Tuesday, 29 October 2013

I have the package

Shortly before I temporarily left Japan, I shipped a big box of stuff to Canada. The postman came right to the dorm for his regular deliveries, helped me fill out the form, and departed with my stuff crooked under his arm. Five years ago, at the conclusion of my high school exchange, I sent a couple of packages as well...but it was a very emotional time, and I couldn't bring myself to open them at first, because I felt like in some way it would officially signal the end to a time I'd treasured. And then days turned into months and then it was just kind of a thing.

Today I opened all three. I barely remembered what I put in the one I shipped two months ago, never mind five years.

 Ok then, U-Pack. What have you got for me?
 Pokemon, the jinbei from English Club, some books, more Pokemon. All right, sure.
 Ah! FF for Jugs, Tales for Goku. Picked these up at Kyouto Animate. They were well-received.
 Here I have tried to arrange my Pokemon charms into the shape of Japan, their positioning corresponding to the region they represent. As you can see, I failed.

Enough of that. Time to jump into nostalgia in the worst way.
 It looks like I stuffed as many papers as possible anywhere they would fit. Right on top are the slightly crumpled lyrics to a song my class did for a contest. In Japanese high schools, you stick with your homeroom class, and the teachers come to you. Obviously this means that a Japanese high school student has nowhere near the course choice or autonomy of a Western one, but the main advantage is that the class becomes a family, and I really mean that. My class was the best part of my previous stay. It was full of wonderful, energetic, kind people who were not only quick to welcome me into the fold, but continually proved their willingness to help me survive in the school and not only endure but actively help cultivate my tottering and unsure Japanese.

Homeroom classes do a lot of activities together, one of which was a...I don't know what you'd call it. A singing contest, is what it was anyway. The more proactive students selected a few songs, we narrowed it down to two, thought up a little skit, and then competed with the other classes in our year. I gather it was a nationwide competition so the winners must have advanced to the intramurals and so on. We didn't win, but practising with everybody is one of my fondest memories from that time. This video from 1rittoru no Namida should give you an idea what it was like. As you can see we performed a half-English, half-Japanese rendition of “A Whole New World” from Disney's Aladdin. I can still recite parts of the Japanese lyrics from memory. My class also did “Oh Happy Day” but I wasn't part of that group. Remember that one pretty well too, though.
 On the first day we were required to do a test. Looking back I have no idea what the point of that was, since everybody there had already written an entrance examination, but I guess it was just to assess our abilities. Of course I was hopelessly lost, and though my teacher said I should ask if I wasn't sure what to do, I didn't want to take up time that would be better spent on my classmates, who, unlike me, were actually expected to perform somewhat acceptably.

Of course I was able to do the English section with no problems, even without being able to read the instructions, but the rest was impossible. I barely attempted the Kokugo. I was later placed in a Math class since that's pretty much the same in every language, but not only is Canadian Mathematical pedagogy woefully inadequate, I was pretty damn horrible at even that.
Hey, somebody check this and tell me if my math's correct. It probably isn't. On another page I adorably wrote “FOIL” in the margin, as if it was too abstract and complex an idea to hold in my head without having it in front of me.
 A, uh, pamphlet that's been scrawled all over with marker and shot to hell with a hole-punch. I can no longer recall its origin but it clearly must have meant a great deal to me at the time. Jesus but I'm a sentimental bastard, aren't I?
 I didn't spend every class with my class, as it happens. Some of them, like Kokugo, would have been too far beyond me, and the school's administrators thought (as did I) that it would be beneficial to experience a wide range of topics and classroom settings. So, for four blocks a week, I would trek over to some other class and sit down with them. One was Sekaishi, with a class that I always felt I would have loved to have been a part of every bit as much as I did my own, if it had shaken out that way. Hero of another story and all that. This paper was clearly from my Nihonshi class, where I first learned the word “bakufu.” There were a couple of girls in that class who sat near me that I always enjoyed talking to. They were hot.
 Whoooooakay then. No, I wasn't foisting my nationalist pride on everyone around me. These were supposed to be gifts. Obviously I didn't end up distributing them all, but they're good to have.
 Hey, I remember buying this! Seems I had halfway decent taste in high school. Still in ok condition, too. Never did know who DJ Honda was, though.
 ...yeah ok.
 Oh, right. I used to be kind of a nerd.
 Ah, Hagaren! Book-Off has always been good to me.
 They don't quite jive with the rest of the collection, though.
 An...empty plastic bag. Seriously, what the fuck was wrong with me?
 Aha! Cardcaptor Sakura was what I was using for reading practise back in the day, and it was every bit as difficult for me then as 1Q84 is now. However, I never quite completed my collection. Each volume, you see, was originally packaged with a bookmark in the form of a Clow Card. My ambition was to obtain a complete set of Clow Cards, so I always vowed to gather the rest whenever I returned to Japan. Unfortunately, since I refused to open up the box and check I had no idea which ones I was still missing, so I couldn't do it this time. Guess that just means I have to get back as quickly as possible.
 Actually, as you can see I was tantalizingly close to getting them all. Damn!
 A T-shirt, which I bought in 2008, that celebrates the Rolling Stones tour of 1981-82, which I was unable to attend because I was too busy not having been born yet.
Aaaaand here's all the Gundams I acquired over the course of a semester (along with two other still unbuilt ones that I bought in Canada). I seem to have packed them first and then jammed everything else in around them. In total, it looks like I bought twelve. I'd often arrange and rearrange them on my bed or a table, simply admiring them, glowing with pride every time another machine or two joined their ranks. Yes that's both a regular and Char Custom Zaku, and yes that's two versions of Freedom. Shut up.

I find it really rather unbelievable that I ever thought that this was a good use of money, or that I'd be able to find space in my room for them, or, most of all, that I'd ever, ever have the time to build all these fucking things. Amazing how priorities change.

There is one thing I didn't find amongst this clusterfuck. Over those five months, I kept an incredibly dense journal, filled with reams of completely unnecessary detail, that I'd hoped might turn up. The fact that it did not means that I felt it was precious enough to carry it with me in my backpack, and that it is most likely now lodged deep in some other box, in the bowels of my parents' basement, possibly on another plane of reality. If I ever come across it again, or just get the itch to reminisce, I'll share some of the stories from that period – and there are some good ones. For now, I hope you've enjoyed the snippets. Looking through this stuff has given me some perspective on my most recent ryuugaku, as in a lot of ways, they were really very similar: Joyous, painful, thrilling, and ultimately transformative. That is, everything a ryuugaku should be.

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