With a full heart, I visited my island haunts for the last time yesterday. My contract with JET ends with July, and the new Assistant Language Teacher for Tokunoshima High School arrives this upcoming week.
For the month of August, I am embarking on a multi-country odyssey — testing the skills acquired over my two years of solo living and solo traveling in Asia. More than that, I have committed to live my nomadic weeks in line with the principles that I want to govern my life: care for others before myself, worshipping God in his creation through my sub-creation, resting in his providence and care. As he has blessed me with bountiful opportunities to travel his marvelous world, I want to enjoy them in a spirit of faithful service.
Before venturing further afield, I am passing another week in Japan, gently parting from the place and people so dear to my heart. Of all my souvenirs, I will treasure most the farewell photos from the past few days, with my many teachers and friends.
My music teachers, voice and piano, saw me off in style: with mini-recitals and a gift of bound sheet music for beginners. They have patiently shepherded me over the past year, from fumbling and squeaking over the notes to playing and singing with confidence. Arikawa-sensei even composed an original song for me, to suit my voice range, about my life teaching, biking, and ferry around the islands.
A few months ago, I decided to stretch myself by joining a street dance class. The teacher, an island local, just so happened to have concentrated on English studies in school. He wove in the history of hip hop roots, asking me to comment on imported terms for moves like “spotlight”.
Island life initiated me into that great social phenomenon of “being a regular” – mutual recognition when I entered a restaurant, settling into routines of when to eat and what to order. The little smiles of acknowledgment rooted in a warm, often wordless affection, nowhere moreso than at the sushi carousel restaurant (kuru kuru – ‘it comes and comes!’). On my last night, I claimed my usual seat at the counter, and the chef spun out plates of all my favorites: salmon, fatty tuna, eel. A laconic fellow, he nodded when I confessed, “Saigo desu. This is my last time.”
Of all the conveyor belt places I’ve visited, I told him, this is number one. A smile crept out. “Come eat sushi with us here again,” he said.
At the high school, I closed out my contract with a week of summer school classes. Yamamoto-sensei and I taught together every morning, quizzing the first graders (froshmores) on fish noses and Japanese bathrooms, pacing the second graders (juniors) through university exam-style reading questions – equally as tough as any SAT passages. Friday passed in a flurry of paperwork and packing, with a brief respite to thank the students for our time together. They presented me with a scrapbook, titled with a photo of my first day on the island, filled with thank you notes from every student.
After the teachers arrived in force to vacuum, sweep, and bag trash at my house, we posed in front of the school. From left to right: Kamimura-sensei (a new teacher this year), Yoshimori-sensei (an intrepid traveler) and Yamamoto-sensei: my supervisor, primary co-teacher, karate coach, and all-around admirable man. Alas, we missed Nishiyama-sensei: kind and fatherly, he patiently addressed my every question and chatted with me about his masters work on Charles Dickens.
A band of lady teachers assembled to conduct me to the airport. One last photo of my house, and we cruised the highway in the resplendant early sunset rays – the mountains and coastline I’ve come to know and love so well flashing by.
I boarded a fifty-seater plane to Kagoshima – my friends waving from the airport rooftop as we lifted off!