Summers in high school were family vacations and cross country practices; summers throughout college were long hours spent at part-time jobs with my best friend; but summers here in Japan have been some of the best I’ve ever had.
Summer, of course, is long past, but here are some of the highlights from my last full summer here in Japan:
* A road-trip across Ibaraki one beautiful day in June. J and I hit Ushiku Daibutsu (that huge, famous Buddha), the Itako Iris festival (so many wilting flowers), and the celebrated Kashima Jingu (a shaded shrine where we discovered ponds teeming with crawfish!) before catching up with 20 or so other Ibaraki JETs for the Kashima Antler’s soccer game! It was a great little road trip across the southern part of Ibaraki.
* My high school’s baseball game. I went to Mito with my commercial school to see the school’s baseball team kick off the prefecture’s high school baseball season! And my school’s team absolutely killed it. In the first inning alone, we racked up 11 points… which was exhausting for the poor students in the stands, because in Japanese baseball, every time a team scores a run, the band has to play a specific song and the supporters have to do a specific celebratory dance. Imagine all of that in 95 degree heat and humidity. The poor drummers, draped in ice towels and beating away at their huge drum, kept shooting me exasperated glances every time our team scored another point. “Yeah, we want to win,” their eyes seemed to say, “but calm down and give us a break here. We’re tired of cheering.”
* A beach party. J and I once again ventured across the prefecture to the annual JET Leaver’s Party, a goodbye to all the Ibaraki ALTs leaving Japan come August. It was a beautiful day; eating Costco pizza on the beach, listening to farewell speeches, and saying more than a few goodbyes until the sun set. The 2+ hours to get home was tiring, but the first train that took us from the beach to the main station was a cute little one-car thing decorated with anime characters.
* Teaching at my special support school. One July day, before summer break started for students, I went to my special education school (which I visit rather infrequently). In the past, they’ve only wanted me there for one afternoon class, but this summer, I was invited to teach three classes! In addition, I was invited to eat lunch with the students, a very new opportunity for me – not only was it my first chance to eat delicious kyushoku (hearty, healthy school lunch); but it was also the first time I’ve really eaten lunch with students at all! I listened to them idly chat about lessons and friends and sports in a way that I never hear inside the classroom.
* Bargain kimono shopping in Tokyo. J and I spent hours searching for two beautiful, secondhand kimono as a gift for J’s grandmother. After great success (including purchasing one of the most brilliant obis I’ve ever seen), we treated ourselves to celebratory Shake Shack!
* A week with my best friend from home! It was only her second time on a plane, and she flew around the world to see me! Together, we visited an impressive list of temples, almost saw a waterfall, accidentally ordered raw squid dinners, shopped all across Tokyo, and died just a little bit from the oppressive humidity.
* A KPOP concert! Back in May, J got me hooked on the Korean pop group Seventeen. And while I’m admittedly a very new fan, I’m already in love. So when Seventeen announced they were performing in the Saitama Super Arena in July, of course J and I bought tickets (along with J’s friend from home who visited Japan mainly for the concert, and along with my best friend from home, who had never even heard of Seventeen but who happily let me drag her to the concert anyway since the concert dates fell during her trip). The concert was an absolutely incredible performance, and I fell even deeper in love. I hope Seventeen returns to Japan next summer, before I leave forever!
* My first Japanese health check. Everyone who works in Japan has a free annual health check (take note America), but I somehow missed mine last year. So this year was my first, and it was… something. I drove to a local sports park and joined the assembly line of other high school teachers in a series of tests. Height and weight measured, blood testing, hearing check… those were all standard. But I was a little surprised by how casually they handed me a cup to fill with urine… and then, after the subsequent bathroom visit, I was told to put my cup on a table—next to five other people’s urine samples—and take a seat as a nurse dropped little pH papers into all our pee cups in front of an entire room of people. Obviously I’ve done that particular test before, but never so… publically. And no one batted an eye. And then we all moved outside and boarded a bus—yes, a bus—to get x-rays. It was quite the experience.
* A little lantern festival. J saw a poster in her city for a little local Obon event and invited me over so we could check it out. Of course, we went in with no expectations and as such were thoroughly amazed by the hundreds of hand-painted paper lanterns floating in or stacked alongside Koga museum’s river-like fountains. Some of the lanterns even had children’s stories painted on them! It was one of those special moments where the atmosphere is just memorable — a warm summer night, breeze rattling the willows, live flute music floating through the crowds as children and parents alike search for the lanterns that they had made..
* Return to America. The biggest event of the summer was my high school friend’s wedding. I flew back to the U.S. to spend 10 days with her and our other high school friends in Minnesota (where she lives now). It was basically a huge high school reunion for our friend group, since many of us have moved away from our hometown and haven’t gotten together in six years. The week before the wedding was spent catching up, midnight talks in the kitchen, reminiscing about the past and wondering about the future. The wedding itself was beautiful, full of dancing and laughter and fairy lights and bourbon lemonades and love. I also had the chance to see my parents and my grandmother while I was in Minnesota, so the trip back to the states was a lovely way to end the summer.