The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Kyushu and Back

Yesterday, I got back from a 6-day trip to Kyushu. This was made possible by Tokyo University of Science having a "Cultural Festival" for the last few days, meaning my English classes were cancelled. I bought a ticket from Tokyo to Fukuoka, and headed out last Friday morning.

As soon as I arrived in Fukuoka, I started feeling kind of nostalgic, and this feeling heightened as I rode the bus towards Sasebo. I was so happy to see that those crazy, primeval-jungle-covered mountains are still there, and the twisting mountain roads, and the tunnels, and all the physical geography of Kyushu that is so very different from Canada, and even from the Tokyo area. The two years I spent there before seem almost like a dream to me now, so it was reassuring to know that all those places still really exist.

I arrived in Sasebo and spent some time wandering around the arcade, the covered shopping area. I saw tons of foreigners, way more per capita than I'm used to seeing even in Tokyo. After a while, I met up with my friend Jeroen, who is a dutch guy married to a Japanese woman, with a young son and a daughter on the way. He let me stay at his house for an extended period, and drove me all over the place, making my whole vacation possible.

On the first day, we went to Hirado and dropped in on my old calligraphy teacher, as well as an old retired martial arts teacher who has been very kind to me in the past. Both of them were happy to see me, and gave me more gifts I don't deserve. We then did a whirlwind tour of some of the old places I used to go, and I fired off a few snapshots. Then we had some dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, and a few drinks at a local bar. It was very "natsukashii" ... nostalgic, and a little bit melancholy.

The next day we drove to Saga, and I dropped in on a friend who has been living in Japan for over 20 years now. He's a teacher at a Buddhist high school, and he's planning on retiring soon. I might be next in line for the job (if his bosses accept his recommendation) but I don't want to get too excited just yet... Anyway, he was selling a sword, and I was buying, so I'm now the proud owner of a twenty-year old sword, with a 400-year old swordguard!

The next day, it was off to Ikitsuki to revisit my old stomping grounds. The place was just like I remembered it, and the weather was perfect. I took a lot of pictures, but the flat medium of photography never seems to convey the depth and scale of, for example, the huge cliffs on the west side of the island, or the immensity of the stone pillars at Shiodawara. I'm waxing poetic (which is dangerous for me) but seeing these things makes me get a little bit inspired, I guess. I also was able to stop in and visit (very briefly) some of the teachers I used to work with. Unfortunately the kids had already gone home, but I did see a few students who remembered me.

The next day was a bit more of the same, with some relaxed sight-seeing and visiting. Then I hopped the bus for Fukuoka, and met up with my old Jodo teacher. I stayed at his place for the night, and the next day we puttered around his dojo before he took me back to the airport.

All in all, it probably doesn't sound like much, but it was really a terrific time. Part of me wishes that I could live in the past forever, and of course that's impossible, but it still feels like I was able to jump back a couple years and at least those people won't forget me, at least not for the next couple years... I definitely want to go back to Kyushu soon. There's just something about Kyushu that seems like the "real" Japan or something...

By the way, I suggest that everyone read a great book by Alex Kerr called "Lost Japan". If you read it, I think you'll really understand a lot about the appeal that Japan holds for so many people, myself included. The author is obsessed with Kabuki, but substitute iaido for kabuki and you'll start to understand my fascination with this crazy place. That's all for now... talk to you soon.


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