There’s a particular word in Japanese that sums up everything I feel when looking back on these pictures: natsukashii. Maybe I’ve mentioned it before, but the term probably deserves more than one mention in anything relating to Japanese culture.
The closest word in English is probably ‘nostalgia’, but I think ‘natsukashii’ is a stronger emotion: that almost physical ache you get when a certain song plays or you catch a certain scent that makes you yearn for a past moment. After all, nostalgia is supposed to mean ‘the pain from an old wound’.
I’d always thought of nostalgia as a particularly British affliction, but to me this feeling also makes perfect sense in the context of Japan, where the fleeting nature of time and beauty – symbolised by the spring cherry blossom - and an air of wistfulness and melancholy, is central to art and culture.
The last month or so in Japan felt really special at the time and even more so looking back. Cycling in the fields and between eachothers' places, spending long afternoons jamming in the park or watching shows on the tatami beneath the aircon, stretching into spontaneous warm evenings - I still miss having friends so close and hope it will happen again in the coming year.
Everything was about to change again and I think that made us a bit more reckless and also a bit more aware of the preciousness of each day. For me that time was heartbreaking and heady. It was crickets, heat, a couple of particular songs, driving down Route 10, cold green tea and weeknight purikura. I was confused and had no idea what came next yet in some ways finally felt like the truest version of myself.
One of the most memorable nights was a stormy Wednesday when we gaijin were invited to be in the Miyakonojo matsuri.
|Why didn't I buy these trousers?!|
We gathered at dusk by one shrine with in our happi and found the lantern we were to pull all the way across the town to another.
As darkness fell everyone gathered by the torii to await... the god. No biggie. It was still and a nest of birds exploded into the low clouds as we stood in silence.
But soon it was time for the work to begin! We pushed our float all through the town shouting 'Hado koiii' - which I think translates as 'Heave ho' but which sounded like 'I'm the Queeeeeen!' after not too long.
We were rewarded at the other end with fireworks and bentos. And spaghetti-flavoured ice lollies.
I spent a lot of time cloud-spotting and trying to tan in the park after school with Simon.
Casual commuting above and below.
Hanako and I fed our New Girl Obsession.
We spent a very sunburned day surfing at the beach.
Followed by possibly the most drunken night at an all-you-can drink beer and whiskey rooftop bar.
Naturally it ended with us serenading the assembled company with Queen, a dance party, and the worst hangover I have ever fallen foul of.
In fact among my few regrets is the fact that I couldn't play as much as I wanted in these amazing waterfalls the next day due to aforementioned whiskey and beer combination.
A drive away in Kagoshima Prefecture, they were like a natural playground, deliciously cold and leafy on a stiflingly hot day and turquoise blue.
It started pouring with warm rain and we scarpered back through the forest (with a quick stop to make use of a rope swing and get even wetter).
I know I will be back one day, but I'm not sure it can ever be as perfect.
Train views nearing Miyakonojo.
As with all things in Japan, our leaving had to be marked with a ceremony and a bow.
Not pictured: the journalist's photos Duncan and I messed up jumping in the back row.
Hanako and I squeezed in a few more date nights.
Soon it was time for the Miyakonojo leavers' party - a boozy afternoon in Hanaguri park fireworks, burgers, a unicycle and the deadly Twister.
Not complete without karaoke, Backstreet Boys, free drinks and loose talk.
This natsukashii is probably coming on strong because once again I'm leaving for a new place at the end of a long hot summer. I'm glad to be moving to a place again that promises bike rides, cedars and mountains, and friends just a block away.