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The End

Monday, August 14, 2006
Well, this is it. I don't leave tomorrow, but I am so busy that there will be no more time in the next two days for another blog post, so this is the one, the final bit of writing and pictures from Japan.

I feel like I should be writing an acceptance speech here, because it feels like I have won something. Rather than a job post I held for a year, it feels like I am coming up on the last days of some sort of all-expense-paid fantasy trip. I have lived an entire year on a tiny sub-tropical island waking up to the sun rising over the mountains, and going to sleep with the smell of the sea. I have wandered ancient temples with just the sounds wind in the bamboo for company. I have found brilliant starfish of every color 20 feet below the surface of the inland sea. I have found more beauty within 20 minutes of my house than I have ever seen before in my life. I have become comfortable and at ease in a culture that is utterly alien to me at first. I have taken 15,000 pictures. I have met some of the most wonderful people I have ever met anywhere, and I have gained a friend like no other. I have come to think of Japan as home. I have been happy.

I haven't done it all alone though. First and foremost, and just beyond anything I could ever have hoped for, there is Mori. Without him, this would have been a very different year. I have found myself saying recently that whenever I was working, I wasn't in love with life here, but as soon as I was off work, my life turned into the nonstop stream of joy that you see on this blog. That is largely due to Mori, who showed me things, took me places, and brought me into his life in a complete and total way. Without him I never would have gone fishing, I never would have gone out on a boat, I never would have found the delicious little restaurants scattered around, I never would have felt like I had really made friends and a life here. There is no way I can ever repay him for the incredible kindness he has shown me, but I can thank him here, and then again tomorrow when we go swimming together, then have dinner at his house, and then go out to watch fireworks at the last summer festival from his boat. So thank you Mori. Thank you for everything you have done, thank you for everything you have shown me, and I'll see you in New York, ne?

Today at dinner, Mori told me he couldn't come to the ferry port to say goodbye on Wednesday at 6 in the morning. I said "too early?" and he said "No. Too sad." He said he didn't think he could say goodbye to me at the ferry port, but he could probably come in his boat and wave a final goodbye across the water.

God this is hard to write.

Mori isn't the only one, though he is the only one I have to say goodbye to. Over the course of the year there have been a few people I have stayed in close touch with back home. I won't name those people because you know who you are, but you should know that if it hadn't been for the friendship, honesty, and warmth that I have gotten in bits and pieces, e-mails, letters, packages, and IMs - I would be dreading coming home. You have reminded me what great people I know back home, and you have given me so much to look forward to when I do get off that plane at JFK. Thank you, you have no idea how much your correspondence has meant to me.

To everyone else who read the blog, or just dropped me an e-mail now and then, thank you too. It is easy to feel like you are lost and alone when the nearest English speaker is across a cold sea, and your family is thousands of miles away, and yet knowing there was a group of people who kept up with my life here, who read and remembered and kept in mind the things I was doing - that helped a lot in some of the lonelier moments.

How on earth does one transition from that to the photos of the last couple days and what I did today? I propose that it is impossible to do smoothly, but I have photos, and I need to tell you about what I've been up to. Here we go.

A couple days ago, when I went to pick up my name stamp, I barely avoided being caught in a huge downpour. I took this picture, and then got back on the road.

Recently, I've been counting down sunsets. When I saw this one, it was four more, because that's as many many times as I'm going to see the sun set in Japan before I go.

Yesterday, I went to Hiroshima with Graham and Dave to do some shopping for them, get them cell phones, and look for a couple things myself. As usual, I hardly took any photos in Hiroshima, but I did take this one. This sounds awful, but whenever I am with someone and they back off taking a photo of someone because they say the person is too scary, or taking the photo would be creepy, I am instantly compelled to take the picture. It's kind of a cavalier move, I'm sort of being a jerk with my actions, but on the other hand after my time in Tokyo, I really think that the difference between a good photo and a missed chance that you will remember for a long time is that moment when you say "that is a great photo, but I don't know if I am comfortable taking it." This one is for Dave, and it was not too creepy, in the end.

At Round 1, in Hiroshima.

The Hiroshima Kagoyahime Bus. Oft-ridden, never photographed.

Coming into Takehara on the bus.

Fast forward to today. I went to Mihara with Mori and The Circus to attend a skate competition, and yesterday Dave left his backpack (with video camera, purchases, etc.) on the bus. We drove him to Takehara bus station to get the bag (of course found, kept, and probably cleaned and ironed while they held it too.) And then we dropped him back at the ferry, and then headed to Mihara.

Me, Dave, and the rest of the crew.

In Mihara, waiting for the thing to start. The little kid on the right - he lives right next door to me. He used to come down to the water and watch everyone skate, he is shy and quiet, but he loved watching the skating, and seemed to sort of idolize these older guys who could launch their skateboards into the air and somehow land on them again when they came down. He got a skateboard, and now everyone in The Circus is constantly helping him, teaching him, and he's down by the water skating more often than any of the other skaters. The guys all call him "Tabo" so I figured that was his family name. I finally asked Mori today, and he was like "no, no, it's a nickname - 'Taabo.'" I still didn't get it, even with an emphasized long a, and then I saw his skateboard. Written on it in spray paint is "Turbo" - that's his nickname. Frankly, that's the coolest nickname ever.

Turbo, who is forever in my mind Tabo - watching Mori do a kickflip.

It rained a bit, so we set about taking a good picture of Mori jumping the railing into the skating area.

Mori, with my video camera. Right after this, I have a video of Mori holding my camera.

Region Plaza in Mihara - where the skate competition was held.

We got back around 6, and this was the sight out over the water as we drove home.

Not bad, not bad. 2 more sunsets.

It was the Kaidenma - the wooden boat races that I photographed a year ago today. The boats had already passed, but the spectators were still about, and they made for some beautiful photographs.

And that's it. I will continue taking pictures obviously, but they won't be up here until sometime next week. I have no idea what the posts will be like, but I want this to be a complete record, so keep an eye here for a little while longer. Thank you for reading this far, and good night.

Parties, Parties, Parties

Sunday, August 13, 2006
A quick one tonight, but really it is a quick one every night. I am barreling to the end of my time here, and every day starts early and ends late. I have been getting odd shocks of searing pain in my head, and I think they are from lack of sleep. Oh well, I'll sleep on the plane home - I certainly won't be carrying any liquids.

I have been feeling the urge to conclude here, to write something that will tie up this entire amazing year beautifully and concisely, and simultaneously show how much I've grown and how much I've learned. Needless to say, I am having trouble. The other thing I am having trouble with is logistics. I will not be able to blog my departure, as I will be departing and my computer will be flying through the air in parts. I don't want to end on some random note, so I plan on finishing this from home. I wonder what the tone will be, I will try to keep it relevant. I hope it won't take to long to finish, this is really something to be done on site.

Tonight's pictures: Parties all over. First the Board of Education goodbye/welcome party. We went back to the Seifukan beer garden overlooking the sea and the islands, and I took this picture off the side. I have mentioned this before, but I don't know if I could imagine better roads for driving, especially on a scooter. I mean, look at this:

Simply perfection.

Koshida-san and Tabo-san, my noble boss.

It was so nice to be around all my quiet office people (see last post), but to see them having a grand old time.

The sun went down, the moon came out, and it became a beautiful night.

So after the party was over, Tabo-san asked me if I wanted to come do karaoke. I never turn down a chance at karaoke, so off we went. We got to the Ali Baba bar, and Tabo-san started it out, and holy crap he was an absolutely phenomenal singer. He has a huge range, a beautiful vibrato, and incredible sound. I was instantly jealous.

What a romantic - how can I resist?

As Tabo-san wound down, Mori and his crew showed up at the bar. Tabo-san ordered drinks all around, and so it was whiskey for the lot. Yum. Truth be told, I am so tired right now that my eyes are crossing and I can't focus on the screen. Here are the last three pictures, at Ali Baba with Mori and company. I can't count on myself to correctly type captions, so I hope they stand on their own. Good night.

Sorry, Fumiko.