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.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

A Kind of Homecoming

There have been all the expected changes. New buildings have been thrown up as if overnight. Partially completed community initiatives are now farther along. Zellers has transformed into Target. Improvements and expansions have been made to my university. Television shows have all progressed another season, so I have a lot more material to enjoy of the few that I watch. And apparently we've stopped using pennies. I find the whole concept utterly baffling and have to pause for like twenty minutes every time a price comes up as like $9.57 or whatever, totally unsure what I'm supposed to pay. Never mind that the numbers are all ridiculously small and I'm not even sure what things should cost.

My uncle asked: “So, are you happy to be home?”

What a weird-ass question! And I don't just mean the “home” thing. I don't expect most people to understand what Japan means to me, that as far as I'm concerned I'm only visiting Canada, or how deeply it irks me when people imply that Japan isn't my home. That part I get. But what the hell good can come of that question? Yes. God am I glad to be home. Japan was awful. What a waste of a year of my life. Or, and this one is closer to the truth: No. I need to get back. I hate it here.

When I arrived at my parents house, I breathed a heavy sigh. I don't want to be here. And as much as I want to be in Japan, I want to not be in Canada nearly as badly. Even if it were a place I had no interest in, like Stockholm or something, at least it'd be an adventure, an experience, and a chance to learn something new. Rather than rediscovering it, I'm finding that my hometown, and all the places I used to frequent, are all too familiar. The only way I've kept from lapsing into full-on Reverse Culture Shock Mode is by reminding myself that if I work hard and play it right, this will be only a stopover, and I'll be on my way soon enough.

For the first few days, I tried to keep a low profile. It worked reasonably well. Oh, I was spotted at once – President saw me walking past her Starbucks, trying to be incognito, my very first day out. But every time I encountered someone I asked them not to tell, so I got to see startled reactions over and over again, which was basically all I wanted. Just hanging out, doing stuff, what are you talking about, I've been here the whole time.

I dropped in on a couple of the Japanese restaurants I used to frequent and reconnected with the staff. Everybody was very excited to see me. Shit, it's like I never left. How the hell has it been a year? They were all at my farewell parties and I remember those so clearly.

More importantly, although I missed out on volunteering for my beloved International Orientation, I at least managed to swing an invitation to the Welcome Lunch, where I touched base with a few of the new Japanese students.

Rude Boy: So I was just talking with a few of them, and I thought, I'm really enjoying this conversation, but there are a lot more students floating around, I really ought to go and introduce myself so that they at least know who I am, and what Club is. And then I realised...
President: “I don't have to do this anymore.”
Rude Boy: Exactly! So I just stood there with them and kept right on chatting like I had no other responsibilities!
President: Isn't it nice?

No longer Japanese Club executives in any official capacity, she and I will both be dialing back our contributions from here on in. For one thing, I already sweat, bled, and cried for this club, and I feel I've earned the right to let someone else take over the heavy lifting. Who knows, maybe I'll even get to relax and enjoy an event. Not that running them wasn't enjoyable, itself, but it was tough work, rushing the fuck around and making sure everything was in place and providing social lubrication and watching the clock and being prepared, at any moment, to throw out the entire plan and craft something new on the spot to ensure people were enjoying themselves.

Certainly I'm not going to excuse myself entirely. Where before I likened myself to a former President of the United States receiving daily CIA briefings (that is, wistfully keeping an eye on Club through its Facebook feed), now I more think of myself as a retired Hells Angels chapter president. I'll have no official association with the organization and may not even be involved in its day-to-day activities, but I'll still show my face occasionally, attend and help with events, provide mentorship, order a hit on my cousin's abusive boyfriend, whatever. And I'm happy to do translation or interpretation, seeing as I'm the only one who can. President has adopted basically the exact same attitude.

President: I mean, Club is still my baby—
Rude Boy: Our baby, President.
President: Right, our baby, and he's gradu—he? She? Is it a girl?
Rude Boy: She's definitely a girl.
President: She's graduated high school, she's ready to go off to college, and now it's time to let go...
Rude Boy: Like, we'll still be there for her when she needs us, but we've gotta, like...
President: Let her out into the world, she has to learn for herself now, make her own mistakes...
Rude Boy: Exactly.
President: Learn to survive on her own.

To paraphrase Ezio Auditore del Firenze: “I built this Club to last...with, or without me.” Unlike President, I don't have every confidence that the new people will do a good job (well, definitely not as good a job as we did. Obviously!), but what the fuck do I know, I haven't even been around for the last year. Maybe they'll do awesome. I mean I certainly hope so. It doesn't matter either way; they were the ones who stepped up, the membership ratified their succession, and now the pirate ship is theirs to either steer towards fortune and glory or mismanage straight into a lethal encounter with some shoals.

Ok seriously, you guys, don't fuck up my pirate ship. Worked on her for years. I will fucking murder your face right off if you so much as scratch the paint on this pirate ship. Be home by 11.