Back in Japan. My Japan.

The weather forecast was rain. Dark clouds filled the expanse of sky above as we left the house at 7.30am to drive to Ibusuki and embark on the highly anticipated climb up extinct volcano, Kaimondake. I’d planned to climb it on my 25th birthday but due to bad weather, I’d had to cancel. 2 years later, I was determined to live the dream. Friends Stephanie and Danielle embraced the rain adventure, never suggesting at any point that we cancel or turn back. As we climbed higher, the rain got heavier and the surrounding white clouds obscured any chance of us receiving a high altitude reward. But we did it. We got to the top. Extinct volcano climb in Scotland: tick. Extinct volcano climb in Japan: tick.

living the 924m-above-sea-level dream!

living the 924m-above-sea-level dream!

In April this year, my host father began his new role as a vice principal in an elementary school. As per Kagoshima custom, he didn’t apply for the role. He was given it. And uprooted from his family and home and relocated to the other side of the prefecture. ‘He might not be able to make it back home for your visit’, explained Barbelle, a family friend. Fearing this was true, I asked Danielle and Stephanie if we could make a detour on our way home from the volcano and visit my host father in his new school. With a bit of Google map navigation, we located the school, knocked on the staffroom door, confused a lot of teachers (it’s not every day three white girls appear in rural Japan) and surprised my host father. I was so happy to see him again.

reunited with daddy ino!

reunited with daddy ino!

‘We got you two birthday cakes because we didn’t know which kind you liked’, explained Bill and Becky on the evening of my 27th birthday in Japan. Cake with old friends, followed by my second ‘Frozen’ viewing in 5 days. Cue song. Let it go. Let it gooooo…

cake at the petite's home

an abundance of birthday cake chez petite

I love getting my hair cut in Japan because the hairdresser spends so much time cutting and styling your hair, as if they have nowhere else to be. As soon as I booked my flights in September last year, I booked my hair appointment with Yasu. He remembered how much I liked having my hair curled and curled my hair, without prompt, post haircut.

best hairdresser ever

best hairdresser ever

‘Can we get petrol from my favourite petrol station?’ I asked Stephanie, my host for the first three days I was in Kagoshima. In Japan, you have the option of going to serviced petrol stations where attendants fill up your car, clean your windows, take the rubbish from your car and stop the traffic on the road to allow you out. At some point during my two years, I made friends with my local petrol attendant as he practised his English language skills. Stephanie, who usually fills up her car herself (and hence pays less money) kindly pulled into a nearby car park as I raced over to find my old pal. I was not disappointed; he was there.

i got out my iPhone, and then he got out his iPhone and we had a wee photoshoot

i got out my iPhone, and then he got out his iPhone and we had a wee photoshoot

‘Japanese babies are so cute!!!’ is a phrase that can often be heard in my presence. Seriously though, it’s true. In the time that I was away, much to my delight, three of my (Japanese) friends had (Japanese) babies. I was keen to meet them. And be photographed with them. Interestingly, I think the babies’ mothers were equally keen to have their babies photographed with a novelty foreigner. It was a win for everyone.

together with satoko and akari and scottish gift clyde who was continuously thrown on the floor for about 30 minutes. #sorryclyde

together with satoko and akari and scottish gift clyde who was continuously thrown on the floor for about 30 minutes. #sorryclyde

obligatory purikura

obligatory purikura

yep, i'm crawling on the floor taking selfies with japanese babies #standard

yep, i’m crawling on the floor taking selfies with japanese babies #standard

Three years ago, James, Jermaine and I started attending Japanese classes every Tuesday evening in the Kirishima mountains. As time went on, we became close friends with our Japanese teachers, eventually feeling more like a big, confusing Japan-Anglo family than teachers and students. Two years later, Hisako and Yoshito still host the ALTs for Japanese lessons. I went along and reunited with Jermaine, who’s in his 4th and final year, and met with the new generation of ALTs. Though I’d never met them before, we had a lot in common – being an ALT in Kirishima is not a claim many people can make.

J class - the new generation

J class – the new generation

On my last Sunday, I travelled into Kagoshima City and met up with some of the other ALTs and JET-related superstars who, like Jermaine, had stayed longer. Some have even established themselves in Japan permanently. I also met up with Gayle, a Scottish ALT who I’d never actually met but two years ago, through the magical realm of social media, we had discovered that my uncle is her GP (!). It seemed only right that we met in person.

canadians, americans, singaporeans, japanese, scots and northern irish reunited

canadians, americans, singaporeans, japanese, scots and northern irish reunited

Every weekend, my Japanese teachers Hisako and Yoshito run a café in their garden. This is no ordinary café. If I was going to list my ultimate ‘happy places’ in the world, this would be one of them. On three occasions during my stay, I was able to visit Hisako and Yoshito and bask in the company of my Japanese grandparents, whilst feasting on the Kirishima-famous cheesecake that accompanies any visit.

there are few places i'd rather be

there are few places i’d rather be

Whilst living in Japan, I taught in eleven schools, ranging from kindergarten to junior-high school age. In my second year, I was also given an adult class whom I taught every second week in the local civic centre. This class quickly became the highlight of my job as I got to know my students and felt like I was actually making a difference. In my final weeks in Japan, we had a farewell meal in Pisolino, an Italian restaurant in Kokubu. 2 years later, Yasuko, one of my students, organised a reunion meal in the same restaurant. We sat at the same table. We ate the same food. Inkeeping with the familiar setting, my students were just as I remembered them. Mr Imai with his inappropriate comments. Emon taking photos of my side profile so he can draw me from another angle. Youko, the sweetest lady in the world, bustling around and making sure everyone was ok before presenting me with a box of freshly baked cookies. Individually wrapped of course.

back together with some of my lovely adult students

back together with some of my lovely adult students

I was also able to meet some of my former junior high school students who are now either high school students or in university. ‘Let’s play the iPhone game’, I told them as we all sat around a table with our respective iPhones. Seriously, since the last time I was in Japan, everyone has acquired an iPhone. ‘Is this really a game?’, they asked as they obliged to my request and put their phones in the middle of the table.

hinatayama reunion

hinatayama reunion

Due to the high turnaround of teachers in Kagoshima, many teachers have moved on to different parts of the prefecture in the time that I’ve been away. However, there were still some favourites at both of my junior high schools whom I was keen to see again. They were surprised to say the least when I appeared at their doors. Holidays in general are a foreign concept in the Japanese teaching world, never mind a 2 week jaunt to the other side of the world. Though it brought back happy memories walking around the schools, seeing all of the classrooms, the staffrooms,  my shoe cubby hole… I was happy to leave again. I enjoyed being an ALT, and it was extremely novel to be able to visit that world again, but it’s not a job I’m in any hurry to return to. The memories are good enough for me.

the lovely VP at hinatayama JHS

the lovely VP at hinatayama JHS

together with the english speaking principal at hayato

together with the english speaking principal at hayato

with hirata sensei and her family who are all equally thrilled to have aa herstmonceux tea towel. no but really, they were!

with hirata sensei and her family who were all equally thrilled to have a herstmonceux tea towel. no but really, they were!

‘We’re coming to visit!’, Masayo had e-mailed the August after I returned to the UK. Masayo was one of my Japanese teachers who attended the Tuesday night classes in Kirishima. In 2012, to mark her and her husband Makoto’s respective 60th birthdays, they had visited me in my home in Nairn where they had met my family, Nairn golf course, and my pal Nessie. It was amazing to have a piece of my Japan world in Scotland. On this return visit to Japan, I spent a day with Masayo and Makoto, together embarking on an epic road trip around Kagoshima, stopping into neighbouring prefecture Miyazaki for dinner. It was a beautiful day. We picnicked on a mountain, visited a space centre and explored Masayo’s home town. Precious moments with dear friends.

makoto and masayo and a beautiful view looking over to mount kaimondake

makoto and masayo and a beautiful view looking over to mount kaimondake

looking out from a platform at kagoshima space centre

looking out from a platform at kagoshima space centre

a natural reaction to dessert

a natural reaction to dessert

Kagoshima is beautiful.

one of my favourite views on the journey to church

one of my favourite views on the journey to church

walking up to start our kaimondake climb

walking up to start our kaimondake climb

the open road

the open road

kirishima views

kirishima views

Visiting my host family in Kanoya has always provided me with memorable experiences. I remember the first night I stayed with them, four years ago, we attended a sumo festival down the road for all of the children in the community. One year later, I returned to the same event and ended up making a very dodgy speech in Japanese whilst standing in the sumo ring. I wasn’t surprised when I was told the plan for my return visit to Kanoya. Immediately after arriving, Yuuka and Masaki led me down the path to the local community centre where a party commemorating the beginning of the new academic year at the local elementary school was taking place. Everyone was there. Babies, children, parents, grandparents, teachers, everyone in the community. We feasted on Japanese curry before all of the teachers did a comedy skit as way of introducing themselves. It was very bizarre. One of those ‘only-in-Japan’ experiences.

i could only be in japan

i could only be in japan

‘Dad’s coming later!’, exclaimed Masaki and Yuuka as we walked to the event. He is?! I thought I’d already said goodbye after visiting him at his school earlier that week. But sure enough, later that evening, Daddy Ino arrived at the event. He later explained that when he had told his boss that I was coming to visit, his boss had insisted that he return home. Very happy face.

a very special family

a very special family

2 years ago, during my final visit to my host family’s home in Kanoya, I taught my youngest sister, Yuuka, the piano arrangement from Savage Garden’s ‘Two Beds and a Coffee Machine’. Minutes after arriving back at the family’s home on this return visit, Yuuka ushered me to the piano and started playing that same arrangement back to me. She had memorized it.

Towards the end of my visit, I gave my host family some presents from Scotland. After receiving her gifts, Yuuka disappeared, before appearing back with a gift bag containing two of her teddies. ‘For you’, she said as she handed over the bag.

i love these girls so much

i love these girls

One of the reasons I had wanted to visit Japan in April was to attend the Easter service that is held by Kibou, the church I attended whilst living in Japan. It’s tradition for them to relocate their Easter service to the top of a mountain that overlooks volcano Sakurajima and the surrounding water. It’s pretty epic. However, the weather forecast looked dubious. “Hmmm, I don’t think it’s ever been cancelled”, said Tokyo friend Miyuki in an attempt to give me hope (she had grown up attending the church). Unfortunately, on the day itself, the rain was too heavy for outdoor activity to be fun and the service was cancelled. Had I never experienced the outdoor service before, I might have been more disappointed but at that point, I was still getting over the excitement of being back in my beloved Kagoshima. The novelty had yet to wear off.

what it was supposed to look like! throwback to easter 2012 with megan.

what it was supposed to look like! throwback to easter 2012 with megan.

I was able to attend church two Sundays in a row, making my church friends some of the few people whom I didn’t have to say goodbye to immediately after saying hello. I loved being back. Reading the hiragana and singing in Japanese; sitting in the back corner constantly moving around in an attempt to find the best spot to hear the translation; finding myself distracted by the growing-up-so-fast adorable Japanese children. I have so many good memories from this church.

back in the back rows of kibou

back in the back rows of kibou

okonomiyaki with dear kibou friends

okonomiyaki with dear kibou friends

‘Do you know where I can buy a kendama?’ I asked Yasuko. On my last day in Japan 2 years ago, I had spent the day touring around Kirishima, looking for the traditional Japanese toy I had encountered in the classroom. I wasn’t successful that day and my search with Yasuko was also to no avail. I saw Yasuko again on my last day in Kagoshima. She presented me with a bag which contained not just one kendama. But three.

yasuko impersonating my selfie face

yasuko mimicking my selfie face

My last few days were spent in Tokyo. I’d only ever visited the capital city for the purpose of flying, apart from that one conference I attended back in February 2012 where I casually slipped in a cheeky wee trip to Disneyland Sea/the Ghibli museum. This time round I saw a lot more but again came away feeling like I’d barely scratched the surface. My first day was spent with Kagoshima friend Ryoji. We visited the Imperial Palace Gardens which are very nice gardens, but don’t bother visiting if you’re hoping to actually capture a glimpse of the imperial palace – you won’t.

my awesome host for the day

my awesome host for the day

We also stumbled across the district of Jimbocho, renowned for its abundance of second hand bookshops. I was reminded of a bookshop I recently discovered in Eastbourne, East Sussex. Slightly massively different places; very similar concept.

outdoor bookshops are all the rage nowadays

outdoor bookshops are all the rage nowadays

Ryoji and I then wandered around Akihabara, the anime district of Tokyo, before settling down at Shibuya and the crazy crossing for a Starbucks.

matcha frappuccino at shibuya

matcha frappuccino at shibuya

The following day, I hung out with Miyuki’s flatmate, Momoko and she showed me the shops and cafés of Tokyo. I was in my element. We even had time for some comedy photos.

best lunch ever at

best lunch ever at tanaka tei

save the bees we say

save the bees we say

On my last day, continuining my recent trait of seeking out historical museums, I visited the Edo-Tokyo Museum, an incredible structure full of buildings, objects and models which illustrate the changes which Edo, now Tokyo, has undergone in its 400-year history,

i've never been so impressed walking into a museum

i’ve never been so impressed walking into a museum

The highlight of Tokyo had to be the finalé: going up the Skytree. For all you fact swots out there, the Skytree in Tokyo is the tallest tower in the world at 634m. Not structure. Tower. And what a view!! We went up as the sun was going down, allowing us to take in the incredible expanse of the city from sunset right into night. You literally can’t see the end of the city.

sunset at the skytree

sunset at the skytree

living the skytree dream!

living the skytree dream!

a drink with a view

a drink with a view

‘You’re not staying at any hotels the entire time you’re in Japan’ my mother commented as she read over my 16 day itinerary. I hadn’t realised it but she was right. Thanks to the hospitality of my friends in Japan, I was taken care of during the entire trip, only staying in a hotel in Amsterdam on the return leg.

host 1

host 1: miyuki

first host: reunited with stephanie who overlapped with me for one year 2011-2012.

host 2: stephanie

hosts 3 and 4

hosts 3 – hisako and yoshito – and host 4 – yasuko

hosts 5 – masayo and makoto

hosts 6: the ino family

hosts 6: the ino family

hosts 7: the petites, particularly danielle!

hosts 7: the petites, particularly danielle!

hosts 8: back with miyuki and her flatmate momoko

hosts 8: back with miyuki and her flatmate momoko

It made me so happy to see all of my family and friends in Japan and to be reunited with the country and its quirks. It felt like walking straight back into the life I’d left behind two years ago. Although I have no intention of moving back, I felt reassured that the friendships I’d forged were still in place, despite the distance. As Danielle and I discussed, “If I returned once, I’ll return again”. It’s no longer a case of ‘if’; it’s a case of ‘when’.

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A Perfect Re-introduction

Skymark. Japan’s oldest budget airline where I’m able to charge my iPhone in a British socket underneath my seat (despite the fact that Japan uses the same plug system as the USA), and where I can buy a drink onboard for less money than anywhere else in Japan. No jokes, you can get a coffee for the equivalent of 60 pence! Japan is not renowned for being a cheap country. #confused But hey, I like the concept of budget drinks on budget flights. Easyjet/Ryanair – take note!

Today was the perfect re-introduction to Japan. “We can go anywhere!”, I said to Miyuki as we left her house for a morning walk around her neighbourhood. What I meant was that regardless of where we walked, or what we did, I’d be fascinated, simply because everywhere and everything in Japan is inherently extremely Japanese. Needless to say, my iPhone camera was busy.

it's sunny. we're in tokyo. it's a road mirror. life is too exciting.

it’s sunny. we’re in tokyo. it’s a road mirror. life is too exciting.

As a foreigner in Japan, you can get away with anything. “Go and ask that man if I can take a photo of him!”, I said to Miyuki on a number of occasions as we wandered. “Only because I’m with you!” Miyuki responded before obliging and engaging in super-polite Japanese chat with whichever victim I’d chosen.

"hazukashi!" (i'm shy!) said the cutest japanese man ever when we asked to take his photo. i just loved that he'd come to park, propped his music up on his bicycle and was practising away, perfectly content. simple happiness.

“hazukashi!” (i’m shy!) said the cutest japanese man ever when we asked to take his photo. i just loved that he’d come to the park, propped his music up on his bicycle and was practising away, perfectly content. simple happiness.

On reflection, the main reason I wanted these photos was because the subjects were Japanese. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t ask a Scottish man playing a harmonica in the park if I could take his photo… Right enough, I probably would take the photo, I just wouldn’t ask. Ha. To be fair, I was asked numerous times in both China and India to feature in strangers photos simply because I was a white girl. We’re all as bad as each other!

this man was collecting water fresh from the stream to take home. he looked up at us and gave us the biggest grin. a grin worthy of a photo i decided!

this man was collecting water fresh from the stream to take home. he looked up at us and gave us the biggest grin. a grin worthy of a photo i decided!

That afternoon, we travelled into the centre of Tokyo where we met Mizuho, a Japanese friend whom I’d met during my stint in Brussels. Mizuho, a Tokyo-native, led us through the Ginza district to a very Japanese restaurant where we feasted on tempura before continuing on to a very swish cafe at the Shiseido make-up store. As I wrote my first postcard, I basked in the sound of my two friends bonding in speedy Japanese. I mean, I guess they were bonding. Maybe they were actually shouting abuse at each other whilst maintaining smiles and occasionally laughing. Time will tell, I guess!

the two mi s in my life modelling our wonderfully japanese lunch!

the two mi s in my life modelling our wonderfully japanese lunch!

Time did run away from us and we suddenly realised I was running late for my internal flight to Kagoshima. Cue a taxi ride, the driver running after us to tell us we were walking the wrong way to the train, and then a fond farewell with my Tokyo friends who I will see again when I return in just over a week.

enjoying dessert very posh japanese style

enjoying dessert very posh japanese style

I’m now on my flight to Kagoshima, unable to fully comprehend the fact that I’m about to return to my home of 2 years. As we walked past a junior high school this morning in suburban Tokyo, and watched the baseball boys bow in a circle as they thanked their coach, I felt a pang of Japan-life homesickness. The opportunity I had to live and teach in Japan was an incredible experience. In a way, it has just become something I say, and something that looks good on my CV, but being back here is reminding me how much more special the experience was to me. Cheesy perhaps but it’s the truth. My truth.

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Happy Jetlagged Ramblings

It is so good to be back. “Everything looks so Japanese!”, I exclaimed with bursting delight to Miyuki, as we made our way back to her home in the outskirts of Tokyo. Miyuki is one of my closest friends from Kagoshima who recently moved to Tokyo to start work in student ministry. Recently being 3 weeks ago – highly convenient!

I feel like I’m discovering Japan all over again as different scenes trigger memories from my own experiences, memories which haven’t crossed my mind since I left in 2012.

“I had a blanket just like that one!”, I told Miyuki, as she showed me my room for the night. “Catriona, that is your blanket”, she replied. Say what?!

so excited about sleeping on a futon, j style!

so excited about sleeping on a futon, j style!

When I moved out of my house in Kagoshima, I had to clear out absolutely everything. This meant friends like Miyuki gained a lot of Catmac “stuff”(I later spotted my alarm clock in her room). It made me happy to see parts of my old home being used in a different part of Japan.

Literally falling asleep as I type – no sleep was gained on the plane. Before I go, let me share the wonder that is the Japanese toilet room:

electronic toilet, heated toilet seat, slippers and a v.pretty toilet roll holder. oh japan, i do love you!

electronic toilet, heated toilet seat, slippers and a v.pretty toilet roll holder. oh japan, i do love you!

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Weeks. Not 2 Years.

On the 16th July, 2010, I lay in my bed in Nairn, typing up my very first blog post, terrified and beyond excited about my imminent move to Japan. Almost four years later, I find myself again in Nairn, again preparing for that same journey, only this time I only had to pack for 2 weeks, not 2 years. A considerably less stressful experience!

This trip has been a long time coming, at least in my head. I returned to the UK in 2012 in a state of devastation. Scotland would not have felt the love as I bawled my way back into its borders. Whilst soaking up the epic London Olympics, I frantically looked for ways in which I could return to Japan. Not just Japan, I really just wanted to return to the life I had in Kagoshima. But why did you leave then? It’s a valid question, and a question I answered with less conviction every time I was faced with it.

Almost two years later, I have no regrets. I’m glad I left when I did, even if it hasn’t been plain sailing since then. As my life moved on, as did the one I left behind in Kagoshima. Now comes the time where I revisit that life. I’m a little apprehensive about how the trip is going to work out but mostly my insides are squealing and occasionally my outsides too.

My journey begins with a cheeky wee flight from Inverness to Amsterdam and then onwards to Tokyo. Cheers KLM for that highly convenient route! (no need to mention that I had to fly back from London to take up this convenience). I’m not sure how I’m going to blog on this trip – time will tell.

Japan, I’m on my way!

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J-Class Hits Nairn!

I may no longer be living in Japan but it’s become apparent that this minor detail does not mean that my Japanese life necessarily has to come to an end. Plus, I miss blogging!

This week, I had the privilege of hosting some of my friends from Kirishima, my home city in Japan, in my current home town in Scotland, Nairn.

Masayo was one of my Japanese teachers at a class that I attended every Tuesday night during my second year in Japan, along with James and Jermaine, two of the other ALTs in Kirishima at that time. The class took place at Hisako and Yoshito’s home, a forty-minute drive up the mountains from our homes. As we all got to know one another, Tuesday nights became more of a family reunion with food, laughter and origami taking precedence whilst the Japanese/English learning became a secondary concern. Along with Hisako and Yoshito, Masayo, a friend of Hisako’s, joined the festivities every week.

In late August, I received an e-mail from Masayo telling me that she and her husband Makoto had booked flights to the UK and were wondering if I was available. And so it came to be that I drove to Aberdeen airport on October 1st and picked up my first Japanese visitors!

They stayed with my family in Nairn for two nights and it felt like I was amid one of my Tuesday-night Japanese classes for the entirety of their stay. My brain suddenly sparked into action as the constant flow of Japanese hit me and I enjoyed communicating in very bad Japanese, whilst my family looked on, entirely unaware of how aka-chan-like my Japanese really was. The couple were enthralled by Nairn, taking pictures of nearly every house on my street. We went “Nesco” spotting at Loch Ness, explored a Scottish castle in the rain, and ate chicken stuffed with haggis. The one thing I forgot to give them to complete their Scottish experience was some Irn Bru!

My parents were unable to visit me in Japan so it meant a lot to me to be able to share a piece of my real-life Japan with them in the comfort of their own home. I was also very glad to be able to return the hospitality that Masayo and Makoto had so graciously and willingly given to me whilst I was living in their country.

Saying goodbye was an unexpectedly emotional experience. Masayo cried like I’ve never seen her cry before – partly, I think, through fear of having to navigate around the UK independently; partly because the reality of the distance between our home countries became more apparent than ever.

Until we meet again, my Japanese friends! xoxox

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またねっつ日本

On the 22nd of July 2012, I waved farewell to my home of two years in Kirishima, Japan, and embarked on the long, emotional journey back to the north of Scotland. That was nearly one month ago now and I’ve started to accept that my time there is over, hence my being able to write this final blog entry.

The last few months in Kagoshima were marvellously exciting times. I had several friends and family members come to visit; I went on many a road-trip around Kagoshima and Kyushu and also spent one week in China with three friends in Golden Week. I sat another Japanese exam; I started zumba dance classes; I had reunions with former students; I took a million purikura pictures; I encountered my first cockroach…

I love being busy but my last few weeks were emotionally draining. Every night I met up with different people for a goodbye dinner and I had to make numerous goodbye speeches. The worst of these, in terms of emotional meltdown, was at the smaller of my two junior high schools. The clock struck 4.30, the time I finished work, and I got up and shuffled towards the door, not wanting to make a scene but feeling that I should make some sort of official goodbye. To my dismay, when the teachers realised I was leaving, they called an official meeting; all teachers returned to the staffroom and the principal asked me to come to the front and give some closing words. This was entirely unexpected and I was overwhelmed to the point of tears. I managed a few words before turning to the principal and making a “cut cut” signal, as if on a movie set, where the scene had gone wrong.

The hardest thing about saying goodbye in Japan is the reality of knowing that it’s entirely possible – more so than at home in the UK – that you will never see that person/those people ever again. It is not customary to take holidays in Japan and so the only way for me to see a lot of people again is to return – which is easier said than done.

Strangely, the most amusing goodbye I had was on my very last day in Kagoshima, before I departed for Tokyo. Various people had gathered to say goodbye at the airport including the office staff at the board of education, my host family, my friends from church, several of my adult class students, some of the other ALT teachers, my Japanese teacher and her husband, one of the English teachers from school and Hikaru and Kouichi,  my neighbours in Hayato. My supervisor decided this would be a good time for me to make another speech and so began a typical Japanese, unnecessarily formal statement, forcing everyone to listen. I was then asked to say a few words but found the entire situation so surreal and amusing that my speech was muffled through chuckle outbursts rather than the expected waterfall of tears.

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I love Kagoshima and I loved my life there. For me, it was more than just a “good experience” and something to write on my CV. It was my life. It was the only life I knew for two years. It was my home.

The difference between these two years and the year I spent in the Netherlands as a student, is huge. If I went back to Utrecht now, I think there would be fewer than five people I could get in touch with; the majority of my friends there were other exchange students. Contrastingly, in Kagoshima, I have a church, I have a family, I have students who’ve retired. I have people to go back to. And I cannot wait to return!!

For now though, catmacinjapan has come to a (temporary) end.

Thanks for reading, praying for me and keeping in touch.

鹿児島またねっつ!

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catmac(andcompany)injapan

Among the many goodbyes that have occurred over the past few weeks, I’ve had several exciting “hellos” which have distracted me from the former.

My first visitor was David Morris. He had decided to go travelling around Japan and some of our mutual friends recommended that he contact me for advice. I invited him down to Kagoshima and he accepted, despite our having never met. Kagoshima is the ultimate Japanese travel destination, after all. He stayed with me for a couple of nights and came with my friends and me to our Japanese class. As seems to be the case every time I go to this class, we were laden with gifts by the time we left, each bearing Japanese calligraphy of our own names, and home-brewed beer. Cups of tea on tap, coupled with beautiful Scottish-accent chat made for a delightful visitor combination and I was glad to have struck one name off the list of unfamiliar faces who will be at St C’s when I return in the summer.

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The day after David departed, my next set of visitors arrived. Susie had attended the same London orientation as me before we departed for Japan, and like me, had chosen to stay for a second year. We hadn’t met since arriving in Tokyo, but had kept in touch sporadically, with the content of our contact usually revolving around jumping photos. As it was spring vacation, meaning no school, Susie and her friend Rachel, a first-year ALT who lived in Yamagata prefecture with Susie, had taken holidays and embarked on an epic tour around Kyushu. Kagoshima was their most southerly destination. Unfortunately, the weather was next to horrific for the majority of their visit. However, we managed to visit spewing Sakurajima and take some jumping photos – the unspoken aim of the weekend. Susie and Rachel were the first ALTs that I’d had to visit from other prefectures, and it was interesting to compare our experiences, especially as we have all decided to leave Japan this coming summer.

On the Sunday morning, I waved goodbye to my Yamagata friends and that afternoon, I drove to the airport to welcome…

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My first family member to visit Japan! My sister Anna had promised to visit and one year after her initial plans fell through, she finally made it to the country. Having seen my pictures from Amami last year, she had requested that we visit an island, and so we bopped down to Okinawa, Japan’s most southerly prefecture. Okinawa is a series of islands, closer to Taiwan than to “mainland Japan”. Unfortunately, despite its southerly location, March weather in Okinawa isn’t quite as warm and sunny as July weather on Amami island. As a result, we were treated to some quality, chilly, rain time which made me feel as if I was holidaying on the west coast of Scotland rather than in tropical Japan. We stayed on Zamamijima, an island of 500 residents, which lies west of Naha, the capital city. Because it was low-season, the island was almost deserted, which made the entire experience feel more unique, as if the island had opened up just for us.

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The weather wasn’t all bad; on our last day we were treated to some brilliant sunshine and warmth and we had almost full claim to the beaches. We spent the afternoon sea-kayaking across the coral, an activity which sounds amazing, but when you can’t swim and are afraid of the water, the smiles are all for show. I’m glad I can say I did it, though!

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Our guesthouse was random to the max with its garden full of anime characters, but the owner was lovely, and he and his three-year-old son went out of their way to make us feel welcome. I’d highly recommend it. http://www.yuyu-okinawa.jp/

When we returned to Kagoshima, the schedule was non-stop. I was keen for Anna to meet everyone that meant anything to me and similarly, everyone I knew wanted to meet the closest equivalent to another one of me. I’m a big fan of watching friends from different parts of my life bond and so took great delight in the entire experience. The more awkward, the better, mwhahaha!

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One week after Anna departed, Fi and Dan arrived in Kagoshima. Fi and I had lived together in our final year as students in Edinburgh and during that year I had come to know her and her boyfriend Dan. Now married, they are avid followers of the catmacinjapan Facebook album series and had made it their aim to visit the country before I came back to the UK. Unfortunately, on the day of their arrival, I came down with a fever, sore throat and beastly cold combination. This ruined plans somewhat but fortunately, my fellow ALT friends offered to “babysit” and Fi and Dan were able to go hiking up in the Kirishima mountains.

For me, the highlight of their visit was Easter Sunday. I awoke to an assortment of British chocolate eggs outside my door, an indication from the outset that the day was going to be magical. My church had a special outdoor service on top of a mountain, which offered spectacular views of the cities below and the surrounding mountains, but all eyes were fixed on Sakurajima, the focal point of our prefecture, which could be seen crystal-clearly above the blue sea. We closed the service listening to the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah on full volume whilst looking out on God’s creation: a beautiful and effective way of remembering the resurrection of our Saviour.

The service was followed by brunch and grass-sledging – the Kagoshima equivalent of sledging in the snow. After this, we decided it would be the best day to visit Sakurajima itself and so along with two of my friends from church, we set out on an adventure. The usual hot-spots were visited, the usual jumping photos were taken, and we took Fi and Dan to their first onsen (hot spring). This was followed by a feast of black pork, a Kagoshima speciality, at a local restaurant. We came back from our 12-hour day in the sun exhausted, and sunburnt (in the case of the tourists; my skin seems to have adapted to the crazy Kagoshima sun) but satisfied with our day out in the Kag.

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Now it’s back to just me – catmacinjapan. My break is slightly longer this time – about a month, before my brother, my next and final visitor, arrives. I don’t mind living by myself but I really enjoyed having the stream of visitors come through my house. I feel as if the past month has flown by without my even noticing. I love being busy!! Spending time with people from home has also made me more excited about returning home in the summer – a feeling which I feared would never actually occur before my departure from Japan.

If anyone else wants to visit between now and mid-July, it’s not too late! I just won’t have any holidays but if making me dinner every day sounds like your ideal holiday… おねがいします!

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