Thousands of Miles from Home


The Road to Tsuyama

Since Janna’s mother happened to be in Japan, it would be silly not to throw a little party in Tsuyama. At first Janna asked her Rotary counselor, Tomosue-san (who you may remember as the man with the Hummer) and he agreed to have the party at one of his three very large houses. Some problems arose and he later told Janna we couldn’t have the party at his house, but instead arranged for the use of the Tsuyama International Hotel as the merrymaking location. Janna invited about 25 of her teachers, friends, and Tsuyama High School Judo team members for a night of tacos, music, and general American-style excitement.

I was welcomed to Tsuyama around 12:30 on Thursday by a mix of clouds and drizzle. Janna and her mother (who had packed an entire suitcase full of taco mix) were out shopping for meats and other party provisions so I spent the day walking Tsuyama. The first stop was my favorite clothing shop, Mate, where I purchased a swanky new jacket and some t-shirts for the impending Japanese summer. At Joyfulls, a type of Japanese 24 hour dining location, I grabbed some fries and a mediocre hamburger (more like a meatloaf sandwich) before walking to the hotel amid cloudy skies to meet Janna.

The party was being held in the garden of the International Hotel (accessed through a series of back doors and stairwells through a valet parking lot), with a large connecting tatami room piled high with food, drinks, and American candy. I was introduced to Janna’s host family (perhaps her fifth, she moves often), and her sister and I set out to make some latkes. I couldn’t find a grater, so Janna’s host sister and I diced potatoes and onions by hand. It is amazing how well you get to know someone while crying your eyes out over a chopped onion. She had spent about 3 months in New Zealand, so we alternated between Japanese, English, and sobbing.

Around 5 guests started to arrive for the party. I was frying latkes by the entrance, and greeted everyone with a hearty “Irashyai!” Cori and Katrin, exchange students from Okayama, arrived and joined the fun along with various Tsuyama Rotary members, Kimura-sensei, and about 15 students from Janna’s school. Michiko, whose house I stayed at last time I traveled to Tsuyama also made an appearance and informed me she would be studying Marketing at California Berkeley over the summer. She wanted me to come and see her, but even with my poor American geography skills I could tell flying from Boston to CA would be a bit pricey. We decided on New York as a compromise.

The party went amazingly well, with tons of food to spare. Janna gave a small introduction on how to make tacos, and everyone dug into the sushi, latkes, chicken, sandwiches, and salad. The Hotel provided free drinks, and Janna’s mother brought chocolate and candy from America for dessert. I went around the room with a microphone and had everyone introduce themselves, and then the Judo club did a small demonstration with Janna right there on the tatami mats.

Following dinner, which lasted quite a while, I had assumed I would be sleeping on the floor of Janna’s room in the hotel. Instead, the Rotary member who owned the hotel gave Cori, Katrin, and I rooms of our own, as well as tickets for free breakfast in the morning. We hauled some candy and drinks back to the room for the evening, and spent the rest of the night listening to music and discussing philosophy, politics, and nature (sort of).

Oddly enough, around 11:30, everyone had a craving for cup noodles so we walked in our pajamas to the nearest konbini where Janna spotted her school principal. He gave us a strange look but said nothing.

In the morning, Katrin had to leave early from the station to return her school uniform to her school in Okayama. She was then traveling to some famous cities in Japan, and then back to Germany at the beginning of April. It was the third time I saw someone who I will probably not see again for a long time board a train and wave goodbye. I had not spent much time with Katrin, but Cori went to school with her everyday and those kinds of goodbyes can be quite emotional, albiet movie-like (on par with, “frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn” although admittedly a different emotional tone). It’s odd to know that almost everyone you meet on Rotary exchange is only for a short-term basis, but I think we make the most of the time we have.

Cori and I walked from the station to Janna’s school, where we were invited to attend a meeting with other English teachers in the area and students from Tsuyama. About 50 students were there for the event and we spent most of the day playing games and activities related to English. While I had never met the English teachers before, they all knew Neil, Jez, and John from my town. It’s also always good to have connections in other parts of Japan in case I get stranded (or end up running from the police). One of the teachers, Alexa, brought her mother with her to the conference (who was from England and reminded me almost instantly of Judi Dench). I had a great time speaking English with the Tsuyama kids and on the whole felt like more of a teacher than a student. Janna’s mother commented that I should be a teacher, but I don’t think I could live with the salary (or mental strain). It was rather exciting, though.

After the conference Cori and I took a taxi back to the station (we were far too tired to walk) and then a train back to Okayama. In the station a new import foods store had opened so we spent a while drooling over Skippy peanut butter before taking our respective buses to our respective houses. Respectively.

Another trip down, but the fun’s not ever yet. Tune in next time for Kanonji, Japan’s number-one must see location (perhaps).


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