I’m sitting in the Tokyo Narita airport watching planes take off, and already this entire trip is starting to take on a dream-like quality. Did I really climb Bukhansan in South Korea? Did I really meet Caroline Kennedy? Did I really, really eat octopus and squid?? Hmmm… maybe there are some memories that I’m okay with leaving behind.
Yesterday was my last day in Japan. It was the day I’ve been dreading for the entire trip, and it turned out to be the best one. I was dreading it because it was the day of the symposium. Around 80-100 teachers from Japan came to hear American teachers (ahem, INCLUDING ME) speak about the American and Japanese education systems. I was so nervous, and I remember sitting there thinking, “This is so strange. People came all the way here to listen to what I have to say? Me, the 26-year-old punk from Kalamazoo, Michigan? What could I possibly have to offer these people?” I feel that my presentation went alright, though, and I was relieved when it was over. Some Japanese teachers asked questions, but I don’t think I gave any answers that were particularly idiotic (phew!). I even got a thumbs up or head nod from a few of my American colleagues when I said something with which they particularly agreed. It was extremely fun to be in a professional setting with people from different countries who care as much about education as I do.
After the symposium there was a reception. We drank wine, ate more weird food, and walked around mingling and discussing education for a few hours. Unbeknownst to me, this was the part of the movie (oh wait, I mean trip) where all of the characters from the rest of the scenes come back and make one last appearance. It’s the last scene in a Broadway show where the company comes out and sings the last reprise.
As I was walking out of the symposium, I heard someone call my name. I turned to see my host mom coming toward me with her two daughters – I couldn’t believe they had come to see me! I gave them huge hugs (which is culturally awkward for Japan, but I was too happy so I did it anyway). They presented me with a pair of traditional Japanese shoes to go with my kimono as a goodbye present. I had honestly thought I would never see them again, so it was such a wonderful surprise. After seeing my host family, I walked into the reception and saw two of the JET teachers with whom we’d eaten dinner on that first night of tatami mat floors and bacon-wrapped potatoes. Also, I saw another blast from my past – John, the British teacher from Nishi high school. Remember him? I did. We talked more about his time at Oxford and the problems and successes of British and American education systems. It was as if my entire ten days in Japan had somehow condensed themselves into this tiny reception room.
Once the reception was over, the American teachers decided to go do some karaoke to celebrate our last night together and also to celebrate Beth’s birthday. I thought American karaoke was fun, but now it’s ruined for me. Japanese karaoke is THE BEST THING EVER. In America, karaoke means you have to sing in front of random strangers who are smoking in corners of shady bars. In Japan, you get your own room for only you and your friends, and there are neon lights and couches and tables and delicious food (delicious being a relative term here, of course, because we were still in Japan). The other teachers and I were rocking out in this karaoke room. By “rocking out,” I mean dancing on the floor and on couches, singing at the top of our lungs all together and laughing until we couldn’t breathe. We were singing ACDC and then Frozen and then Beatles, because who cares what the song is when you’re singing it with your friends? You would think people would need to be drunk for this kind of activity, but I think we were all drunk on Japan. International travel does weird things to people. (Side note: a few teachers said they might do some writing about this trip once the trip is over – please send me whatever you write. I’d love to read it).
In such a very foreign country, we had quickly become friends. Family, even. We all knew this would be our last night together, and we didn’t want to waste it. We’re from all corners of the country and all walks of life, and we never would have met if not for this trip. Someone mentioned that we would almost certainly never see each other again after that night, and that gave me a great idea. “I have the best song for us!” I said. I typed my idea into the machine, and then we all sang “We Are Never Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift. It’s “our song” now. That was one of my favorite moments of the night, because it’s stupid to make empty promises that we’ll all get together again one day. We won’t, even though that would be awesome. Even if we did, it would never, never be like it was in Japan. It’s more fun to be realistic, laugh about it, and make the most of our last night by dancing to some TSwift than to be sad and try to avoid the inevitable. We had a good thing going for these past ten days – a really good thing. I’m going to miss it. I’m going to miss all of them. As one of them told me today, however, “the credits are rolling.” The movie is over. It’s time to go home
There’s my boarding call. Sayonara, Japan. You were amazing.