Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Beginning of the End

I'm feeling rough, I'm feeling raw, I'm in the prime of my life.

Hey, strangers. I’ve been meaning to write an entry for quite a while now… admittedly I’ve procrastinated a lot of that time away, but I’ve also been really busy! Where to start? Back in April, I jetted off to the Philippines with Aaron, Aisling and Jesse for Golden Week; the weekend after I got back, I rushed off to Tokyo to wrap up my time with AJET, then it was off to Tokushima for a casual touch rugby tournament, followed by a very un-casual 70km bike ride across the Shimanami Kaido the week after in Imabari. After a bleak, barren winter, the past two months have been a sudden wave of activity, and one which has carried me all the way to my last eight weeks as a JET.  It’s crazy to think that in two short months I’ll be back in England and my time in Japan will be over. It’s hard to even make sweeping generalisations about my experiences here – when I look back at photos from my first year, it feels like a whole world away from my life in Japan now: it’s as if there have been so many different Japans along the way.

Golden Week in the Philippines - my last big trip!

AJET Farewell Dinner in Tokyo - the first round of goodbyes for my time in Japan

Shimanami Kaido: my first last 70km bike ride.

There are certainly things I’m going to miss about living here. For all the struggles that living miles from civilisation entails, living in the countryside in Ainan certainly has a charm that it’ll be sad to say goodbye to. It’s kind of like living in a toy town, a simulation of the real world before I head back to it – everything’s so peaceful and charming, quaint and safe. I’ve never really felt any burdening sense of responsibility, even as an Employed Adult with a Proper Job.

I'll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms

That being said, being a participator in this simulation can get kind of lonely. Everybody knows that I’m only here for a finite period of time – and even if that weren’t the case, the way that Japan works, I could never be seen as anything but a “visitor” anyway. I hope that’s not an unnecessarily pessimistic outlook; I've loved the independence and the chance to live pretend as an adult. It's just, as much as I feel like I’ve enjoyed my two years living in Ainan, and I feel a definite fondness for the place, I’ve never really felt connected to it. There have been individual locals here who I’ve felt connected with, and I’m going to leave having made some great friends from Ainan, but to the place as a whole, my unshakable status as an “outsider” has stopped me feeling any real sense of belonging, even in the office I've worked for two years.

I'll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone

Naturally, then, I’ve been finding that sense of community elsewhere by keeping myself busy with my JET friends at weekends, which in itself has been one of the biggest highlights of the past two years.  Even taking Ehime as a whole, the foreign community is so small that you end up developing close friendships fast, drawn together by your unique experiences as outsiders in Japan. Soon enough, it'll be time for us to all go our separate ways once more - it's sad, of course, but I'm also learning that that's life. People come and people go. Realising that isn't a sign of resignation: I really do hope I'll see a lot of my friends again, but even if I don't, I'm grateful for the past two years we've all had sharing this experience together.

There is really nothing, nothing we can do

Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew.

So now preparations for my return to London are slowly underway. The flights are booked (I'm home on August 1st!) and I've started drawing up a "Guide to Life in Ainan" for my successor (whoever they may be). I've yet to even mentally confront the mammoth task that is going to be packing, but that'll come in time. My teachers keep asking me what I'm going to be doing when I go home and all I can do is reply with a laugh saying I haven't got a clue. I'm slowly starting to deal with that too... I've got my LinkedIn set up and my CV's up-to-date. No big deal, right?

Yeah, it's overwhelming, but what else can we do?

Get jobs in offices, and wake up for the morning commute?

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(^ They're all lyrics from "Time to Pretend", by the way).
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