Tuesday, 6 May 2014

golden week

Between 29th April and 5th May, Japan celebrates Golden Week, when four public holidays mean the longest vacation of the year for many Japanese workers. The name comes from the 1950s:

In 1951, the film Jiyū Gakkō recorded higher ticket sales during this holiday-filled week than any other time in the year (including New Year's and Obon). This prompted the managing director of Daiei Film Co., Ltd. to dub the week "Golden Week" based on the Japanese radio lingo “golden time,” which denotes the period with the highest listener ratings.

Thanks Wikipedia. I spent mine in Thailand, meeting three other Miyazaki JETs there and exploring Bangkok and Chiang Mai together. It was fantastic and so different from Japan - dry, chaotic, relaxed, tourist-friendly, messy. It was eye opening and fascinating to see a new part of Asia, and it was good to once again feel that adrenaline rush that comes from transplanting yourself to a totally new place, alone.

In Chiang Mai the food was cheap and full of flavour, the people made sex jokes all the time, lush blossoms tumbled over dusty old walls. We took open-backed trucks into the jungle to go zip-lining and to swim in waterfalls. Horse drawn buggies towed us between crumbling tombs; we received massages in a cool room run entirely by blind people; went to a joyful lady-boys cabaret and attended an outdoor cooking school in a thunderstorm. 

In Bangkok we haggled with tuk-tuk drivers; hopped around to avoid cockroaches and rats walking home at night; ate banana fritters, mango sticky rice and coconut ice cream from street stalls; got lost in a 27 acre bazaar. A wrinkled tour guide with a hipster haircut named Ex ("for expert") called us "dears" and took us to markets on canals and rail tracks. We drank cocktails in a sky bar, then accidentally walked into a pro-monarchist political rally and ate free curry and watermelon under a statue of the King. 

It was good to loosen up and revel in being a tourist in this new place, only learning how to say thank you, and without a Lonely Planet guide or a smartphone with roaming to help me along. I went along with my friends' plans, enjoyed being picked up at my hotel for activities and studied only what maps I needed to. Having no classes to look presentable for, I relaxed into the sweaty, searing heat. After 9 months of trying to be as self-sufficient, culturally aware and integrated as possible, I felt comfortable being a clueless foreigner. 

But I also realised how much I have learned in 9 months, down to the minutiae of every day life that allow me to live here. When my plane made its descent to Fukuoka yesterday, I looked at the neat green streets and fields and felt a strange sense of familiarity and homecoming. When I got stuck in Kagoshima after 22 hours of travel, unable to withdraw cash from holiday-hours ATMs and biting back frustrated tears, I could once again rely on the trust of Japanese people to issue me a special ticket, and the kindness of a Japanese friend to pay my fare at the other end. I feel even more appreciative of the daily respect the people here show each other. 

I started this blog partly because I hoped it might be helpful and interesting to other foreigners interested or living in Japan, but mainly to substitute the diary I've kept for 14 years and to remember my time here. I'm way behind with posts and will be posting a lot in the next few weeks to catch up, but won't bombard facebook with them to keep from boring people! As much as possible, I want the rest of what I post to be honest and from the heart. Close to what I'd actually write for myself, and not just a carefully edited stream of Instagram-friendly moments that I'd look back on with a feeling of distance in fifty years.

Now it's only 3 months till I'm home and, having spent so much of this year travelling, right now I feel inclined to spend most of it right here in Miyazaki. I want to spend time with my colleagues, students, taiko group and friends and enjoy the summer evenings in this beautiful prefecture.

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