Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Farewell Japan

Saturday, May 20, 2006-Sunday, May 21, 2006

Part I: Fireworks

On Saturday, I played fire works with my family.

The kids asked me to. Everyone—except Mayumi—went into the backyard, which was small and bare. It was just barely cold outside and a little windy. Hideaki lit a single candle and opened a pack of slim firecrackers.

I hadn’t played with fireworks since I was 5 or 6, so Megumi showed me how. She showed me how to hold the sparklers to the candle flame until they lit, sputtering lightning white, and how to use these fireworks to light other sparklers or re-light the candle when the breeze blew it out. She also showed me how to use a very thin, firework, hardly bigger than a piece of string.

You hold it from the top, dangling the bottom over the flame until it begins to crackle a bit. This crackling subsides and a small orange ball forms on the end of the firework. You wait. Suddenly, around the edges of your firework, orange sparks of light begin to sizzle. They grow quickly, erupting like orange tumbleweeds, snapping and crackling, your own tiny firework show. You’re still watching these fireworks, when the glowing ball suddenly drops, and the firework show has ended.

While I was entranced with this, Kengo, pyromaniac that he is, lit a piece of cardboard on fire. When the candle blew out, we’d light our fireworks on there. When I wasn’t twirling around the sparklers, I spoke to Hideaki about how fireworks are highly illegal in California. He, in turn, gave me some of the dangling fireworks to smuggle back home*.

Meanwhile, Mayumi was in the house, reading a book I had just brought back from the graduation ceremony, earlier that day. Our teachers had put it together for us, a compilation of our essays, haikus, and private messages. We had received it around the time we received our certificates of completion or participation (if you hadn’t studied for the whole year). It had been a formal event, like a graduation ceremony. But afterwards we had a party.

It was—Saturday, May 20th—my last full day in Japan. I had already said goodbye to my friends. I had said goodbye to my teachers and my school. It had seemed unreal to me. “This will be the last time we set foot on Nanzan,” she said, as we walked through a line of sakura trees, green and leafy in May. The statement had no meaning to me. Even though I had been telling myself I’d be leaving Japan for the last month and a half, still, I couldn’t comprehend it. Japan was my whole world. How to comprehend it wouldn’t be there anymore?

Part II: The Airport

My host family took me to the airport the next day. They treated me to conveyor-belt sushi, and we said our goodbyes at the gate. I had a whole speech prepared, but they spoke first. Mayumi wished me good health, and Hideaki wished me good luck. We shook hands.

“Osewa ni narimashita,” I said. “Hontou ni arigatou gozaimashita. Wasurenai de kudasai.”**

I stumbled through the gate with my carry-on bag, showing the guards my passport and handing in my alien registration.

After security checks, the airport opened into wide open spaces, with a few last minute shops and a window showing the airplanes. Wheeling my carry-on to my destination, it finally struck me.

I might never see them again.

I began to tear up.

As I boarded flight UA 830, my feelings were very different from what they had been the last time I’d boarded the plane. I wasn’t anxious. Not even a little.

I loved Japan and my host family. And I was really going to miss them.

And it’s not as though I can just return, I thought. Maybe to Japan. But to Nagoya? To the Araki’s household?

No, it’s not that easy.

They were my family for five months. They will continue on as a unit. Only I will be broken apart. And I may never see them again.

Under the heaviness of this sadness, anxiety seemed rather small.

Part III: The End of Something

And so, with a mighty roar, the plane took off. I had a window seat and watched until we were above the clouds.

First, all I could see was the ocean. I could see the chops in the waves, glimmers of white, and boats the size of my hand. Then we turned toward land.

The land near the coast looked as flat as a crepe or the crust of a Japanese pizza. As we flew toward the main island, a few mountains emerged. I tried to figure out where Nagoya was; I was hoping to see Nagoya Castle or maybe the TV Tower of Sakae. But I couldn’t find it. And eventually all the houses looked like beadwork and rice paddies became like patches.

I saw a long train, thinner than a toothpick, slowly, lazily heading for a mountain. At first I thought it might be a JR train, but it didn’t seem to be stopping. Then I thought, maybe it’s a bullet train, and I remembered my trip to Hiroshima.

I wanted to see the whole island of Japan spread out before me like a map, but it was not to be. Before I could even locate a city I knew, we hit the clouds. The clouds enveloped us like lumpy foam. I tried to glean what was underneath it; occasionally I caught a glimpse of a city. But soon, all I saw was water.

*I would later set some off in Redlands, when I visited my friends, just before May term ended.

**"You took care of me, and I really appreciated it. Please don’t forget me."

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