Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Sayonara Nihon!

So, it's almost all over. This will be the last entry I make while in Japan. We're all packed, the apartment has been vaccuumed and scrubbed, and the modem has to go back to the phone company tomorrow. We've just been into Shibuya to meet Helen and Scott for a final lunch (and I promise to keep in touch!), and we've cancelled our phones so are now almost incommunicado. I'm working tomorrow, and then we fly early on Friday morning.

So I guess this is the point at which I mention my highlights, present my personal review of A Year in Tokyo... well, there will no doubt be a lot of navel-gazing going on over the next couple of weeks - I'll be adding reflective articles about teaching and living in Japan v soon - but here, in no particular order are my Personal Highlights from my Year in Japan:

The World Cup. Being in any country that is hosting the world's greatest sporting event must be an incredible experience, but there was something special about watching Japan discover and fall in love with 'soccer'. A few weeks before the tournament, nobody had the fever and the media had whipped people up into a paranoid, hooligan-fearing funk. But the beautiful game, and the behaviour of the fans, soon turned every schoolgirl, housewife and salaryman into an armchair expert, and for a month my students and I talked about the World Cup in every lesson. No exaggeration.

Where are you from?


Ah, Beckham! Owen! England are very strong!

Well, they were the night they beat Argentina, and people applauded us as we floated home on a cloud of euphoria, as if we, Butter and I, had defeated Argentina ourselves. But the No.1 moment of the World Cup was being in Shibuya the night Japan beat Russia. The whole city went crazy, and I'll never forget standing at Hachiko Crossing watching a sea of blue shirts rushing back and forth across the road, random Japanese people coming up and shaking our hands, the police standing in a line, unable to crack a smile, completely ignored.

Discovering My Inner Pop Star. Karaoke is Japan's greatest contribution to modern civilisation, and while I was too self-conscious to ever try it in England, I realised two things this year. 1 - I can sing! And 2 - when I get a mic in my hand, my personality completely changes, and I transform into an all-singing all-dancing mic-hogging wannabe pop star. Top songs: Hound Dog (my signature tune), Hungry Like The Wolf, Faith, Lady Madonna, Freedom, The Real Slim Shady and Pump Up The Jam.

Meeting Loads of Cool People. You know who you are... This year really has been The Year of Meeting People, both students and other teachers, and I've made loads of great friends here. After leaving uni I lost touch with nearly everyone I met. I'm going to try my hardest not to let that happen again. But it's great to think that I've now got friends in Japan, Australia, America and Canada. Should make future holidays easier! (Be warned!)

Seeing The Lights of Tokyo. This city is a mess. It's overcrowded and it looks as if someone threw a load of giant lego bricks in the air and left them where they landed. Traffic, neon, billboards, smoke, trains rushing overhead, people swarming, concrete and crows everywhere - it's pretty fantastic, a dazzling sprawl. And the view from the top of the Metropolitan Building in Shinjuku has to be one of the seven wonders of the world.

Surviving the Summer. This should really be listed as a personal achievement rather than a highlight, but I'm still amazed that I made it through a Japanese summer without melting. Sweating 24 hours a day, showering at every opportunity, rushing from air-conditioned place to air-conditioned place, battling cockroaches, the constant pulse of cicadas... The Japanese summer is something else, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

There's loads more, but I've run out of time. I'll be back online at the weekend - I hope - using a dial-up instead of ADSL. That's gonna be weird. So this is MarkCity saying Sayonara Nihon, and I'll leave you with two billboard posters featuring J-pop megastar Ayumi Hamasaki and... well, I think she's indulging in some serious narcissism. Either that or this is the Japanese Tatu.