Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sayonara Sera!

July 31st was officially my last day working and living in Sera, Hiroshima, Japan. After five years teaching in Sera Town with the Sera Town Board of Education at three junior high schools and ten elementary schools, including a city sponsored adult language class every Tuesday night, I made many good friends. Among my closest friends were some of my ex-students, who I continued to stay in contact with after they had graduated JHS.

Imagine my surprise, when on the very last day, I was taking a load of trash out to the garbage bin area when two of my favorite past students, now finishing their second year of high school, came strolling up to me at 7:30 am in the morning. They quickly informed me that another one of my favorite past students would be joining them shortly.

A few minutes later the final girl showed up, and I gave them all some tea. They chatted with me for almost two full hours, and let me know how much they appreciated me as their Sensei. They informed me that I was the best English teacher they ever had, and that by helping them with speech contests, eiken tests, and club activities over the years, that they felt close to me, as if I was their big brother.

I felt extremely overjoyed by their surprise visit, and tears were welling up in all of our eyes as they left on the long walk to high school. From my old apartment it takes about 45 minutes by foot to get to the high school.

I will miss each and every one of my students dearly, but these three (including a fourth who was unable to make it) I will miss most of all. I watched them grow from elementary students to young ladies, and it was an honor and a pleasure getting to know them.

Another set of lovely and wonderful ladies we will dearly miss are the mothers of Sayaka and Solara's Mama-Tomo group. Mama-Tomo is short for Mama Tomodachi group. They were not only extremely supportive, and caring, but since all of their children were roughly Solara's age, she had many good play friends.

Often times the Mama-Tomo group met up on weekends and we would have fun adventures going fruit picking, including strawberries, plums, and nashi (Japanese pears). They all partook in the local events, and we all went to see the famous children's show Inai-Inai-Ba! live when it came through town and the beloved character Wan-Wan the green dancing dog!  Wan-Wan jumped off the stage, ran up to me, the one foreigner in the front row, and shook my hand and said to me, "Taihen desu ne, Pappa!"

On our last official day in Sera, the Mama-Tomo group showed up, unexpectedly, and took Solara with them and babysat her for the full day allowing Sayaka, myself, and our dear friend Tani-san to have time to thoroughly clean the apartment. Nagamori-san even came down from upstairs to help us, even though she had just had her second baby a couple months earlier, she was working just as hard as any of us. I can't even begin to express my gratitude for all the help we received.

We'll never forget any of you!

Over the years living in Japan, I became close friends with the local high school ALT, Arend Sijnja (aka the Sardine Ninja). Of all the foreigners on JET Programme,  he was the only one I related to on a person to person level. I'm sure there are other fine JETs on the programme that I would have liked to get to know better than I just didn't have time to (Dan, Ryan, and Luc come to mind), but Arend and I hit it off. Not right away of course. I don't think we even talked the full first year in Sera, but gradually, via bus rides and hanging out in Hiroshima City during orientations and mid-year conferences, we got to know each other. Our friendship blossomed, and we began hanging out in Sera more often, spending time watching movies, talking about Japanese culture, and sharing our experiences, feelings, and hopes and dreams with each other. More than this, however, we could be ourselves. We didn't need to "act Japanese" but we could just be who we are--and that was liberating--just to have someone who you could open up to and share with, who would understand you, and give you feedback.

Arend is definitely one of the closest friends I have, and I will make a valiant effort to keep in touch with him, as he has returned to New Zealand.

Many of my funnest memories are with the adult students from my Eikawa (English conversation) class. Kumiko Inuoe (top left) was like a host mother to me, and threw some amazing Christmas and Halloween parties. Fujimoto-san helped me a lot before I left Sera, as did Ishibashi-san and others at the Board of Education. They're care and guidance will be missed. None will be missed more than Yasuo Izzuka, my first supervisors, and one of the nicest, dedicated, and most hard working man I have ever met. Izzuka helped me with everything from setting up bank accounts, to getting Internet installed, to helping me buy my first car in Japan. His hard work and dedication are only matched by the bigness of his heart.

Oda-san, a salesman at Honda who, along with Izzuka, helped me get my car, will be missed as well. He was like my host father, so to speak, and always made us welcome in his home. We spent many a fun barbeque over at his place shooting the breeze and relaxing. Likewise, Mr. Utsumi, the bona fide master chef at Kaizumi, will be missed. Every dish he makes, every morsel of food he touches with his magic hands, turns out heavenly. His hospitality and his going out of the way to make us the best atmosphere in any restaurant ever--made us enjoy eating at Kaizumi more than any other restaurant in Japan. Not only that, but his food is unbelievably good--I'm talking $150 plate delectable. The only reason we could even afford to eat his cooking, is because of his passion for it, and his desire to share how amazing food can truly be with everyone--no matter their budget.

Although I will miss teaching at my schools, and miss the teachers and students alike, I will especially miss the students and faculty of Sera Nishi Junior High School. Due to the schools small size, everyone you see in the above picture is it, we became close knit--and students and teachers no longer seems like pupils and co-workers, but rather, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters.

After an amazing send off, I kept my nerve the whole day, accepting gifts along with intimate hugs and goodbyes. One of my English teachers broke down in tears, saying she'd miss me horribly, and I didn't even know I had made that big of an impact. I stayed cheerful, even as there were so many eyes brimming with tears, but I kept it together--that is until I packed up the final box of my things into the car and started driving away. Sobs and tears unexpectedly broke out, as I broke down in the car. Five years is a long time, especially when you feel so close to such a tight community of parents, teachers, and their children--it felt like I was being torn away from my family.

I will hold dear the memories of the people I met at Sera Nishi, the times we shared running marathons in the blizzard in the middle of winter, whether it was arm wrestling in class, or answering the often personal questions by my curious students, or just handing out with the students on a hot summer day--lounging around on the high jump pads, and watching Japanese anime on my laptop with the students. Everyone at Sera Nishi Junior High School impacted my life, and I hope, that maybe, I impacted theirs too.

So with fond memories, and a heavy heart, know that I love you all--and will miss you more than mere words can reflect.

Sayonara Sera!

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