Japan Day 13, July 15th

Today I’m in Yamagata, the second smallest city in Japan and the place I called home for eight months. If you asked me what there is to do here I’d respond honestly not much. Close to nothing really. I’m only here to see my old teachers and old students.

A crowded train ride to Tokyo at eight thirty gets me to the station at nine, and the shinkansen gets me to Yamagata at noon. I can’t check into my hotel until 4pm, so I stash my dufffel bag in a locker at the station. I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself while I’m here. I only want to see my teachers and some of my students, all of which will probably be busy and many may not remember me. The plan is to leave first thing tomorrow, since there’s nothing else to do once I’ve made my appearance. I debating leaving on the last train to Tokyo rather than staying in a hotel, but I don’t want to be so exhausted or rushing around. Plus, I promised Taiki I’d hang out with him in the evening.

After getting a little lost, I find my way to Yamashou. It’s exactly as I remember it, with the exception that I can hear cheering in the distance. Nakamura-sensei said there was some sort of festival happening yesterday, today and tomorrow. That could be what it is.

I find my way to the teacher’s room and ask for Nakamura-sensei, who is there but busy as always. She greets me, asks how I am, thanks me for coming. We talk a little but don’t have much to say, but are happy to see each other. She asks a teacher to fetch Taiki, and he comes in quickly. Taiki only returned from Chicago a week or so ago, and just started with a new class (almost unheard of in Japanese school systems.) He notes that I’m very formally dressed (I do have on pants and a long sleeve shirt) and Nakamura-sensei suggests I stick with a T-shirt. I couldn’t be happier to hear that. I was only wearing the long sleeve shirt to look more formal and respectable as the former teacher.

What I didn’t realize when I came to Yamashou was that they are currently having class match. Class match is where each of the classes in each grade faces off tournament style in soccer, softball, basketball, dodgeball, volleyball, tug of war, etc., to see which class is the best in each sport. There’s cyclical about being here for class match. When I started working at Yamashou my first days were during class match, and my students were ichinensei (first years.) Now on my return they’re sannensei competing in their finally Class Match.

Taiki acts as my guide and takes me to watch Sannonana (3-7, my favorite class) compete in basketball and kick some serious ass. Taiki tells me how the teachers have discouraged him from spending time with them, as he should stop living in the past and move forward with his new class, 2-7. It’s understandable, but kind of harsh. I go up to them afterwards to say hello, and I am greeted by excited cheers and squeals. I forgot what it’s like to the be big foriegner on campus. Feels kind of nice. We take a picture together, and I head towards the exit.

Two girls from 3-4, one of my old classes rush up to me. “Omoide?” they ask. “Do you remember?” I tell them I remember and it’s good to see them again. The comment on my belly. “Ooki narimashita.” It became larger. “Hai, biru para.” Yes, it’s a beer belly I reply. They become concerned and start telling me no, no, beer is bad. Let’s see if you two still feel that way next year when you’re in college. We take a picture together, and they ask me how long I’ll be in Yamagata. They hope I’m moving back.

Taiki takes me to see Gary on my way out. He is one of my former coworkers and the resident foreigner English teacher. We chat a bit about how things are in Yamagata and how things are in the States. America is certainly feeling this recession harder than anyone else right now. Gary’s learned the term funemployment, and I guess that term applies to me right now. Despite no income. Let’s hope I can change that and keep the good times rolling when I get back. Or find a job. Either way.

I head back to the hotel and enjoy the air conditioning. I take a nice, long bath while watching He’s Just Not That Into You on my laptop. I missed Japanese bath tubs. They’re the only ones I fit into. Ironic that a tall man like me fits into a tub in a country know for things of small size. Taiki calls me around five and asks what I’m doing, and if I might like to hang out. I haven’t anything else to do,and Taiki is pretty fun to hang out with.

We go around downtown Yamagata, taking some pictures and talking. I do a lot of talking, and Taiki has a share of thoughts of his own. I think my gregariousness is a little shocking to Taiki, as he knew me in a much more quiet and reserved state when I taught at Yamashou. I promised Nick I’d get a picture of our favorite clothing store, “Little Bitch,” and manage to get a few photos before they close up shop. I’m dissappointed a local izekaya took down my favorite sign which read “No singing, no dancing, this is a respectable joint.” I was hoping to get a photo of that as well. Taiki and I grab dinner at Mos Burger, and discuss many things. We have a good time, and I promise him I’ll come by for Class Match tomorrow. Guess I won’t be catching the morning train to Tokyo after all.

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