Japan Day 14, July 16th

This morning’s routine is a reversal of my arrival. Around nine o’clock I gather my things and check out of the hotel, deposit my duffel bag in a locker at the station and head off to Yamashou. I pick up a donut from a local Mr. Donut, and miss Dunkin’ Donuts more than ever. Oh well, at least they’re more edible that they used to be.

With my Red Sox cap worn low to block the sun, I don’t notice the low driveway overhang, and manage to walk into it head first. The loud clang reverberates in my head for a moment as I stumble backwards, and I hope that it doesn’t leave a mark. Now I have reasons besides the heat for a headache.

I call Taiki when I arrive, and he takes me to the gym. We watch the 3-7 girls compete in dodgeball against the 2-4 girls. The 2-4 girls don’t stand a chance. When a group of girls from Taiki’s new class, 2-7, arrives he goes over to speak with them. I follow a few minutes after, waiting for 3-7 to clean up their underclassmen. Taiki’s classmates are very curious, but a bit shy about this random foriegner in there midst. After an introduction, assisted by Taiki, several of the girls and two of the guys lose their shyness and start asking me questions. How do you know Taiki? Where are you from? How long are you staying? I answer as best I can, and as they leave to prepare for tug of war, I follow to watch the next matches.

A number of my old students from the other classes are over by tug of war arena. I am surprised at how many remember me, and how excited they are to see me. It’s rather flattering. This is primarily the girls. Most of the guys have to keep up their cool appearance, so mostly give me a head nod and ask me how I am. They ask me if I’m moving back to Japan. A few of them seem dissappointed when I say no. The girls insist on photos. I’m happy to oblige. Sadly, the communication has to happen mostly in Japanese, as they’ve forgotten much of their English. Still, what strikes me most is how much they’ve grown. I’d forgotten how much changes in a year when you are in high school.

I remember playing tug of war on the teacher’s team back when I started teaching at Yamashou. If there is one thing I want to do today more than anything else, it is take part in at least one game of tug of war. Since the International Communications students were primarily female, they are generally outmatched by the other classes, that have a more even male to female ratio. Taiki and I were able to convince the Phys Ed teacher to let me take part in one round. When 2-7 is called in to compete, I hop on the back of the line. Everyone in 2-7 is very surprised, and very excited. We make short work of the first year class opposing us. All the girls in 2-7 start thanking me profusely. Taiki turns to me and says “..maybe you shouldn’t help out any more.’ He’s right. It’s not fair to the rest of the students. And I got what I wanted. I thank everyone for letting me play, and gracefully bow out.

Around this time 3-7 finishes up with dodgeball, and makes their way to the tug of war arena. 2-7 has their next match, and all the 3-7 girls and most of the boys (two of them hav referee duties else where) come to cheer them on. Of course, I cheer alongside them. But the strength of 3-4 was too much for them, and they were defeated. 2-7 has one more match to redeem themselves, and three of the 2-7 girls come over and ask me if I will join them. I look over I Taiki and he shrugs. So, I’m back in the game. Surrounded by 2-7 and 3-7 girls cheering us on as we tug as hard as we can, giving it our all, we pull. We pull so hard we begin turning backwards, emulating pack mules or mighty bison.In the end, I find myself fallen on the floor, looking up at a student, and asking “Did we win?” He shakes his head and replies “I’m sorry.” A few of the girls apologize to me, and I apologize to them that I couldn’t help more. But in the end we agreed: we all did our best, and we all had fun.

3-7 is next up for the tug of war, but with one small problem: two of the boys in the group are nowhere to be found. Two of the more sports inclined ones. It seems they are refereeing the girls softball game, which still isn’t over. All the talk is about how they will get creamed in the first match, and against a class of ichinensei.With a class of twenty girls and five guys against a class of eleven guys and fourteen girls, every body counts. But they come riding in to the rescue just before the start. Literally, riding in. One on the other’s shoulders. 2-7 and 3-7 all huddle together, with a short pep talk and a massive cheer. And so 3-7 goes on to decimate their opponents, while I cheer on the sidelines with 2-7. They end up losing to 2-4 in the third match though. Not surprising, it’s a very athletic class.

Shortly after tug of war is the girls basketball finals. The girls from 3-7 are in the final four against a ninnensei class. The entire class has a big huddle before the game, with Taiki, myself, and most of 2-7 sitting on the sidelines. Two of the guys look over to Taiki and wave him into the huddle. A sort of “you may not be in our class any more, but you’re still one of us” gesture. The 3-7 kids are something special. Taiki as well. He seems to by virtue of circumstance, along with his social nature, bring 2-7 and 3-7 closer together than any class I’ve known. A truly wonderful and unique bond that I hope lasts past the camraderie of class match.

Those of us not in the game from 3-7 and 2-7 watch and cheer. The opposing team’s boys are much more organized to cheer than we were, so I teach our group some old stand bys from my high school days. At the end of each quarter, the girls swap out players, and everyone gathers around to fan them off. After the game, I get a number of my students to leave a message in my notepad, I have lunch with Taiki and his classmates in the cafeteria, and said goodbye to Nakamura sensei and Gary.

The ride back to Tokyo is uneventful, though I am a little sadder than I thought I would be to leave Yamagata. Not that I’d want to live there again, but I’m very glad I visited. Nick and I make dinner back at the guest house, share stories and make plans for Osaka. Tomorrow I leave for Kyoto.

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