26 May 2010

Day 11: Where it began

Posted by Roland under: Travel .

Unfortunately any plans of an early meeting with Saori would be dashed by the fact she had to attend a sports outing with her coworkers. Not the biggest of problems considering I had a long commute ahead of me to get from Shizuoka to Tsuru, my old university. I briefly flirted with the idea of visiting Tsuru last year in my trip but I knew this time I had to go. After a quick public bath and some free breakfast I would leave the hotel in Ito (quite impressed, as well) and push out on my long trip to Tsuru.

A few transfers in I would make it back into Tokyo proper and left my bags in a locker in Shinjuku. Then I headed out on a train towards Otsuki. Luckily it was an express so I would skip many stations and get right into Yamanashi. Otsuki station was nostalgic enough (it was our main link to the outside world from Tsuru) but once I got on the Fujikyu line towards Tsuru, I could feel the nostalgia sweep over me, especially as more familiar sights came into view.

It’s hard to describe the nostalgia I felt coming back to Tsuru, especially since I had been back a few times already, in my 5 trips to Japan I’ve come back 4 times. But this time was definitely personal, all my university friends had already graduated so I was here to meet a few teachers and just take in the sights of being back in town. My first steps took me back towards the university, where I tried my best to blend in with the student population there. I decided to drop by the old administration office, seeing if Takiguchi-sensei and Fumi-san were in. They were in and immediately recognized me, although I did give them advance warning of the fact. We had a great conversation catching up and updating each other on what was new. And this time I had apparently gained enough Japanese ability to maintain a decent level of conversation. That’s what pleased me the most, being able to show to them that the Japanese program I participated in so many years ago actually developed into a reasonable Japanese ability.

After dropping by the office I headed out towards my old ramen place of choice, Happo, to grab a bowl of ramen at the place where all my ramen fandom began. The place was pretty much the same, albeit a bit dirtier from 5 years ago, but more a sign of the cooking that took place in there than anything else. It didn’t turn me off when I came in and I was just pleased when the owner recognized me immediately upon arrival. Not that we had a big chat during lunch, whenever I came in the past it was more about just getting down to business and eating, but we did engage in a long chat about English teachers in Japan (the conclusion: the native Japanese English teachers are no good). The ramen for what it was, was still fantastic and I decided to ask him more about it this time. It was a soy base, his own creation, apparently made so it would be good for you (a healthy ramen) and even supposedly improved the skin (thus being popular with the nearby university ladies). Good thing I ate my fill 5 years ago. He even gave me a shocked look when I told him I had hakata ramen, a decidedly unhealthy broth.

After ramen I headed back to the university and dropped by my old classroom to see Shima-sensei, one of my first teachers when I was at Tsuru and admittedly a great supporter of me back then. She also knew I was coming and introduced me as a “dai senpai” (loosely translated to “big alumni”) to the class, which was about 20-25 in size, much bigger than my time in Tsuru. The class consisted not only of the UC kids, but also some Chinese, Korean and even one Swedish foreign student. Shima-sensei would interrupt the class to have me come and introduce myself and also answer questions from the assembled students. They were probably more confused if anything but I did my best to field their questions, again proud that I knew enough Japanese this time to do so (something I could not claim maybe even last year).

I would stick around the classroom for a bit longer, learning a few things about business Japanese in the process before heading out for a bit to take some pictures of the area and indulge in some more nostalgia. I had agreed to catch up with Shima-sensei in a one on one meeting at a tea place near the station before she headed back to Tokyo. Again I was pleased my Japanese was able to keep up and it was great catching up with her, 5 years later. She went into a bit about how she was questioning 5 years ago why she should travel so far to teach from Tokyo but found the experience with us, her first group of students, to be so fun and rewarding she stuck around to do it even 5 years later.

After saying goodbye to Shima-sensei, I found myself with some time to waste before dinner with Victoria and a few of the other UC foreign students. With nothing else to do (it was Tsuru after all) I headed to the old foreign student lounge, if anything, to play some DS but I found the Swedish foreign student there instead. We spoke for a bit before one of the Japanese tutors came by and he started to play her in a 3d version of Connect Four. Eventually I would get roped into the game too where I would beat the girl once, but found myself losing to the Swedish guy two times in a row. I would find out that he was actually enrolled in Tsuru as a regular student, not on a special program like the UC students. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to associate with the UC students a lot and would head out on his own way instead of joining me and UC kids for dinner.

6 of the 9 students would come out for dinner at Kawafuji, where I would finally indulge my desires for Chicken Cheese Katsu, although I would find it cheesier than I remembered and passed some of it on to the other UC kids. But really, I was just hanging out with them, learning more about their time here, telling them a little bit about my time here and how Tsuru used to be. You know, what old people do when they try and relive their pasts, right? If they were bored, they didn’t show it and were gracious enough to help me enjoy a little bit more of my trip.

Unfortunately I couldn’t party with them anymore and had to rush to catch the train back to Tokyo. I relived some great memories of my past and made a few more good new ones today. Somehow I made it to my hotel in Ikebukuro, despite the fact that apparently all the trains I took (I was traveling around 10pm) were filled with drunken businessmen.

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