Two years ago today, I got off the train at Wakaba Station for the first time. It was around 7o'clock and pitch black out, and I wheeled my only suitcase down the stairs and stood in a small crowd, disoriented for a while. My only point of reference was a small map printed on the same sheet of paper as the list of trains I had to take to get here from the airport. I asked a man with where 'this place' in my sad excuse for Japanese, and he somehow managed to point me in the exact direction I needed to go. It took about 10 minutes of walking to reach my apartment. I was home.
I remember that night vividly in some parts, and none of it in others. Despite having been awake for nearly 48 hours, sleeping was out of the question, I was everything but tired. My apartment was freezing, and the only connection to the internet was a LAN cable that I couldn't use in my computer. I turned on my air-conditioner expecting the place to warm up. It never did, and I was freezing. I wore my winter coat, wool socks and knit hat inside and my hands were numb. I had no phone and no internet to contact anyone and to make matters worse, I was running on no sleep. I filled the bathtub with water and sat in it for an hour, until the water ran about room temperature.
From the minute I left the shower until 4am the next morning is all a blur. I probably just sat shivering for a while until I gave in and decided to get food. My first meal in Japan was a oyako-don and nikuman from 7/11. When I finished it, the quest for a wi-fi spot had begun. With the internet in my apartment being a LAN cable only, I couldn't connect to directly and my family was probably worried beyond compare. My first instinct was to find a McDonalds or Starbucks. After 6 hours of walking (and somehow missing both of my neighbourhood McDonalds on the way) I gave up and went back to that freezing apartment... Wherever it was...
I still have no idea exactly where I was when I realised I was lost on the way back home. It was an industrial park, but in 2 years I still haven't been able to figure out where exactly it was, and the route it took to get there. What I do remember is it taking another 3 hours from that moment to get home. The sun had gone down on my first full day in Japan. No big adventures, nothing fun... Just hours of walking and returning to a freezing cold apartment. I still didn't have a bed... I had a bed frame though. So a rolled up some t-shirts as a pillow and managed a long sleep wearing all of my winter coats for warmth.
That next day, the wifi situation figured itself out and I got in touch with everyone. I searched for how to make my apartment warmer, only to find someone with the same problem who uploaded a picture of his air-conditioner's remote with english labels written next to them. I laughed hysterically, remembering back to my first night here, almost wanted to cry because if was so cold. I woke up that morning with chapped skin, shivering... Only to find out that the cause of all my problems was the fact that I pressed 'reibou' and not 'danbou', or, 'Cold air' and not 'warm air'. Now there was wi-fi, a warm apartment, refrigerator filled with food but still no bed. I bought a thin mattress and a brown shelf, managing to carry them from the store back to my apartment with minimal injury.
Today, I'm taking that same brown shelf and mattress out to the curb, along with bags filled with the crap I promised myself I wouldn't accumulate over the last 2 years. Aside from the two years of obvious wear-and-tear, it's starting to look exactly how it did the day I moved in.
I've spent the last few weeks trying to better understand my two-year relationship with this place. It had been in no way a reciprocative relationship. The landscape of this town is firmly rooted in my, but I've made not a single footprint in it. I didn't contribute to this place at all, and it won't notice I'm not there anymore. I knew none of my neighbours, participated in nothing. On occasion I watched events and festivals, but it was entirely voyeuristic. I simply watched and took what I wanted from it. I often complained that I hadn't felt like part of a community here, and it's entirely my fault.
However, theres this over abundance of selfish memories here. Memories of self-growth, of lonely over-indulgence... and things like that. To explain the entire capacity to which they mean something to me would be pointless, however through photographs and brief descriptions, you guys can be a voyeur into a small piece of the last two years of my life here. There are many places here that mean something to me, but theres only one I really intend to share.
Leave my apartment and turn right, turn right again at the Sukiya, and left in front of the Kappa Sushi. At the cross walk, cross the street and follow it for a good 10 minutes until you hit the familymart. Take the street that diverges right and in about 10 minutes you'll pass the train-track for the Tobu Ogose line. When you reach the big road, follow the first side street on your right and follow it through a rice field leading past a middle school, and up the hill to the Komagawa River.
I've walked that route almost every day, sometimes before sunrise, sometimes midday, usually at midnight after a long day. I've walked the 10 kilometers to the point where the river actually starts. In many ways its probably the most 'Japanese' place I've been. Not the super-romantic Japan people think about. But the real Japan: a slightly desaturated landscape dotted with telephone wires and mountains on all sides as a river runs through it. There are kids catching fish with nets, and old people taking their sweet time. Theres some scattered garbage on the side closest to the street and more vending machines than people. Thats my Japan.
I don't have much to say about it, to be honest. I went over there a few times to get more pictures to add to this article, but like every time I just end up forgetting my camera is there. I had planned to make this article longer, about more places and more stories, but I don't know whats worth sharing. I don't know what I want to tell other people about it.
I took the Tobu Tojo line for the last time this morning, the last of a commute I had done more than 500 times round trip. It was strange. Not happy, not sad. Just strange. Theres this feeling like I've lost something, but I'm not sure yet if I've lost something worth noting. It's surreal. But now I'm back at my school eating lunch and procrastinating on heading over to the Air B&B I have booked 10 minutes away.
This is where the blog ends.