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 sayonara

jun 28
Things had settled down when I returned to Tokyo, two months after the great quake, if a bit subdued. There were less lights at night, not all the escalators were running at the train stations, people were encouraged not to use their air conditioners as much this summer, watch less tv, unplug things, and other power saving steps. Most people, except for those directly affected by the disaster, had found a new normal.

One friend was angry about the lies the government told about the severity of the danger in the early days and weeks after the tsunami hit Fukushima nuclear power plant. The Japanese tendency to downplay problems. She asked me how to pronounce "radioactivity" in English, giving me somber instructions about what foods not to buy: fresh fruits, vegetables, milk from the northeast prefectures. But of course, I can't read kanji, the traditional characters, so I couldn't read the signs in the markets to find out where things came from.

"You can't believe what the government says," she said, "they said the spinach was radioactive. Now they want to help the farmers so they say it's not enough to be dangerous, but I think it didn't change." Another friend waved his hands in a shrug-like gesture, saying "you don't need to worry about all that. We're older, it's not a problem. We just have to take care of the children."

So I've been doing something in-between, according to my own conscience, drinking bottled water and not eating as much fresh produce as usual. Sweltering in 90F degree, high humidity days has been difficult, but the Japanese are adaptable and not complainers. The revolving door of prime ministers in Japan doesn't help much, making it hard to make any progress on the economy and the recovery. They don't have enough time to mature in the job; at the first sign of approval polls dipping, they're being kicked out.

In the meantime, I've tried to savor these last few weeks with my Japanese friends, many of whom have extended invitations to do things together, everything beginning to take on the hue of nostalgia. In Kamakura, a city I had been to before, there were lovely flower gardens and a bamboo forest, and this friend made dinner at her apartment, a rare treat. I took a couple of progressively strenuous hikes with the sax player, one for five hours to the top of Mt. Kagenobu and across to Mt Takao, rewarding ourselves after with soba, buckwheat noodles. It seems whenever I go someplace with someone Japanese, they look for a good soba restaurant. An English teacher friend took me to an Okinawan restaurant, known for dishes with a bitter green gourd called goya. Finally made it to Kappabashi, the kitchen wholesale street in Tokyo where the plastic food models are so realistic it made me hungry! Still keeping up with my local culture immersion, I've taken a few ikebana classes, Japanese flower arranging, so simple looking but it's not, almost sculptural, there is a sense of balance and elegance.

My final project was to get rid of everything in my apartment. I haven't bought a lot of furnishings, but I did have some small appliances, and a three year accumulation of Stuff. There wasn't a network among foreign teachers, for passing things on to the next arriving group, as I've experienced in other international jobs, so it was a challenge to get the word out to my various circles of friends. But it's been a good time, with people stopping in to pick up things, to reconnect and say goodbye. Three jazz friends came to visit together, one brought a delicious home-cooked lunch, and we spent a pleasant afternoon. When they left, one took the table with him, and I filled bags with apartment odds and ends for the other two. There were a few big things I just couldn't get rid of, that would have required paying the city to come pick them up, so I cut up photos and taped them to my apartment door. A neighbor knocked and expressed interest in the two-burner stove. I offered her a bookcase, dishes; she looked dazzled, like a game show winner!

Of all the places I've lived, this is the one I could imagine coming back to live for a while, because I have a sense of community here. I never watched all those tv sitcoms, like Cheers, where people come and hang out and everyone knows your name, but I think it would be a lot like the local jazz club. People I hadn't seen for a while turned out for my last jam session night. One brought a bouquet of roses, a few others small gifts, lots of hugs and good wishes. One guitar player saw the gifts and said "I can't give you anything, but..." and I finished "but love!" We laughed, then he handed me a green apple shaker - the audience often used many small, cute, percussion sound makers during the sessions. I might treasure that little item the most, given on the spur of the moment, because it will remind me of our making music together..

This is my last travel post; after eight years of living abroad, the journey and the online journal, begun before most people used the word blog, have come to an end. My heartfelt thanks to those of you who took the time to send a comment or question now and then, or were moved to tell me your own stories, or who just enjoyed some armchair travel. The photos and stories on the web have truly been a labor of love. My house in the Colorado mountains is paid off now, after being rented all that time, so it seems like time to go home, for a while at least.

May you find your own road wherever it leads.

 

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