I woke up one morning a couple weeks ago, cold in my bed. Noteworthy, because the pressing sweaty heat of a Japanese summer had somehow made all memories of a frigid winter and the possibility of a future cold season seem inconceivable. I honestly could barely believe that the weather would one day change. Thankfully, fall has finally hit Akita, the “autumn rice field”of Japan, and with it comes some relief from the sweltering summer.
To be honest, though I detest the constant muggy air in summer, especially when sitting at work all day with no A/C in 34+ degree heat, I love summer here. I love its busyness and the loud buzz of cicadas around quiet shrines and the frogs that echo on back country roads and around the rice fields after dark. Those sounds, to me, characterize summer in my corner of rural, northern Japan.
This summer was a bit chaotic, from Japan to Canada and back again. Somewhere in there, I managed to rediscover my love for life in this community as well as my reasons for staying a second year, and happily reconnect with the people, places and food I've missed the most while away from home. All in all, a pretty wonderful season, I'd say.
My summer kicked off with my first (but not last) climb of Mt. Chokai, our token Big Volcano – our “Akita Fuji”. I am convinced that Mt. Chokai must be one of the most gorgeous hikes in Japan. After almost a year of gazing at its peak looming in the distance on clear days, I was eager to conquer it and gaze back at my town from the top. There was still a lot of snow,which made the scenery even more striking, in my opinion. White patches against vivid green, with rocky ridges and ledges and paths all the way to the pile of rocks at the top, the view stretching out over the sea. Mt. Chokai, for me, marked a turning point in my experience of Japan. I was left with a vivid impression of the beauty and thrills of Akita, and after a few months of apathetic drifting I felt myself falling in love with the place again (cliche, but true).
|Sometimes, you get stuck in the snow. Avoid this if you can.|
Soon after, I felt the year come full-circle as I drove my car up the mountain to the Sanboen cabin for the Akita ALT goodbye party. The last time I had been there was for the welcome party only a month after arriving, so it was an interesting way to get some perspective on the place I found myself in now compared to ten months ago. On the whole, I feel a lot more at ease, more independent and more self-confident after a year of forging my own way in a foreign country. Perhaps these sound like obvious reflections to be having after a year of living on my own in a strange place, but actually feeling the difference it's made is pleasantly surprising.
We strung together a new “superband” to play some jams, which was a blast but a bit messy as always.
|Kneeling at the keys lasted for all of 10 minutes. Not comfortable.|
The next month was a blur of goodbyes, hikes, getting dressed in yukata for a small local festival (the“All-Japan Sparkler Festival”), barbecues and picnics on the beach and at the lake, my first slightly-disastrous camping experience in Japan, and more goodbyes.
|Cozy and warm after setting up the tent and futons in the dark|
|Sleep-deprived and chilled after abandoning said tent during a midnight thunderstorm, which blew off the tent fly and soaked the futons.|
But literally, I was saying sayonara one day, and then suddenly welcoming the new Yokote ALTs the next. New Yokote is awesome, by the way...
|Arts and crafts time at the Board of Education; we've become quite good at drawing Akita's mascot, Sugichi.|
One more day and I was on and off a night bus and on and off a plane and walking out of Pearson's Airport in Toronto, eating Subway and drinking chocolate milk. Coming home was a distinct marker between Japan, pt. 1 and Japan, pt. 2. It made things that happened before the trip home seem like they belong to adifferent time and era in my experience. The feeling I had upon returning to Japan was so much more comforting than what I had experienced when arriving for the first time. Riding the shinkansen back from Tokyo to Akita, I remember searching through my jet-lagged grogginess to see if I could find any trace of wistful longing to be still back in Canada. There was none. Not that I don't dearly love Canada and all of the people and places it represents; instead, I had enjoyed my time but felt like I was coming back to what I am really a part of at this point in my life. It felt natural. It was reassuring to be so certain I had made the right decision in re-signing my contract, as there were weeks and months this spring where I wasn't so sure.
I wasn't just resigned to the fact that I was back; I was excited for it. Nikki picked me up at the station, and it felt so good to see a familiar “Japan” face, and to hear about all of the new things that had been going on. Walking into my apartment, I finally had that feeling of “coming home” that so many JETs had told me they experienced when returning from vacations, that moment where they realized that their corner of Japan was not just a place they happened to be stuck in for a time but actually felt like home. This was My Home, My Apartment, My Bed, with My Pictures of all the wonderful people in my life from back home surrounding me on the wall. Time to hit the ground running, and I've barely stopped since.