Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Leaving Japan

This will be my last post from Japan, as I'm leaving tomorrow. There are a lot of things that have happened recently that I've wanted to tell you about: How Mo and I nearly climbed the highest mountain on the Shiretoko Peninsula. About watching the moonset over Karikachi Pass. About a crackling campfire, a ukulele, and good friends singing into the night. About a hidden gorge and a man with a garden in Tomakomai. About how Mo and I did climb the highest mountain in Muroran. Those stories will have to wait, though. I've run out of time.

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It started raining yesterday. A light rain that comes and goes from heavy gray clouds blowing low in the sky. Tonight after dinner, the drizzle subsided, so Mo and I took one last walk up the hill from our apartment to my favorite view in Muroran. It's only a five minute walk.

"When we think back on our time in Japan," I began, " we must always be very proud of ourselves for choosing to come here, for living here, and for finding things to sustain us in that time. It's okay to be frustrated with ourselves for the things we didn't do and the language we didn't learn, but we have to remember that no matter how much Japanese we learned or how attuned we became to the cultures and customs here, we would always remain outsiders. So we must always be proud for coming, and proud for the things we did manage to learn and do. Despite the frustrations and challenges, we still found ways to make this life our own. Indeed, enough that our decision to leave was incredibly difficult. We must never forget that when we look back on this time."

From the top of a small hill, you can see the train station, downtown, Mt. Sokuryo with its brightly lit TV antennae, the entire harbor, and the Swan Bridge twinkling in the distance. The ferry from Aomori had recently arrived, and trucks were still streaming out of the lower decks. It would be going back in a couple hours, and it was exhilirating to think that, had we wanted to, we could have gotten on it. Even more exhilirating was the thought from looking at the station, the thought I get everytime I pass it. That I can get a train there and, literally, ride almost anywhere in Japan.

"I'm glad I've ridden all the lines in Hokkaido," I told Mo, "but I'm also glad that I haven't ridden all the lines in Japan. It helps sustain my sense of wonder."

For several minutes, we looked in silence at the view before us. The lights, the cars moving slowly along the streets, the dark forms of the hills outlined by the lights' reflection in the clouds, the clouds themselves rolling onward through the sky.

"From all we can see before us, what's your favorite memory of it?" I asked Maureen.

She thought for a few moments, and then replied, "Two. Going to the Port Festival and seeing the fireworks in August when I first arrived, and walking up Mt. Sokuryo for the first with you in the winter."

We looked at the lights again, until she asked, "How about you?"

"I don't know if I can narrow it down to one moment, or even a few. Living here has been like working a giant jigsaw puzzle. Every discovery is like finding another piece that fits, and each one is incredibly exciting. The puzzle is far from finished, and never would be, but it's more complete than it was when we started."

As we turned to go back to our apartment, I looked back one last time, to the lights along the harbor and glow from the steel mills coming from behind the nearest hill.

"I always smile when someone comes here for the first time and remarks on how ugly Muroran is."

"Me, too," Mo agreed. "Because we know that's not true."

"We know this place a lot better than that. It's not a perfect place that you could ever describe as a paradise, but I think I like it better for that."

"Does such a place even exist?"

"I don't know," I replied. "Maybe for some people, but not for me. When I think of Muroran, I think of it with a sense of longing. I think I like it more for that. I think one of the worst sentiments in the world is the Not In My Backyard Syndrome. It lets people forget too easily the costs of convenience. Muroran doesn't let you forget that. But it still reminds of the beauty that's out there, too."

We paused again on the steps of our apartment. "The last place I lived that I felt as connected to the landscape as I do here was the year I lived in town in Dresden with Mom and my stepdad. I rode my bike and walked everywhere that year. That was half my life ago. I hope I find another place that I can feel as connected to the geography as I do here."

Mo heartily agreed. I only hope it doesn't take another half of a lifetime.

1 comment:

Frank & sisters said...

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Thanks Frank
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