It feels awfully strange to be writing Ben In Japan from New York, but I have one last set of pictures, and it would be wrong to just never post them. I've been back a week now, moved back home, saw friends, had a party, got a lame American cell phone, drove a car on the right side of the road, and got used to speaking English again. It's tough sometimes, especially when I try to remember something back in Japan, and I find the memory already fading. A whole year of my life, a routine, a job, friends, a home - and as soon as I stepped off the plane in New York, it felt like I had just been on a long vacation. I am so glad I took all the photos I did, because only when I am looking at them do I remember everything, even the things I didn't photograph. Something about those images - each one is like a little window I can poke my head through and look around.
So the really strange part is that I now have to post pictures from a week ago that feel like they are from a different planet. I'm just going to put them up, and I'll explain where I feel it's necessary.
Day before the last day, at the half-pipe.
Mori and Naoki.
The night before my last night, I was invited to a big dinner with the Nakamuras. Everyone was there, and the food was delicious. It was hard in the last few days, because everything I did was the last. The last day on the boat, the last time on the scooter, the last drive to Kinoe, the last dinner with Mori. It's not easy, that.
Mori, lighting a cigarette ridiculously.
After dinner it was time to go see fireworks by boat. Both the Nakamura boats went out, and when we got to the spot, we tied them together and broke out the snacks and drinks.
Hiroko took this picture of her parents which I like a lot.
After the fireworks was a huge party, which combined goodbye to me, celebration of summer for all the young people on the island, and a live show by a musician from Hiroshima. It was crazy and fun and exciting and I think I'm going to keep the photos and memories of it for myself.
The next day was my last day in Japan. It was pretty full, starting with a mildly hung-over barbecue at the half-pipe.
Me, Kawamoto-san, and his son, who was one of my students.
I did some chopstick grilling with Hiroko.
Me and my bro, for a last photo.
A last dip in the inland sea.
Pretty idyllic, right?
We went out for a last drive at sunset, up around those windy roads I love so much and miss now that I'm home, views of mountains and islands all around, the sound of cicadas and birds in the heavy air - it was pretty silent as we drove, I was just trying to remember everything, and I think Mori might have been too.
And that was it. I don't remember what I had for dinner, but that night I had a number of long and difficult goodbyes, final looks at people who I had been friends with all year, people who had taught me Japanese and taken me places I never could have gone otherwise, and each one of them, I would have to just look them in the eye and say goodbye. It wasn't easy; there were tears.
After about an hour of sleep, I woke up at 4:30 and got ready to go to the ferry with Tabo-san. He picked me up at five, just as the night started turning into day. We loaded my stuff into the car, put Neko in her cage, and then got on our way. This was really the last - last view of my house, last drive through Osaki, last sight of every shop and place I had come to know over the course of the year - and before I knew it we were at Shiromizu ferry port at 5:20 in the morning, 40 minutes before the ferry. Bit by bit, people started showing up. First were a couple adult conversation class students, then one of my best students from Higashino Junior High. A car pulled up with a worker from the Board of Education, and then Mori's gold minivan pulled up with him, his two sisters, and his mother. People kept coming, more students, the assistant principal from one of my schools, Matsuura-san, my translator and helper in all things official, and Akko, my self-described "mom in Japan."
I'm standing on the ferry, and they are standing on the dock. This is about as sad as it gets.
Actually no wait. This is as sad as it gets. Watching your friends slowly drift away on a tiny Japanese island that you have come to think of as home. Watching the sun come up on the most beautiful place you've ever been, seeing it get further and further away, knowing that you can never really return, and knowing that a chapter of your life is slowly and deliberately coming to an end. That is the saddest thing.
More and more last views.
Last look at the island.
Sad as it was, it was an absolutely beautiful morning. It made me wish I had gotten up at 5:30 before, just to get out and see things like this.
Tabo-san, my boss, driver, and go-to guy.
And that was it - off I went, to the airport, through security, onto the plane, and then out of Hiroshima. The camera stayed with me the whole time, so I didn't stop taking pictures.
Last photo of Hiroshima prefecture.
Last look at Japan.
And 15 hours later, coming down at JFK in New York.
That about sums up Ben In Japan. I am no longer in Japan, and so this blog will stop updating. I have a new one almost ready to go, and when it is ready, keep an eye on this page for the new address. Expect it in the next week or so, though I can't make any promises.
For those of you who have read this blog, commented, put yourself on the map, or just flipped through the pictures, thank you. I have enjoyed every minute of writing it, and I'm glad this place managed to find an audience. I hope you'll keep reading the next one, which will be slightly different, but hopefully still good.
Good night, and good bye.