The cycle is almost complete

And then it was June 2013, my twenty-third month in Japan. The annual JET cycle is drawing to a close. Most of us who came to Fukushima in the 2011 cohort elected to stay for a second year. Significantly fewer have opted stay for a third. We have. The six or seven weeks until the start of August will be a time for farewells, last suppers, and goodbye drinks. Many of the wider Fukushima JET community are recent graduates, and because Laura and I are a little older, we have often struggled to find common ground with them. We’re not really part of the scene, and that’s okay by us. We’ll find our own ways to say goodbye to the people that we care about the most.

We went camping with friends by the shore of Lake Inawashiro. Carys and Eric got married this year, having met in 2011 when she arrived as part of the same JET cohort as me. The riverside barbecue that they’d organised to celebrate their wedding took place a week before our camping trip, and whilst that was a nice enough affair, the newlyweds were kept busy with well-wishers and cooking things. The camping trip gave us a chance to enjoy a relaxed evening, and catch up properly. We enjoyed a barbecue, and played cards as the sun went down. More photos here.

15 Jun 1 Bike Tent Bandai

My closest friend in Japan is our neighbour, Sam. After two years in Japan, he’s moving back to the USA for grad school. His JET placement has been pretty tough – low academic level schools, a long commute, badly behaved students, and unsupportive teaching colleagues – so he’s glad to be heading home. It’s no exaggeration to say he’s been counting down the weeks until he can leave since October or so. Laura and I have spent most Mondays with Sam, watching The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones at his place, and eating delicious curries at the Mayadevi restaurant in Asaka-machi. Japan has its own tradition of curry that’s distinct from the Indian-style curries that are typical in the UK, and before Sam met us, he’d never really tried the Indian style. Now he’s hooked. There are more than thirty curries on the menu at Mayadevi. Does he have time to eat them all? I hope so.

Sam

Some friends organised a road trip to Akita. We visited the Oga Peninsula, and stayed at a wonderful onsen that draws its water from the sulphuric emissions of the nearby mud volcano. The next day, we walked around the mud volcano, amongst the fumeroles and slurping mudpots, through the steam rising from lakes of hot acid. It was otherworldly. We rounded off the trip with a visit to the deepest lake in Japan, Tazawa-ko, and the old samurai town of Kakunodate. As with many road trips, the downtime – meals, car rides, card games – was as enjoyable as the attractions.

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The looming shadow of the end of the year brings with it a bigger question. What will we do after JET? We have a plan for the months immediately after leaving Japan, a journey back to England by bike and by train. But then what? Part of me wants to just walk into a recruitment consultancy with my CV and ask them to find me the best paying job that they can. Another part of me says we should work a little, save a lot, and ride our bikes across America or Australia. What do I want from my last year in Japan? By the time it’s June 2014, my thirty-fifth month in Japan, I need to answer these questions.

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Ishikawa Lantern Festival

Galileo invited us to come along to the Lantern festival in the town where he used to work. It was an amazing night. We met other ALTs there, including some people Laura had made friends with in Tokyo, and wandered around the town. The town was actually made up of several smaller villages that had joined together. Each one has its own identity, and this is manifest during the matsuri by them carrying their own shrine and playing their own taiko rhythms. The main parade came after a typically Japanese talent-show in front of the 7-11. One act was three elementary school kids lip-syncing and dancing to J-Pop (or is it K-Pop?), another was a traditional fan dance, another was more taiko drummig. We enjoyed some typical festival food, and waited as dusk fell. The parade began, and it looked like this.

The festival got more rowdy as it went on.

This festival was a great experience. If you’re in Fukushima next September, you should check it out. I know I will.