Leaving a place, going away, is a context most people would relate to quite well – either they’ve left home, or they’ve had someone they love leave, for whatever all our individuals reasons might be. Job. Love. Independence. Escape. Seeking a better future.
This is probably part of why moving vans and packing boxes make an appearance in so many movies. Somebody once told me (or I read it somewhere, not sure which) that most stories – even if they’re not about moving and settling in a new place – begin with (or involve at some point) either the protagonist leaving somewhere, or someone arriving in a new location. Harry leaves Privet Drive for Hogwarts; Frodo sets out for Bree, then Rivendell and Mount Doom; Charlie Campion flees the government compound where he works in hope of escaping deadly Captain Trips; the Baker Family moves to Chicago unhappily for their father’s job in Cheaper by the Dozen; Cady (that’s Lindsay Lohan’s name in Mean Girls, isn’t it?) arrives in America from Africa and attends school for the first time; Mulan leave for war to save her father’s life; the list continues indefinitely. There are probably some better examples, but these are just off the top of my head.
So, I will be leaving Uji, Japan, the town I’ve been living for the last two years, in a little under two weeks. And I’ll be going home.
Leaving somewhere and going home is done quite often in literature as well, I believe. The reasons for going home, however, all seem to be rather negative compared with reasons for seeking a new life in an entirely new location. People go home to sort out troubled pasts. To get themselves together after failures in their lives and endeavors away from home. To seek comfort when times are hard. But my reasons for going home aren’t so negative, I don’t think. Things aren’t perfect with my job, but what job can claim to be absolutely perfect? And I miss my family and friends in Australia, but if everyone started surrendering to homesickness they would all barricade themselves safely in their places of birth, and as a result much of the world’s business would come to a resounding halt. I’m throwing out and giving away many of my belongings, but this is out of necessity. I can only check 40kg of baggage, and taking items such as my beautiful electric piano and my takoyaki maker just isn’t sensible. I’m not casting off memories of a tragic former life, I just don’t have a big enough bag.
My life isn’t bad here. The reason I’m leaving – and this is hideously overused, sorry – is that it’s time to leave. And in doing so, I think I’m mixing it up a little. It seems in general people head to new places to begin new things. I’m going home to Australia to begin something not exactly “new” so to speak, but to begin the life I’ve always wanted for myself.
But to make matters slightly more complicated, I’m not leaving just anywhere. This town. The route I take riding to work and walking to the community centre for choir practice. My shoe box-sized apartment and futon. The bakeries, one near my apartment and one near school. The friends I’ve made – choir members, teachers, volunteers at Speak Salon Japanese classes. Uji isn’t just a place I’m living, soon to become a place I once lived. It’s home, too. It feels like home, the way home feels to me. Not exactly the same – that’s hard without my family here – but it has the same vibe. I don’t feel like someone living in a town strange and foreign, or a town in which they are strange and foreign, even though I honestly know that’s still the case – the latter, that is.
Leaving home and going home at the same time feels strange. Unbalanced, maybe, I’m not entirely sure. It just doesn’t seem to match up with what I know of these situations, though I’m sure many others have made second homes around the world, and have been through the same thing. I plan to come back, many times, hopefully. If I become successful Uji may even begin to be flooded with international tourists as well as Japanese ones – some major events in my novel take place here. I will come back, but I worry a little that it won’t feel like home anymore when I do return.
So, with only two weeks to go, I’ve been experiencing many “last” moments. The last walk to choir practice – I tried to take a picture of the community centre on my phone, but it was too dark. My last class at junior high school – probably the least lively of the morning, as it was horribly hot and already third period. My last day at elementary school – two grade six girls thanked me for teaching them in front of all of grades five and six, and the staff gave me some beautiful gifts. My last day at kindergarten – that was today, and after all the kids went home I was asked to make some signs teaching the pronounciation and meaning of several simple English terms. Among them, of course, was “goodbye.”
And this evening, I cooked what will probably be the last meal I cook in this apartment. Not the last one I eat, or throw together – actually, really cook. The last, unless I get the urge amid the mayhem of packing and cleaning next week, which isn’t likely. It’ll be all pizzas and bentos from hereon in. This was the last time to use the stove. To slice with that knife. And I just finished the accompanying last big washing up session.
This last meal was tomato cream pasta with meatballs. The recipes for both sauce and meatballs I looked up and began making regularly here – never once have I made them in Australia. Though I’ve altered it slightly to serve fewer people, the site I got the pasta sauce recipe is here, and the tasty fried meatballs – though I’m not sure it’s the same website, the recipe seems the same – are here. I was thinking about jotting the methods down here, but with the links that’d be rather pointless. And I’ve already written a fair amount. Suffice to say, both the sauce and meatballs are very simple and straightforward to make, and the taste is – as advertised – creamy and tomato – y, a very warm and homey taste.
So, tomorrow is my last day at junior high, last full afternoon at city hall, and last Friday with a regularly paid job. Only a few more lasts left, then I’ll be gone. Though I will miss many aspects of Japan terribly, I’m very much looking forward to starting my new life back in Australia. Back home.