The goodbyes have begun. I’ve had a busy final two weeks and it’s all quite bittersweet. I’m ready to go home, but I’m already missing this city, my friends and my life here. My suitcase was picked up today and taken to Narita. I’ll go to the airport tomorrow and will fly back to the U.S. I’ve spent some great time with friends, mostly involving a fun hike and excellent Japanese food. The friendships in this international teaching field are ephemeral. We’re all used to forming bonds, such as they are, knowing they will be gently undone, yet with the potential to last, depending on the effort put into maintaining the connections, or the possibility of working together in future months or years.
My friend Tim, with whom I worked two years ago, still lives in Japan and teaches at a university in Tokyo. Every term he organizes a hike and it’s always a great time. Recently he led a winter hike to Sengenrei. We saw a waterfall, hiked in snow, ate lunch on top of the mountain and finished the day with shabu-shabu in an izakaya in Tachikawa.
RC, Ikue, Machiko, Tim, Hiroko, Laura. The beginning.
So far, so good.
We made it to the top, which was cold and windy.
It says, “You have arrived, awesome trekkers.” Actually, I have no idea what it says.
Tim, our fearless leader, fueling up and contemplating our descent.
We walked through a bamboo and cypress forest.
We passed an old cemetery on the way down.
We celebrated our day at an izakaya. Laura, Tim and I were the only foreigners there.
Shabu-shabu. So good-so good.
Shabu-shabu is a traditional Japanese dish in which vegetables and meat are cooked in a pot at the table. It was so good and filling after a day of hiking.
We had such a great time that we decided to do an “encore” dinner the next week. Machiko organized our event at Okonomiyaki Honjin in Shinjuku. Okonomiyaki is another traditional Japanese dish that is also prepared at the table. We sat on the floor around low tables that had a grill in the middle. We ordered a variety of ingredients that were brought to us in bowls. We mixed the contents then spread it on the grill like a pancake. Then it was topped with different sauces and spices and cut into pieces. It was so good!
Masayuki couldn’t go on the hike, but joined us for the encore dinner. Laura waits patiently, sort of.
Ikue, mixing up the okonomiyaki.
Machiko, cooking like a pro.
Doing some kind of okonomiyaki mind-meld. Tim is trying to pretend nothing weird is happening. (Photo:Machiko)
Flipping my first okonomiyaki. (Photo: Machiko)
Machiko, Hiroko, Ikue. Three classy ladies.
Our encore dinner turned into a bit of a going away event for me, which completely surprised me! Ikue, Machiko and Hiroko honored me with some very special gifts. They gave me chop sticks and holders, coasters with famous Japanese art, and a furoshiki – a cloth that is used to wrap bento lunch boxes. It was all so wonderful. I was especially touched by the booklet that Ikue made, which showed the various ways to tie the furoshiki. It was very thoughtful and special. I loved being with these friends and appreciated the gifts so much!
After dinner, we went to Golden Gai, a famous area in Shinjuku with over 200 small pubs and eateries within six tiny alleyways. We went to the Albatross, an old house that has been converted into one of the many pubs in the district. It was a fun way to end our night with good friends. It is a tiny place with three floors. We were on the top floor, which was reserved for bigger groups like ours.
Machiko and Ikue.
Motivation to learn Japanese!
After a most excellent evening, we said our final goodbyes at the station. This was the first time I almost missed the last train home! But I made it with a minute to spare. :)
Goodbye to my good friends!