On Reflection: 四国

Someday we will be sitting at one of Austin, Texas’ finest Tex-Mex restaurants, raving over the local cuisine, sipping on a Lone Star, and looking back at all the bemusing events that we shared in Japan.

“Remember that late-October weekend in Shikoku?,” someone will nostalgically mention as the waiter – complete with perfectly ratted blonde dreadlocks – brings a refill of warm tortilla chips and precisely mixed, made-to-order salsa.

“Yeah, that was probably one of the most amazing – not to mention random – weekends we had!”

“No doubt, eh? How did we even begin to process being whisked away at that end-of-the-world ferry port into the bright lights of Matsuyama, and then ending up in the back of an Aussie’s little work truck that hauled us to that guesthouse that oddly resembled an old hunting shack. I still cannot get a handle on any of it.”

“I don’t know, man. It was crazy.”

“And white-water rafting with Power Rangers!? Beautiful.”

“I know. What was that!? Just ninja-kicking each other off the boats, like it was no thing. I was seriously afraid for my life a few times, but I knew we could get through it.”

“I still have no idea how I managed to jump off that cliff. I seriously have no idea. I wasn’t going to do it. But, I just had to go for it.”

“You did, babe. I am so proud of you.”

“The onsen was pretty incredible, too.”

“I cannot believe you went in the cold pool.”

“I just like to try all the different options at those things.”

“I wonder if Gordon is still smoking himself silly in Nepal?”

“Yeah, Gordon – ah, the Kiwi with dreads. Kind of reminds me of our waiter. Quite the character, yeah? You know, he refuses to be a guide in North America because of all the strict rules and regulations?”

“He licked my face!”

“Exactly.”

“It was just so incredible how we ended up at that little Aussie BBQ shindig up that mountain. We were party crashing from afar. It was ballin’, though. A little Nihongo dake – it just unloads after a couple beers for sure.”

“You totally passed out early.”

“YOU passed out early.”

“I thought we were playing Go-Fish with Obama propaganda cards.”

“I don’t know why I dove into the Franzia.”

“Sorry! I kind of egged you on.”

“Remember my magic trick? Cause I don’t, honest!”

“You were three-for-four that night.

“Mark’s daughter was soooo cute, like a doll. Perfect command of Japanese and English. Really, really incredible.”

“His wife was pretty awesome, too. I thought at first she was the one dressed like a nurse!”

“She was Elmo, I think.”

“So, nice, though, yeah?”

“Incredible! I still look at all those photos from that weekend.”

“Remember how badly we all needed that getaway? It was perfect.”

“….remember…….remember….. remember…… remember…..oh, wow…… yeah….. that….. jeez!……. I know!……Christmas……you have got to be……. CONGRATULATIONS!…….oh, you guys!…..”

The conversation will continue to trail off into more reminiscing of days gone by as I listen to the words blend together like poetry. The dread-locked waiter will tell us we need to square up as his shift is ending in ten minutes. A tip will be sorted. Someone will mention how they miss not having to tip in Japan. Hugs. Car doors close. Off into the still Texas night, we ride.

四国 in photos:

Action Rafting Photo Credit: Various Power Rangers from Happy Raft Rafting Company

Happy Raft on the web:
English Site
Japanese Site

パークゴルフ!

No tee-time necessary. Five-somes welcome. One club. One ball. Tucked-in polos and khakis? Ehhh…? Thirty-six holes of complete awesomeness await you! Welcome to パークゴルフ(park golf)!

パークゴルフ is a Japanese sport that equally mixes traditional and mini-golf with a splash of croquet (think yard-game atmosphere) for good measure. The game is seemingly specific to Japan’s Kyushu Island and brings together people of all ages for an afternoon of ”おし’s”、”おさきに’s”、すごいな’s”、and ”だめ強い’s”.

I had the pleasure of playing 36 of the finest holes 熊本県 has to offer, and after just one hole, was instantly sucked into all the nuances this exciting game has to offer.

The four of us – Masa, his wife Takako’s parents Shojiro-san and Nobuko-san, and myself – tee’d off on the さんさん front nine on what was a beautiful, mildly chilly Saturday afternoon. After our first tee shot on the 62m long par 4, we marched down the fairway together to hit our approach to the tiny, slightly uphill, left-to-right green. The pin placement was dead-center, so you could be greedy if you so desired, however if you punched the ball too hard, it would unforgivingly roll off the back of the green into the much-dreaded back-side bunker. A real thinker.

After I hit my wolfish approach into said bunker, I took in a panoramic view of the beautiful mountain setting and thought “Wow, this is unquestionably incredible! Here I am, surrounded by friendly people and beautiful mountains, just trying to hit a silly ball into a sillier hole. Astonishing!”

The ensuing 35 holes left me with great impressions as the four of us politely trotted around the course. Each of us shared our fair share of honours, the occasional “hockey stick” (7!), lengthy birdie putts, and even a hole-in-one graced the scorecard.

What I realized from this experience is that no matter what type of golf you happen to be playing, there is one element that is perfectly necessary for it: camaraderie. This camaraderie is a transcendental aspect of one of the greatest games to ever be played. Without this, forget the game of golf.

Park golf in photos:

We are all visitors here

When worlds so-called collide, the life of a foreigner begins to make a little more sense. The dream-like state of living abroad turns into this tangible reality, one that is oddly familiar, yet still hides many curious aspects within its twilight.

My Canadian life and Japanese life recently intertwined when my good friend Masa dropped by for a long-weekend of coffee house reminiscing, playoff baseball games, park golf, in-law introductions and ramen slurping — all capped off with an intensely emotional farewell on a Fukuoka subway line.

毎日がんばれ were the only words that escaped my mouth as we embraced a final time.

“You too. You too,” he replied.

It was all that really needed to be said. We both knew exactly how important our meeting in Japan had been, and how it had strengthened our already life-long friendship. We did not need to speak of it then, and I really do not need to write about it now.

Yet, it is important for me to explain just how weighty this experience was for me – it was heavy.

A Brief History:

Masa and I met in Canada when he was hired on as a co-op studen at ATCO I-Tek back in the spring of 2008. I still remember our first encounter in the staff room. It was around 9:20 in the morning (right before the habitual AM coffee).

“Hey, I’m Kyle.”
“Oh, nice to meet you. My name is Masa.”
“Eh?”
“Masa”
“Oh, like NASA with an ‘M’”?
“Uhhh, I think so.”

I knew absolutely nothing about Japanese culture (other than Ichiro and whatever it is I ignored during those tedious high school history courses) before meeting Masa. And this probably had something to do with the fact that I never had a friend from Japan before.

In the two-plus years we knew each other in Canada, Masa, his wife Takako, and our mutual friend Sae, quietly introduced me to Japan – never forcing their culture, but always openly sharing it. Long story short: these friendships were reason enough to give teaching English in Japan an attempt.

So, when Masa walked through the gates at 下松駅 this past Thursday evening you can imagine just how potentially surreal this was. It was – and still is — quite the task to process that Masa and I were actually hanging out in Japan, a country he is so familiar with, but is now a visitor to, and a country that I am so unfamiliar with, but am now a resident of. But, really, is it that different?

Sure it was surreal – absolutely – how, really, could it not be? But, what is not surreal is the fact a friendship can be maintained in two completely different worlds. How a bond between two people can be strengthened through such experiences and various storytelling, no matter the country. And how you will never lose that connection you have to wherever it is you happen to call home.

From now, Japan will never be the same. A part of Canada came back to me through Masa – perhaps in a muted form of communication, or better yet: a mutual form of communication. Whatever the communication, an understanding was cemented and there will forever be an unspoken sense of calm in my life because of this adventure.

Once on 宮島

It was a Sunday afternoon in early October. The mist hovered over the inland sea like a secretive blanket of ash as I tried to ponder everything in my life in but a moment’s time.

I stared out as far as my eyes would allow, sensing the moisture off the sea, imagining what the mountains would look like had there not been this beautiful covering. Jellyfish poked in and out of the wake. Ferries circled in unison, carrying the excited tourists to promises of new adventures and breathtaking views – memories sure to be brought back home in the form of photographs and stories of “curious, pettable deer” and a tide-worn tori.

You sat next to me softly, our legs hanging over the stone wall, perhaps three meters separating us from the splashes. You patiently listened to my ramblings, hanging on my words, offering advice in a gentleness I have never come across – not foreign, welcoming. My mind began to relax. I apologized.

On the ferry ride back to a Sunday afternoon filled with that incommunicable awareness of lingering goodbyes, I thought of the night before and how our shoes had shared a tiny locker while we sipped on a couple of passively-ordered beverages and talked of how sensational the ballgame had been.

I thought of how this moment is exactly that, nothing more, nothing less, but nevertheless, a moment in a series of moments that I want my memory to swallow whole and never completely digest. And may there be many, many more.

If there was a train that ignored all stops (including 大畠), or a ferry that refused to port, I would want to be sitting next to you.