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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: One Of Those Days

It almost seems prophetic that I would be publishing a story about my last day in Japan on April 1st—April Fool's Day.

It's Wednesday, July 21, 1993 - and the whole one-year JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme experience is about to come crashing to an end three years after it began... or nearly six years after I began writing about it here.

I'm a mixed ball of emotions... but all of them degrees of sadness.

Sad at leaving Noboko - if even for a few months. Sad at leaving Ohtawara. Sad at not teaching these junior high school kids anymore. Sad at leaving my apartment - my home these past years. Sad at leaving my friends. Sad at leaving Japan.

I'm sad, in case you didn't get that.

I'm sad because although I have the girl... I'm unsure if I will get to keep the girl.

The girl is Noboko, the most beautiful woman I have ever met. Plus she's really good-looking, too.

For the past several months, I have worked to woo her after seeing her for the first time in April at the school we were teaching at—me for that week, and her, JUST replacing another teacher who had moved to another school. Initially, she hated my guts for reasons oft explained in this blog, and it took the combined efforts of me being me and her students saying I was a great guy, that eventually she changed her off-key tune and agreed to go out with me. Once.

Once became twice which became often to every damn night, to where she, against her father's wishes, essentially moved into my apartment last week here in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken.

A fire burning too hot, too fast... running out of oxygen to fuel it as I'm about to fly back to Toronto today.

We're up in our apartment at 7AM.

She has her vicious menstrual cramps continually kicking her in the gut, so I could kiss a spectacular last night sayonora. Instead, it was a lot of talking about my years here, cuddling and occasional kissing.

We shower separately, get dressed and eat a couple of onigiri riceballs her mom sent along as a goodbye care package yesterday when she visited in secret from her husband.

He really doesn't want a gaijin (foreigner) as a son-in-law, and who can blame him? Me, I suppose.

I don't want a Japanese father-in-law.

I'd prefer just to have a father-in-law. I don't give a sh!t about nationality... but here... apparently it's a big thing. That's the main thing I hate about Japan.

It's about Japan, with everything else being foreign.

Yeah, I have a Toshiba brand television, but I don't say I have a Japanese television, I just say I have a blah-blah-inch LCD or whatever television. I don't even know anymore... 

I'm pretty open. My parents are from India. I was born in England, lived most of my life (excluding three in London and three in Ohtawara) in Canada. I consider myself 'Andrew; first and 'Canadian' someplace after that... maybe 'writer', second. 'Curiouser and curiouser' third (you know what I mean) and definitely 'Renaissance man' fourth...

While I am proud to be a Canadian, it's not at the top of the list of things that define me, even though being Canadian allowed me to be those things listed above and more. Trust me... being a brown-skinned dude, I have to defend my cultural heritage often enough... and for me, that means being Canadian. 

Wait a minute... did my concept of who I am actually list 'writer' as #2? True... but while it is my profession, I write this blog because I enjoy writing. I sure as hell don't do it to get rich. Look at all the ads on here. See any?


We eat quickly... I pack up my toiletries... Noboko makes the bed with fresh sheets, leaving a note that the one's in the laundry room are in need of a launder... clean out the fridge and toss out the garbage.

I make sure the windows and doors are all locked, grab my carry-on and my one suitcase and head along the outside hallway to the elevator and stop off at the apartment manager's office to hand in my keys.

I realize that I should have presented them with some parting gift, but I didn't know that... but Noboko knew that and had an ornate box of classy Japanese green tea in hand, bowing and proffering it to the manager as I said my thank-you's and good-bye's to them.

I never really ever dealt with them, nor they with me - except when the bosses added a wall A/C unit for me (and they had to punch a hole in the wall to the outside), and maybe when I didn't roll up the futon enough, and had the tatami mats turn black with some hallucinogenic fungus growing. I was a pretty good tenant (probably played my hard rock music tapes too loudly) and hardly had guests (I invited the neighbors to a big loud party I held in Year 3), and always knew the names of the women I would bring up (such howling! You'd think I was beating all of them with a stick)—and I left the apartment exactly as I found it (except for a hole I punched in the wall and covered with a map of Ohtawara. Ashley.)

Ash... she brought out the worst in me. I took it out on the wall after she broke up with me again. While I'm a lot stronger now in 2015, back then those walls were thin enough for my noodle arms to power some damage.

Hmm... I guess Noboko should have got them a bigger box of good-bye tea.

Still... no police or official or unofficial complaints. My neighbors and I kept to ourselves (which is what I want, anyways, seeing as how I am usually so out there in the public eye, and need private time when I want private time).

Story again...

Noboko drives us from Ohtawara to Nasu Shiobara train station about 30 minutes north. We park, we go into the shinkansen (bullet train) ticket area and I look to purchase our tickets to Tokyo, but Noboko has already done that days ago, apparently. With her own money, I assume.

We have two reserved tickets - the first time I've ever had reserved tickets on a shinkansen bullet train, and we ride the 60+ minute distance effortlessly to Tokyo.

My thoughts are a blur as much as the landscape outside speeding by.

I'm allowed to purchase a ticket for us both on the Narita Airport special subway train to Chiba-ken, where the so-called Tokyo Airport is... but it is, officially called the Narita Airport.

An hour later... we're both deathly quiet, just kind of leaning against each other, when the train arrives at the airport. It's Noon. High noon, if you're into that whole gunslinger thing.

My flight is at 6PM... so we have an hour or so for lunch before I should make my way to the proper gate and go through customs. They say I should arrive, for international flights, some three hours before departure. I'm never late.

Noboko and I grab lunch at a ramen shop, allowing me the opportunity to pay... and then we march slowly towards the check in.

It happens so fast. Minutes. And I'm done.

All I have to do now is walk through customs.

I turn and look at Noboko. She is crying.

I'm a pretty sensitive, emotional guy. I am. But I'm not crying. I'll be back in Japan soon.

I reaffirm that to her, but she's blubbering and my words seem to have no effect.

"Noboko... I love you very much. I'll talk to you when I'm back in Toronto, and I'll be back soon to see you. I love you."

"Good-bye," she blubbers and turns slightly away from me.

I grab her and hug her once more and inhale her shampooed hair.

Crap! It doesn't smell of apple blossoms. It smells of strawberries. Like my shampoo does. She had brought along her shampoo to our place this past week - why change now? She must have run out.

Before I can start crying (I was feeling misty-eyed), I turn and walk towards customs... she's still crying as I glance back.

I want to stop and go to her, but I continue walking... boarding pass and carry-on and passport and I'm through.

I turn and look to see her.

She's hugging herself as an older woman offers her a tissue.

She sees me. Waves and tries to smile... cries... and then bows at me.

I wave goodbye to Noboko and to Japan with a half smile on my face - the other half covered in infinite sadness, and I walk to the gate.

And then I wait three hours... trying to read some Stephen King book that doesn't register... so I try to write a letter to Noboko... but my thoughts are scrambled.

The plane comes, it takes me Detroit where I am forced to go through US customs at their airport while I await a connecting flight to Toronto two hours later.

Now... although I have my long hair done up nicely in a ponytail at the back... and I have a very neat and proper French-cut beard (think Cmdr. Ryker from Star Trek: TNG, except the beard is cut in square angles... it makes me look older and mature... in 2015 I'd wear it now, but there's too much grey. Ugh.

I'm also wearing a T-shirt with a couple of colorful Japanese dragons swirling through the clouds upon the white fabric. Along with my usual white Reeebok's, I'm wearing a pair of jeans that have vertical stripes (non-linear) colored blue, black and purple. The belt I am wearing has a lot of metal on it, as it is made of metal squares.

I suppose I look like an executive hippie.

But here's the thing. I know the U.S. Custom's folks in Detroit are only doing their job, but they actually bring their drug sniffing dog around to sniff me.  

I'm standing in a line with some other passengers waiting to see Customs when the officer with his German Shepard comes along - I like dogs, so no biggie - but the officer says:

"Go on, boy. Check'em out," pushing the canine toward me and only me. I could also add that I was the only person of color in that line, but I won't. I'm used to it.

Satisfied that I'm not some slick-looking grey-skinned drug-smuggler, the dog looks away (I doubt the dog can see color)... before suddenly getting a yank on the collar.

"Check'em again, boy! Check'em again!"

So the dog sniffs around me again... wags his tail.

I have three rottweilers in Toronto, so a German Shepherd wagging his tail looking for non-existent drugs on my person is hardly causing me to panic in the slightest.

The agent is pissed, figuring for sure he had some hippie-freak dope fiend.

Like I said... I know they are just doing their job... but everyone in that line was on the flight FROM Japan.

Who the fug is bringing drugs FROM Japan TO Detroit?!

No one is. Ever.

What I am bringing in, however, is over $14,000 cash in Japanese yen (¥1,400,000). It's in my wallet in large wad of ¥10,000 bills, plus the money clip in another pocket.

Apparently, that's a rule-breaker... as one is not allowed to carrying over $8,000 in cash... but no one asked and no one checked.

That's $14,000 I saved since April - doing extra night-time teaching jobs. In less than four months. That's including the lovely gold and sapphire ring and earrings I bought for Noboko, the food and drinks and other entertainment fees at dance clubs in Tokyo, and even paying for all of my stuff to be literally shipped back to Toronto. I had a lot of stuff, apparently, including two keyboards, a clarinet and a stereo system. 

I saved nothing and spent everything else for the previous 32 months.

The plane ride to Toronto was quick... Customs even quicker... my Dad is there to pick me up... I don't know what day it is, but it's bright outside... he asks me if I want to go home and sleep or go and visit mom in the hospital.

I opt for visiting my sick mother in the hospital.

I just left the love of my life in Japan... and now I'm visiting the woman who gave me birth in the hospital.

I'm back in Toronto, Canada. I nearly pass out when I think that just three days earlier I was climbing an active volcano with the woman I want to marry.

Life is rife with weirdness.

I visit with my mother for an hour - she seems alert and talkative, asking about Noboko (whom she had not yet met) and says she'll be out in a week. She's only 53... three years older than I am now as I write this.

When my father and I leave the hospital, it's getting dark, and the sun begins to set.

Andrew Joseph

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