“For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.” -Frodo Baggins (Lord of the Rings)
In August of 2014, we boarded a plane, bringing a close to a huge chapter in our lives, and in fact the longest chapter in our time as “The JWs” thus far. It also brings an end to the primary purpose of this blog, which is – according to our tagline – to share our “Travelling, Living and Teaching Adventures” in Japan.
The last four years have certainly been full of adventures. People love to make me short-circuit by asking in casual conversation, “So how was Japan?” How does one reduce four entire adventure-filled years into a conversationally-appropriate soundbite? It’s impossible, but in the space of this blog post visited by people who (presumably) have more than a sentence-worth of patience and interest I can certainly make an attempt.
Just having the freedom, opportunities and means to travel regularly in itself was a huge highlight. While we lived in Japan we took every chance to explore our temporary home – from the northernmost point of Hokkaido and its epic snow festival, to the southernmost point of Okinawa and its myriad tropical landscapes.
We also managed to escape the borders of Japan a few times, having Christmas and New Year’s in The Philippines, visiting South Korea not once but twice, and reuniting with old friends while exploring the seriously underrated travel destination of Taiwan. And with the generous help of a few family members, I managed to surprise Jordan with a trip to Tokyo Disneyland for his 30th birthday!
Life in Japan had more than its fair share of ups and downs. We got a lot of the downs out of the way early on: adjusting to a new and completely different culture with zero Japanese to start, getting sick a lot in our first year (probably largely due to cultural stress, according to our doctor), and of course the March 11th disaster and aftermath that happened in the spring of our first year.
There were, thankfully, a disproportionate amount of redeeming ups, many of which came closer to the end of our time there. We left Japan with some very treasured friendships, both from the expat community and the various Japanese groups we found our way into. We had a great time at many seasonal events, such as autumn leaf-watching, winter illuminations, spring hanami (cherry blossom parties) and tons of festivals like one of the world’s most dangerous, and another dangerous one which involves a lot of flames! For me (Janelle), my huge Japanese-community highlights were performing with my taiko (Japanese drumming) group, and reaching shodan (first-degree black belt) in aikido. Another huge highlight was getting to attend conferences like AOU and Tokyo Game Show as press, thanks to an awesome friend who is now working on a career as a games industry writer in the UK.
While teaching was one of the more challenging aspects for Jordan for various reasons, it was one of the big highlights for me. I had a great school with amazing students that constantly entertained me with comics, scary stories and santa letters. I also had the opportunity to enjoy an epic school festival, which fell on my birthday almost every year, and to join my school on trips to Kyoto, Nagoya Aquarium, and even Universal Studios Japan, a rare opportunity for ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). And I can’t fail to mention my awesome coworkers, who really made it possible for me to make the most of my time as a teacher by helping me learn and adjust, giving me great freedom with designing curriculum and lessons, and being amazing to work alongside in the classroom.
I know that a lot of ALTs end up just putting up with work (as is probably true of a lot of people in many jobs) in order to enjoy life, so I feel very blessed that my job was one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling parts of my life in Japan.
“The End Of All Things”
Spoiler alert: when Frodo said the above quote to Sam, as they lay close to death with the ring destroyed and Mount Doom exploding around them, it was not actually the end of all things. They did, in fact, return to their homes in the Shire. However, the Shire had changed, and so had they. It was certainly the end of all things as they had known them before their quest began.
This is kind of how it feels to move back to Canada after being away for so long. Everything is different; nothing will ever be the same. But that can be good or bad, or both, really it’s all a matter of perspective. So the latter half of 2014, for The JWs, has been a lot of adjusting to new things, adventures in reverse culture shock, trying not to mourn too much for everything and everyone we’ve left behind, figuring out how to live our lives in light of all that we’ve experienced.
I suspect this will be the end of this blog, though I will leave it all up with comments closed, so it can serve as a resource to others as well as a memory for us and our interested family/friends/followers. I’m undecided at this point as to whether or not I should start another, more general, blog for the ongoing sharing of adventures in Ottawa and beyond. If you would be interested in seeing more, post-Japan adventures from the JWs, please leave a comment to that effect below!
Take care, thanks for following along with all our Japan adventures, and all the best in 2015!
– Janelle W. & Jordan W. (a.k.a. The JWs)