bless the after-hours, or in this case, late-evening-hours noodle shops and mama-san bars.
Personally, aside from these drunken office parties (aka - enkai), I never frequented the mama-san bars or noodle shops. If I wanted noodles, I could get that once a week for a school lunch, or I could get some instant stuff and make my own in the evening. No biggie.
And having an older Japanese woman fawn over me to encourage me to drink more expensive booze—not my cup of tea, regardless of my state of inebriation or ebriation (is that a real word? Probably somewhere it is).
Still, it's my last chance to party with the old boys, most of whom looked after me quite well these past three years - so I go, and I drink their paid-for whiskey (I am not a whiskey fan - sorry, preferring vodka, rum and Kentucky bourbon, as far as spirits go), and have a more quiet time doing karaoke while accumulating some appropriate male bonding brotherhood time.
At 12AM, as if by magic, everyone's wife shows up at the front door to drag their drunk husband home in the car.
Kanemaru-san—my first Japanese friend in Japan—slurs to his wife that he is driving me home, but of course she's driving. Hey! Did he say that in English? No way! I must be hammered.
His wife pours us into the white van, and before I have time to find the seatbelts in back, we're at my apartment.
We really were only 47 seconds away from my apartment.
Kanemaru-san gets out of the van and tries to bow a goodnight to me and stumbles forward a bit, as I catch him. I guess I'm not that hammered.
He offers a handshake, but I'll have none of that, and tell him he's my very good friend and hug him.
He says: "An-do-ryu mai fu-rendo, too."
His English was always better than my Japanese.
I say good night in Japanese to them both, he replies the same but in English - WTF?!
Does everyone but me speak a different language better when drunk?
I take the first stairs two at a time and decide I better do them one at a time... fumble a moment to unlock the door, take a whizz to make Austin Powers embarrassed, have a shower, dry myself and walk sans clothes to my bedroom and slide open the the doors.
"Have a good time?" asks Noboko, revealingly spread out on my bedsheets with her sweet-smelling head of hair propped up by a crooked right hand.
I don't know if she's asking or offering, but what the hell, the party's over. Let's get this party started!
|Banzai! Every time I look at this photo, the speaker above looks like a giant hat floating above his head.|