Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Final Posting From Japan

it's past midnight, and I should be deep asleep in my hotel bed... hours before my flight back to America...

but it's hard to sleep when I realize that I have one year of memories jammed into my suitcases, hundreds of wonderful meals with wonderful friends, hundreds of miles traveled in this beautiful country, hundreds of smiling students who are going to come to school next quarter to find a new AET sitting at MY desk...

I have been extremely fortunate to have met so many generous beautiful people in my year here- some are fellow JETs and some are part of my Japanese family- my landlady and her family, the Yoshidas, Jun, Akira & his wife, who constantly fed me at their udon shop...

Sometimes people ask me "why are they so nice?!"- and I still don't get it... Every year, the Yoshidas and Jun and many other of our wonderful friends here spend so much time with us, invest their time and energy to get to know us, make so many happy memories, just to see us go back to our own countries after a year or two (or three) of living in Japan. My brother always had a saying that he felt bad for people who stayed behind as travelers left them to continue on their journeys...

It's hard to adequately "thank" people like the Yoshidas except by making them something handmade, like a photo book (which Becky & I did make) or a painting of their name (in my kimono patterns)- but still I feel that we could never repay their hospitality and generosity.

I came to Japan to teach English, but in the end, I learned more about myself and making lifelong friends than anything else.

In a couple weeks, I will be back in the hustle and bustle of New York City- away from the lush green rice fields and mountains, away from the chirping cicadas and circling hawks, away from the serene year that I spent in
宮津市(Miyazu Shi)
京都 (Kyoto Fu)
日本 (Japan).

All of these experiences, just like everything else in my lfe, will be filed away in a part of my brain while I focus on what is immediately happening in my life. I just hope these memories don't fade over the years.

Sayonara Japan!

or as I like to say, "It's not goodbye- it's see you later!"

Thank you to everyone who kept up with my blog and supported me during this past year... especially to Paul who gave me strength in his love, and to all my friends and family who sent me packages & letters!!!

I'm sure I will find it difficult to adjust to life back in the US after being in Japan for a year, and I'll realize that everyone's lives continued- there were births and deaths, sicknesses and career changes, graduations, engagements, pregnancies, breakups, and new homes/ apartments...

I'll have to catch up on all the new restaurants to try and buildings that went up in New York, as well as all the movies and music and shows I missed... so I'll continue the blog when I get back to New York- after all, it's still a "day in the life" of Laurie!

See you all soon!!!

Last Day of School

Monday was the last day of my contract at school...

I packed up my desk and had a final lunch with my favorite students...

Many students (even some who I had never taught) found me in the staff room and gave me sweet farewell presents!

I packed up my bags to leave and said "sayonara" to some lingering students in the hallways. Some of them threw themselves at me and we stood there hugging and crying... I had scoffed when the teachers were bawling their eyes out at graduation, but here I was!!!

I told them to "ganbatte" ("fight!"/ "try hard!"/ "good luck!") and changed my shoes one final time, and walked my bike out to the front of the school where all the teachers and staff had formed a "passage" for me to walk through. I remember seeing through my tears all the genuine smiles of teachers who I had never talked to, and of others who I had shared many hours teaching with in the classroom.

As I walked out the school gate, I turned around to wave one final time, and saw Atsuhiro and Yuka running to catch up to me! (It was like something out of a movie....) We stood at the gate and hugged and cried again, promising to write and keep in touch.

As cheesy as all this sounds- it was really a good ending to the school year...

Sayonara Miyazu High School!


I will never forget Miyazu!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Kanebiki no taki matsuri

My last weekend in Japan ended with the long awaited "waterfall of fire" festival, right near my house!
The Kanebiki no Taki festival is based on a local legend in which a Buddhist deity sets a waterfall on fire with a flaming arrow to get rid of a nasty red oni demon.

Hundreds of tea lights glowing in plastic bottles lit the winding roads leading up to the falls- a simple yet beautiful presentation! However, Jannie and I stood out as the only people wearing yukatas (even Kumi didn't wear one!) as everyone else decided to wear sensible shoes and clothes to hike up those treacherous steps!!!

There were traditional miko dances and awesome taiko drum performances all on a precarious stage built above the slippery rocks and water.

It was the most amazingly intimate setting I have ever been in for a festival.... People were perched everywhere, on the mossy rocks, in trees, on lookout points and benches...

Rightfully so (yet unfortunately), they had recently stopped setting the 40-meter high waterfall on fire due to environmental and fire danger concerns so instead, there were dozens of flaming torches and candles that gave the entire place a beautiful glow.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pimp my rice daddy

Thank you Raylene for keeping me up to date on the latest and greatest in the rice planting industry!!!

WHY did I not see THIS before my own rice planting experience? I could've made a tiny little canvas in my little corner of my the rice field, a little-laurie-rice plainting, if you will. Oh well, next time.

(Click on the links at the bottom of this site to see the monthly shots of the progress of the rice planting. You'll somehow find them, even if it's all in Japanese.)

Friday, July 27, 2007


Furiously packing, exhausting farewell parties, and receiving countless "thank you" presents...

Woke up early this morning to see Becky off at the bus station- it was my first reality check of actually LEAVING... she had like 10 people show up unexpectedly (including me and Jun) so she burst into tears each time someone else showed up! I started crying because I realized that my turn to leave was not that far off...

My "kuroneko man" is coming tomorrow morning to pick up my huge suitcases to deliver them to the airport. (Do we have this in the US?!? It's awesome- great for travelers with huge bags, especially in this country of train travel... You can either send your luggage ahead of time to the airport or send it from the airport to your destination, and it costs like $15 each way, and it takes like 1 day to get there!)

So, here's my schedule for my last few days in Japan:

Saturday: random errands/ sending off big suitcases

Sunday: packing last minute stuff into carry ons/ Waterfall Fire festival

Monday: last morning at school... leaving at 12:30pm (sniff, sniff)

Tuesday: stopping service & paying my utility and cell phone bills. I will have no easy form of communication with anyone in Japan, much less, the world for 24 hours... then training down to Kyoto for one last night...

I'm going to miss my little blue/green/red trains (and the little bike)!

Wednesday: off to the airport!!!!

I'll be in San Francisco from August 1st through the 14th.

Paul will meet me in San Francisco on the 8th, and we get back to New York on the 15th!

See you all soon and thanks for keeping up with my blog!!!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Playing with fire(works)...

I can't believe it took this long for me to play with fireworks....

Bryn and I went over to one of my students' family's home for dinner the other night and then we all had a very wholesome family night of setting off fireworks in front of their house! We had little competitions on whose "incense" fireworks would burn the longest and who could make the most dynamic presentations with their sparklers.

It was surreal- rice fields in the background, cicadas chriping in the moonlight.. the animated suspense of setting off each one mingled with the general happiness and peace that we felt.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Monju-do Defune Festival

On Tuesday evening, Jun, Yumi, and I donned our yukatas and joined Hide on the boat from Miyazu to Amanohashidate for one of the biggest festivals of the area.

It is an ancient traditional festival dedicated to "sea safety" (or another reason to have fireworks and fire breathing dragons).

We ate from the many food stands (yakisoba and my favorite- "taiyaki", a red bean filled sweet shaped like a fish) and milled around until we found Bryn, Jannie and Becky sitting along the water.

About 200 torches were lit along Amaohashidate and the bay glowed with hundreds of floating paper lanterns. We were entertained by taiko performances, traditional dances, and two dancing dragons, all on a stage set up on the water! A spectacular fireworks show ended the festival!

I felt like a rockstar as many of my students (who thought I had already left Japan) jumped up and down, screaming my name! (It was their first time to see me wearing a yukata!)

OH, and swimming season has "officially" started... just in time for me to leave!!! boo...

Farewell Parties

I have exactly 1 week left here in Japan, and it's been absolutely crazed... Giuli left last Wednesday, and then I started writing all my farewell speeches!

Last Friday morning was the closing ceremony (of 1st term) at Miyazu- as usual, it was a long, somber, drawn out event. But fortunately, my speech (more like a 2 minute message) came at the beginning, so I stood up there in front of hundreds of students (sitting on the floor of the gym) and gave my shaky speech... half in English, half in Japanese. As I said my final line "arigato gozaimashita" ("thank you") and bowed, a huge lump formed in my throat!

When I walked off the stage, all the students stood up and parted down the middle to allow me to walk down this aisle while they clapped. I almost cried again but some of my students cheered and called out my name or waved. I walked out of the gym, turned around, and bowed- and that was it. Tanaka-sensei was waiting for me outside and whisked me off to Kaiyo, where I would give a similar speech (all in Japanese) at their closing ceremony.

Ha, I thought I had lucked out at Miyazu for getting to miss most of the ceremony, but at Kaiyo, my speech was all the way at the end!!! I just stood there as endless teachers droned on, waiting for my turn. Finally I gave my speech/ message but I was surprised that the student body president also had a speech to me, memorized in English! Too bad he was never one of my students! Then the students parted again and clapped for me as I walked out of the gym.

The funny thing is, all they probably thought I was getting on a plane that night or the next day to go back to New York- but in fact, I am still sitting at my desk at Miyazu until July 30th, the last day of my contract! So the students see me at school or around town, and they think I just lied to them. It's kind of weird.

Anyway, Friday night, the festivities started.... The farewell party thrown by my teachers was held at the Amanohashidate Beer Garden (again!) but this time it was very civilized and well behaved. It was fun to see my English teachers from all 3 schools come together, along with various other teachers who joined in. Good clean fun and great to talk to some teachers who have been so busy for most of the year that this was the FIRST time I'd ever spoken to them!

The next day was the first time for me to sleep in, without visitors or guests, in over a month! It was fantastic to sleep in until... 9am. I was so stressed out with packing and cleaning my apartment!

Then, later on that evening, Jun and I headed over to Leigh's farewell party where Becky, Tom, Jason, and I were the guests of honor...

Another night of drunkenness which turned into a fun dance party! No fights and a few sad hugs at the end, but overall, a fantastic night of being with some of the good friends I had made here in Japan!

Those of you who know me- if I'm dancing, yes, that means I was drunk, VERY drunk.... Jun slept over and we got in bed about 4:30am. We slept in on Sunday until... 8:30am!!! What is my problem?!? We had some eggs and toast and she rushed off to get her day started and I woozily stood up and realized that I was still drunk! So the day I had planned for MASSIVE cleaning and packing turned into a hazy, dizzy day of naps and snacking and spurts of packing and/or cleaning.

I was dreading my 3rd night of drinking- my volleyball farewell party was that night! I left my house for the first time around 6:45pm and arrived at the restaurant where Keita was already anxiously awaiting his first drinking partner.

I thought I'd be able to make it to dinner and get home by 9pm, but people kept showing up!!! I mean, who shows up for dinner at 10pm, or 10:30pm?!? we ended up being there until 11:30... late for a Sunday night before school/work!

Since I still felt awful from the night before, I insisted on not drinking, which visibly disappointed Keita. However, that didn't stop him from drinking my share of drinks for the night!

Monday, July 23, 2007


Throughout the year, I have seen this painting several times at various school functions, art shows, etc.

And each time I saw it, I just stared at it in amazement... I loved the colors and looseness and finally asked about it in March.

Turns out that one of my favorite 3rd year students had painted it! I told my teacher to tell Nozomi that I loved the painting and would be interested in buying it to bring back to NY with me. Well, graduation came and went, and my teacher got married- and both of them left Miyazu for the big city of Kyoto.

A few weeks ago, I went down to Kyoto and had lunch with that one teacher to catch up. To my surprise, she brought the painting! Apparently she had told Nozomi that I really loved it and wanted to buy it, but she refused to sell it, repeating that she wasn't good enough to sell her work yet! Her payment was that I picked hers out of all the other students' work!!!

I am constantly amazed by Japanese generosity and humbleness.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Random stuff found in the ¥100 Shop

#1 & #2) MULTI-PURPOSE ETIQUETTE PLASTIC BAG: So useful! A stylish plastic bag for containing your vomit! Get one for the whole family!!

#3) Another variation of the dried squid as ecologically responsible vessel for your favorite alcoholic beverages! (This time, for beer!)

#4) Adhesives to protect your clothing from nasty underarm sweat or deoderant stains!

#5) Suspicious massaging tool.