A couple of weeks ago, we woke up to strong winds and a yellowish-grey sky. The sun shone dimly though the dust and visibility was very poor. It reminded me of an eclipse, that sense of disturbed time, morning indistinguishable from evening. Every spring the winds from China carry dust and sand from the Gobi desert across Asia. 黄砂Kosa (lit. yellow sand) has occurred for centuries, but in recent years it has become much more severe and the dust contains many harmful contaminants. Reports from Beijing show people wearing masks and an eerie yellow sky. In Okinawa, flights were cancelled and visibility was recorded at 1.5 kilometers. By afternoon, the skies here were blue again. This morning another dust storm has arrived, but it’s not as intense as last time. I have been fighting a cough for the past few weeks and this is certainly not helping.
My last two weeks at the BOE were spent at my desk with not much to do except cleaning my desk, organizing files, dumping contents from my computer (they will give my computer “as-is” to the next person!), and leaving documentation for my successor. So I was glad to be interrupted by the “international relations manager” to help with a non-Japanese speaking person who had showed up at city hall looking for a place to stay. My American colleague and I went out to meet a young man from Sweden who was three weeks into a trek across Japan (his record of Saiki is on Day 22). My colleague offered him a place to stay for the night and that night we all went out for yakitori and shared stories of travel and a great meal. I didn’t join them for drinking after dinner, though. Sometimes I am so envious of people who are traveling, but then I remind myself that I am living in another country and am meeting people from all over the world. Even in provincial Saiki, I find myself eating yakitori in the company of another American, a Kenyan, and a Swede (sounds like the intro to a joke).
School visits always included lunch. School lunches in Japan are an integral part of the health and nutrition curriculum and lunchtime always includes an announcement about the ingredients and the importance of remembering the farmers, fishermen and cooks who prepared the food. Sometimes it was quite good, but other times it was awful. Students are encouraged to eat everything and required to eat small portions of every item. The carbohydrate load was always heavy, I remember one lunch that included noodle soup, sweet potatoes and a bread roll. The hardest thing for me to adjust to was the whole milk. As role models, teachers are expected to eat full portions of everything. Kids eat in their classrooms and serve and clean up afterwards.
When there is leftover food, the kids who want the extra portions play janken (rock, scissors, paper) and divvy it up. I will not miss this part of my job.
When I worked in the office, I was on my own for lunch and I usually would grab something to eat at the convenience store (yoghurt, onigiri rice balls, juice, manju, etc), or have an inexpensive lunch at a restaurant. Most restaurants have lunch specials between 500 and 800 yen ($5-$8 -no tip) and I had a choice of shops that serve ramen , udon, or okonomiyaki. I really like the 500 set lunches at the okonomiyaki shop. I will miss these lunches.
My resume is now updated with the final date as an employee of the Saiki City Board of Education. In a few more days I will stop fretting about the inefficiencies of the BOE and my inability to adapt to the system….it no longer affects me. I will miss working with kids, but not much else. It looks like they will be calling me to do some freelance work which suits me much better.
Now I have to work on structuring my own time and developing my own “business”. It’s all in the planning stages now, but I’ll try to teach English in an informal setting a couple days a week and use the rest of the time on other projects. Jiro is will be leading a tour in October, so I am organizing and planning that. I need to spend more time studying Japanese and set up schedule that includes exercise. I decided to take a 3-day trip by myself to take time to reflect and plan. Next week I will go to Takachiho for some hiking, onsen-ing, reading and thinking. The region of Takachiho is the stage of ancient myths-the sun goddess Amaterasu is said to have once hid in a cave and thrown the world into darkness.
This week we’ve been enjoying the cherry blossoms on the sunny days between the rainy days and this weekend is the Saiki’s spring festival. I’ll be dancing in the parade again this year and also will be in a short Tai Chi performance with my class.
Time to get out and take a walk.