A few parties and goodbyes

Hello everybody,


Taken at the Kyoto Botanical Gardens.

I just got done with another one of my & hostmom’s long late-night chats. I’m going to miss those, I think. It’s spring still in Kyoto, although it’s definitely changed since I last posted. I took the picture about about a day after my last post. Since then, all the sakura have fallen.

It was absolutely breathtaking though, walking through the gardens with all the sakura in bloom. I suddenly felt like I was in winter, and all the trees were laden with snow rather than petals.


Walking into sakura in the botanical gardens.

Yes, it truly is everything you hear about. No, other places really don’t compare.


Everyone enjoying the sakura.

Going for a flower-viewing or picnic under the trees is something that’s almost a given during springtime in Kyoto. I must have seen upwards of 4 separate wedding photo shoots.

Turn to the left or right in Kyoto and you see blossoms lining the streets.

Turn to the left or right in Kyoto and you see blossoms lining the streets.

This past week or so was full of goodbyes. They started just about when the sakura started to fall.


Yasaka shrine’s famous weeping sakura, lit up every night during sakura season.

I suppose it was a little bit of a bummer to make such a good friend right before I left. I had dinner and a night out with Yui the other day, who I met though another friend.

After meeting at my sake shop, we walked to Yui’s favorite bar/restaurant. All you can eat cabbage! Plenty of other things too, though. I realized that cabbage is actually just right if you want something to eat while talking for a while. We must have talked for an hour or two.

I was just talking with another AKP student with other day about the differences between dinner parties or get-togethers in Japan versus the US. Although in some Japanese textbooks we were taught to expect a bit more silence in conversations with Japanese friends than in conversations with American ones, this hasn’t exactly been the case in my experience. Nor has it been the case that this means ther’s less talking overall. I had a wonderful time with Yui, and the food was actually great, but to be honest the food truly was just an excuse to get together and chat about things.

Yui taught me some slang from his part of Japan (Miyazaki), and I taught him a bit of regional slang too. We were both amazed at what we didn’t know. We also talked about the usual: friends, jobs, school, and dating. But also alcohol! I sell sake right now for a part-time job, but Yui’s family makes shochu (made from sweet-potatos). We bonded over the trials and rewards that is selling regional alcohol.

After eating and drinking and talking enough at the restaurant, I thought it might be nice to go to Yasaka shrine which was just a short walk away. The whole shrine was alive, as well as the huge park behind the shrine. Booths and food stands everywhere. There was also a huge courtyard underneath the sakura trees that had tables on small platforms laid out for people to sit and drink at.

All in all, I must have hung out with Yui for 3 or more hours. It’s crazy how far I’ve come, if I think about my confidence in Japanese even at the beginning of October.

As part of a sort of going-away dinner, I was invited to one of my coworker’s houses to eat okonomiyaki with her. She heard that it was pretty much my favorite Japanese food, and she claimed that she made some real good okonomiyaki. Backed up by positive reports from friends and family, of course.

I was accompanied by my friend and coworker Hirota, and although we both had a great time, we both agreed that we were happy the other had come along.

Our mutual friend and coworker’s house wasn’t too far from my own station, and Hirota and I walked together with her husband to her house. Her husband had come to meet us and talked with us about the sakura in the neighborhood on the way to the house.

I have to say, her house floored me. There was a little winding cobblestone path that lead up to her side-entrance. It was dark, but I could tell flowers were everywhere. The inside was, if you combine my and Hirota’s impressions, modern Russian-Canadian log cabin. A truly great aesthetic. And one that made sense; our host’s daughter currently lives in Canada.

It was an amazing meal. Two salads, three okonomiyaki each, bamboo shoots seared in butter, yakisoba, and ice cream. And of course, Hirota and I managed to finish the last half of a bottle of sake and half of another. Both are sold by our brewery. It was a great experience to drink this sake I’ve been selling the way it was intended, and I ended up gaining a new-found respect for one of the bottles.

All throughout the night, classical guitar music was playing on the stereo. It turned out that our host’s husband was a classical guitar player back in the day. One of the CDs was actually him playing! He played primarily Spanish classical guitar before he became a banker (he’s retired now). Because of this, they’ve been all over the world for recitals and performances. Her husband and I bonded over a mutual love of Segovia. It turned out he also used to be an English teacher.

Hirota then asked a question about English it seemed like he’d been wanting to for a while: “So, if you compare the two, Japanese seems unique to me because of how may words there are that sound the same but have different meanings.”

“Well, that’s not really true. There’s quite a lot in English as well. Like wright and right, or left and left.”

“Oh, I guess you’re right. I always had it in my head that Japanese words had lots of different meanings per word, whereas English had lots of words that really meant the same thing.”

I wonder if that’s how most people relate to foreign languages, or to their own languages.

They also talked about how I’d helped the shop out. It turns out that the shop’s revenue has actually increased a considerable amount since I started. I pointed out that sakura season had also started, but they dismissed that. Furthermore, they said that I’ve actually improved the atmosphere of the place.

“Whenever customers come by that look like they would normally be trouble, they might start talking loudly or impolitely, but as soon as they see Jesse they shape right up and listen to what he has to say. I don’t know what it is; it’s like magic.”

It’s true, I’d noticed that a bit too. But I didn’t realize that they may have been quietly shepherding the trouble customers over to me. It’s funny; I must seem pretty innocent to them. A foreigner who doesn’t know about the rougher side of Japan. They almost seem embarrassed if they’re mean to me.

Hirota stepped in a bit. “Well, that’s just because he’s a nice guy to start with. You know what? Before I met you my image of Americans was totally different. Before I met you I thought they were all rough and loud. That was the image, at least. You changed that. Yeah… You’re not like that at all. Congratulations, man.”

By about 11, we had finally eaten enough and talked enough and Hirota and I decided to go home. Our hosts showed us to the right street and let us go on our way. The walk back to the station was nice. It was quiet and although it was late, it wasn’t all that cold. Hirota expressed that he was happy that I came along and I told him I felt the same. We talked a bit more on the way and then parted at the station ticketgate.

I didn’t really separate from him until 10 minutes later though, because he was waiting on the opposite side of the track for his train. Mine ended up getting there first and I truly waved goodbye from inside the train as it pulled away.

About 3 days later, I said my goodbye to Hirota since he would be working elsewhere my last 3 days on the job. Maybe it was better that way, since it staggered my goodbyes.

My last day of tea was this past Tuesday. It was a surprisingly good last day.

Recently people haven’t been coming quite as often for whatever reason (jobs, the nice weather, vacation, injury). Nearly everyone came on Tuesday though. In fact, I can’t really think of a person who wasn’t there that I didn’t get to say goodbye to. All unplanned, too.

This meant my last practice was truly a proper sendoff; because there were so many people that came, I had to wait before I practiced for a while. When it was my turn to drink tea, I was happy to notice that my server was preparing me thick tea, which meant I could use my ornate tea napkin for the first time (and the last time, at least in Japan). I finally got all my tea utensils about a week ago and I’d had a chance t use all of hem but that napkin. I don’t think she did it on purpose, but I was secretly very thankful that she made thick tea instead of the thin tea everyone else made. By the time it was finally time for me to practice, my legs were in quite a lot of pain. Well, it was less pain and more a total lack of feeling. It had been a while since I’d felt like that and I have to say it felt good.

I still made lots of very basic errors throughout my practice, but it wouldn’t have felt right if I hadn’t.

On my way out I said my first goodbye speech. It was approximately 3 sentences, but it was enough to do the job I think. I’m not sure what they thought of me throughout this time, and I’m not sure I could express how grateful I am of them–but I think I came close. Maybe it’s because my vocabulary and phrases are so limited that my thank-you or goodbye speeches are so much better in Japanese. Well, in my opinion anyways.

That was just the beginning of goodbye addresses, though.

Friday night was the AKP farewell party. We all gathered in the ballroom of the Kyoto Garden Palace Hotel, AKP students and host-families as well. It was the typical sort of farewell party, with fancy-looking food, various musical entertainment (performed by students as a sort of talent show), and lots of speeches. Except of course it was all in Japanese. Everyone had a good time, and it was especially impressive to see a few of them dressed up in kimono for the event. I had to give a short speech along with everyone else, a sort of “favorite moment.” I ended up saying something generic about working at Nishiki. I suppose it was more for the experience of getting in front of hundreds of people and speaking in Japanese than anything else.

It was fun to see peoples’ hostparents, as well. I’m not sure if people realize how much we really draw on our parents. I saw that many of us had picked up traits and quirks from our families. I’m so thankful for that. I’m not really sure you could enter into a society without something like a family or even a community to come from. When we came into Japan, and when most people come into a foreign country, we were coming out of nowhere. We didn’t have any base or origin here in Japan, and our language and mannerisms reflected that. We had no quirks that made us into individuals, except for those quirks we all had from being foreigners. No, we didn’t have those special quirks that come from being brought up in a family. Some families say particular phrases a lot while others may be very passionate about trains. At the beginning, we were all pretty much as bland as could be in Japanese. A very broad, shallow familiarity with Japanese and Japanese culture in general. There wasn’t really anything that made us us. But thanks to our families, we’ve acquired these quirks and specialties–be it verbal ticks or a deep understanding and handling of train vocabulary. They really allowed us to enter into Japan like nothing else. Because of them, we were all reborn in Japan as children and members of their family. All this was easy to tell just from the mannerisms and language that everyone clearly picked up from their families. We really owe them. Whether they know it or not.

After the farewell party, we all went en masse to the Kamogawa river, stopping at a Lawson convenience store on the way for snacks and drinks. We must have walked for about an hour along the river. There were some good talks and good memories. We eventually found another group of exchange students standing around and talking, so we stopped as well. Some of us talked with the other students, some of us didn’t. It reminded me a bit of college life back in the US and I realized that I’d be starting that up again soon.

In order to catch the last train home, I had to leave around 11. A few other people came with me. There was talk about staying out all night but I think the latest people stayed out was around 3. They ended up sleeping at some kind strangers house. I sort of wanted to do the same, but I had my last day at the kyudo dojo starting the next morning, so I wanted to be rested. In the end I wasn’t all that rested by the next morning, but it was good enough. I was glad I got home when I did; I knew that Saturday was going to be another big day.

My last day at the dojo wasn’t technically my last day at kyudo, since I go to sensei’s house on the weekdays, but it was the last time I’d be able to practice at the Budo Center and see most of the people at the dojo.

A few days before, sensei said that he’d throw a party for me on my last dojo day. He doesn’t mess around with parties (nor do any other of the kyudo people), so I was expecting a full day.

When I met him at his house and said good morning to him as usual, he told me to not wear anything under my practice gi. I was pretty sure this meant there would be pictures, and I wasn’t dissopointed.

“It’s warm today, so you don’t have to worry about being cold. Besides, if you’ve got something underneath your gi it’s not cool-looking.”

This last day of practice was truly wonderful. It was actually my best yet. I hit the target 3 times, which is pretty difficult just in itself. Two of them were twice in a row! But more than that, I’ve finally learned how to make to bow spin around and return in my hand when I release the arrow. It’s kind of hard to explain, so here’s a video.  A friend also took a video of me without me knowing–my last two shots at the dojo! She’s still getting it to me because it was a large file. I’ll post it here eventually.

I really love my bow. Sometimes I think of it as an extension of myself and sometimes I think of it as a separate entity. I think if I believe in either of these poles too much for two long it’s a bit dangerous. It’s really both and neither of these things. Anyway, it just felt so good.


Here’s [nearly] everyone. Sensei is to the left and my other sensei who I only meet at the dojo is to the right in the green jacket. The two other foreigners to the left of sensei also come by every Saturday or so. His dad is actually the one who took this picture for us.

I ended up not saying a goodbye speech that day at the dojo, but I did give individual goodbyes to may people. Especially those I wouldn’t be seeing later on. One person I wanted to say goodbye to but didn’t really get the chance to was my other sensei I meet at the dojo. The last time I saw him, he was walking by me pretty fast and he said something quickly, and then chuckled as he punched my butt on the way past. I didn’t realize that would be the last time I might see him. But it somehow felt right.

We all returned in the car as usual. The other day I realized that we had $6000 worth of equipment in bows alone that we lugged around every Saturday in sensei’s tiny Prius. We shove them all in between the two front seats till the back can close.


One full table.

When we got home we decided that we would make temakizushi for my party that night, which is where you have all the ingredients for sushi laid out and you all just make it yourself. We all went grocery shopping and then I went to my job for about two hours.

I came back around 6:30, and most of the food was made and on it’s way up to the dining room. It was quite the spread.

Sensei was a little late, but we all sat down and started to eat because it all looked so good. There seemed to be a slight opening at the very beginning of the meal for a thank-you speech, but I didn’t want to say anything until sensei would be there too. So I waited.

But when he got there, he immediately became the life of the party (as usual) and left no room for me to say anything in the space after “Kampai!” and “Let’s eat!” So I waited a little longer.

With sensei there we could all eat and drink freely. Plus, he’s always great entertainment.

A proper picture of everyone, now that sensei had arrived. It's a nice pair with the dojo picture, I think.

A proper picture of everyone, now that sensei had arrived. It’s a nice pair with the dojo picture, I think.

He sat next to me the entire night and punched/slapped/shaked my shoulder more times that I remember. Good conversations too.

“Hey, you know the things that you always share when you meet someone you’re interested in for the first time? Hair color, bloodtype, eyecolor, and number of folds in your eyelids.” He concluded that I was a twofold, and everyone went quiet for a little bit looking at each others’ eyes and trying to find out how many folds their neighbors had. All throughout, sensei made sure my glass was never once empty.

Eventually, though, it was time for my thank-you speech. It wasn’t the best or the most thought-out, but it was honest and I held everyone’s attention of a good minute or two. By the end of it everyone clapped and praised me. It was a great feeling. My first real-ish speech in Japanese that went over well. Actually, it was pretty much one of the first dinner speeches I’d ever done.

Sensei didn’t say much, but what he did say was, “Alright! Now let’s go practice!”

And that’s how I ended the night. We all went down and shot a few arrows. Some of us more than a few. Everyone giggling and having a great time. But it was also another great practice session. Even sensei shot a few. Just like last time, it was beautiful. What was different was that his aim was totally off. But he didn’t show it or crack a smile till he was finished.

“Damn, that was horrible! It’s because I’m drunk.”

We reminded him that earlier that night he had said that being drunk improves your release.

“Ha! Yeah, that’s right. You know, when I was taking the exam for the 5th level blackbelt I had this bottle of whisky in my pocket. Right before I went out I took a big swig. My release and follow-through were huge; it was awesome. But yeah, maybe it was a little too much tonight.” Chuckle.

I stuck around and shot a few more arrows, talked bit more, and even answered a few questions about American football now that people had truly loosened up.

I left with a few people still there and said goodbye to everyone again. I closed sensei’s sliding backdoor and left with cookies and good spirits.

The next day, Sunday, was my last day on my sake job. All in all, it was a pretty normal day. Had some good customers, had some bad ones. No one spit it out, which was good (yes, that’s happened). Someone asked me where I was from in Europe and was surprised to hear I was from the US (second time I’ve gotten that for some reason).

It was really the end that was the memorable part. The daughter of the owner brought my last paycheck, along with a few other gifts like sake and candy and a jacket to take home. That was all wonderful but not exactly unexpected. I figured they’d do something nice for me at the end, since they were so good to me at the beginning. But what really got me was what the people in the shop did for me.


The book they made for me.

They made me a book with pictures of me and everyone I’d worked with. All labeled so that I wouldn’t forget anyone’s name or where they were taken.


My plaque!

But not only the book; they also made me a plaque/card with my picture, and everyone signed it.

I don’t feel like there’s much need to expand on this really. I thanked everyone, gave a mini speech, and said my goodbyes.

It’s all really simple, actually. In the end saying goodbye felt pretty much just like every other day. I even forgot my water bottle I’ve been reusing a lot lately. I didn’t go back for it, though. Maybe that’s what was different.


Laying under the sakura at the Botanical Garden. Photo credit to Kayla.

Just a few more days left. Tomorrow will be my last day of kyudo, and then I’ll start packing and shipping in earnest. I’ll leave on the 22nd and arrive on the 22nd, because that’s just how time zones work.

I’ve done pretty much everything that was on my to-do list, and then some. There’s still one more fleamarket the day before I leave, and I still want to visit the Raku museum. Maybe go to a few more temples. I only have one more page left in my goshuincho! I filled up both the front and back.

Finally, I need to do something with all the 1 yen coins I’ve collected. I suppose I should have been using them all along, giving exact change when I could. But I haven’t. And now I’ve probably collected 100-200 of them in a jam jar. That’s like $2! You can’t use them in any machines (not even pachinko), so I was thinking about just giving a temple or shrine all my coins a few days before I leave.

Till next time,



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