The title of my first ever Japan blog post came from a song, so I felt that it would only be appropriate to end in the same way. Out of all of the entries I’ve had to rewrite since my computer’s hard drive crashed, this is the one I’ve been looking the least forward to…not just because I’d rather not relive the sadness of leaving Kyoto, but also because now that a month and a half have passed since my departure I don’t really think there’s any way to communicate quite how it felt. But here goes my best shot.
As you might imagine, the last few days before leaving Kyoto were mostly composed of a mad dash to shut down as many aspects of my life as possible – cell phone, health insurance, bank accounts, gas, electric, apartment contract, etc, etc, etc. Thankfully, I was able to get all of this done relatively smoothly – that is, except for the furniture…
See, in Japan there are pretty much three ways to get rid of large household items:
1) Sell directly to someone else for the best value possible
2) Sell to a recycle shop for virtually nothing
3) Pay a very, very high trash-hauling fee for each large item you want to throw away.
My original plan was to try to sell everything via a community message board, and anything I couldn’t get rid of would go to a recycle shop. But because my last-minute trips to Korea and Kyushu left only two days to spare, I ended up with no time to even try the direct-sale approach. I headed straight to the recycle shops where I received rock-hard proof of something I’ve been hearing about the Japanese for years.
They don’t want anything that’s old. Ever.
Every recycle shop absolutely refused to buy, or even take for free, anything that was manufactured before the year 2000. Which was everything. They simply said “We cannot sell anything that old, even if it works. You should just throw it away.”
But I didn’t want to just throw away a bunch of perfectly good appliances – that would be not only expensive but incredibly wasteful – so I ended up spending quite a bit of time finding other Ritsumeikan students who wanted the items and helping them haul everything to their dorms.
The only thing I ended up getting stuck with was my washing machine, but time had run out and so had my options. I decided to just leave it at my apartment after moving out, hoping that the landlord would be happy to offer “free laundry included” on their next lease. It was February 14th, Valentine’s Day, my last afternoon in Kyoto, and I did not intend to spend it scouring the internet for someone who wanted a free washing machine.
So I slipped on my shoes, stepped out of my apartment, and turned the key for the last time ever.
Soon Chie and I were riding a bus towards downtown. Rather than having some big drunken going-away party, I decided that I’d rather spend my last afternoon in Japan just doing the things that had become part of my everyday life. So we chatted while strolling down Kawaramachi Doori, had dinner at Kappazushi, popped into Starbuck’s for a quick Matcha Frappuccino, and went into one of the many nearby video arcades to take a set of purikura (those little sticker photo-booth things). It was a very abbreviated “everyday” type of day, but I was glad to have the opportunity to slip it into my pre-departure schedule.
Then came the goodbye rounds back at I-House. From the time we got home until around 2:00am I found myself going door-to-door and saying my last goodbyes to my friends from this semester, cutting myself a few goodbyes short when I realized that only five hours remained until I’d have to head out the door once and for all.
So I returned to Chie’s room and we cracked opened some beers. We’d gone out to bars or parties with our friends countless times over the recent months, but had never drank just the two of us. Not even once. And this was the last chance we expected to have for a long, long time.
With the minutes ticking away I was at last truly realizing how close I was to the end of my time in Japan. And I didn’t like it.
At 7:00am I zombied out of the I-House and hopped on my bike, riding to my apartment building to hand the key over to the landlord. But she never showed up. I waited as long as I possibly could, called her, called my real estate agent, all to no avail. Looks like no one would be around to yell at me for abandoning my washing machine after all.
Then began the last bus ride to Kyoto Station.
Sitting on that bus and watching everything disappear outside the rear window was simply too much to handle. One year ago I arrived with a huge pile of luggage, excited to be starting my new life but overwhelmed at how much I’d have to learn. Now I knew every little sidestreet and alley, every little supermarket and bookstore. It’s amazing what you learn about a place by covering its every inch on your bicycle. And here I was watching it all slip away for the last time. I felt as though each time something disappeared from view a piece of me was being wrenched away and tossed just out of reach.
A bit melodramatic? Maybe. But nevertheless it’s exactly how I felt. Kyoto has become an indisputable part of me, of my life, and it was an impossible thing to casually wave goodbye to.
And all of that before having to say goodbye to Chie.
Fast-forward about 45 minutes and we’re standing on the platform in Kyoto Station. Actually, she’s standing on the edge of the platform and I’m standing just inside the opened train doors an inch in front of her. We’re quietly waiting for that last call. I have a small letter in my hand that she surprised me with just moments ago, one of her tears on the envelope. I stick it in my bag so as not to wet it any further…I’m sure I couldn’t handle reading it right now anyways.
Then the conductor blows his whistle, we let go of each other’s hands, the doors close, and she disappears in the distance.
Moments later a Japanese salaryman walks up to me and says “I know how hard it can be…but it was a wonderful parting.”
Maybe. But that doesn’t make it any easier.