Friday, 12 August 2011

Back in Sheffield and my last week in Japan

I arrived back in Sheffield on Monday night, and it's really good to be back. I've been enjoying British food and TV and meeting mates and family I haven't seen in a year. Everyone's been talking about the riots, but they seem to be dying down now and they didn't reach Sheffield, which is a testament to the common sense of the people who live here.

My last week in Japan was great as well. Work ended on the 1st, and the next day I moved out of my apartment and into my mate's place. As the Nebuta Festival was taking place all the JETs went drinking every night at Passage Hiroba, a beer garden famous among the gaijin. Old JETs left and new JETs came and everyone had a great time. However, I had to take one day out to go down to Tokyo to get an emergency passport.

I had assumed my passport was in my desk at the city hall, as the last time I had used it was when I interpreted for a foreign cruise ship that came to Aomori. We'd used our passports to board the ship, and I had taken mine back to the city hall after the ship left port. It had been in a paper envelope, and it must have been thrown out with the waste paper by me or someone else in my office, as when I was tidying my desk I couldn't locate it. When it didn't show up I called the British embassy and inquired about getting a new one. The things I needed were:
  • e-ticket for my plane home
  • 2 passport photos
  • form of ID
  • Fee of 12,350 yen
  • Police report (遺失物届受理証明書)
You also have to go to the embassy in Tokyo to present all this. I was going to Tokyo to fly home on the 8th, but unfortunately the 6th and 7th fell on a weekend, so the embassy wouldn't be open and I wouldn't have time to get the passport done before my flight. That meant I'd have to go down on either the 4th or 5th.

Transport options in and out of Aomori were limited because of all the people travelling to see Nebuta, but I left on a night bus on the night of the 3rd and arrived at Tokyo Station on the morning of the 4th. I caught a train to Hanzōmon where the embassy is, and ate breakfast at a coffee shop nearby. I got chatting to an old man there who had visited the UK and was pretty decent at English. It turned out his hobby was yachting and he had a yacht in Sendai which he invited me to visit.

British Embassy

My white and gold passport

After breakfast I went to the embassy and received my new emergency passport within a couple of hours. I then travelled back to Tokyo Station and got a Shinkansen ticket back to Aomori. I was back in Aomori by 6pm and we all went out again to Passage. After drinking all night and an hour of sleep I had to go into work on Friday to show my successor around the city hall and answer any questions he might have. By coincidence my successor was in the year below me at Sheffield Uni, so I knew him beforehand. He seems to be decent at Japanese and I think he'll do well at the job.

That night all the JETs had planned to dance in the Nebuta Festival, so on Friday afternoon we put our costumes on then went to Passage for a pre-festival drink. There were about 30 of us gaijin, and the parade runs from around 7 till 9 every night, so we all danced for a couple of hours, then went back to Passage for more drinking. I bumped into quite a lot of people I knew during the parade, and also saw some カラス (karasu, gangs who go to Nebuta to cause trouble). According to the people of Aomori, these gangs were much more common in the past, and the Nebuta Festival was much more lively and boisterous in general. A lot of people think it's a shame that the festival has become more family-friendly, and I tend to agree. Still, it's the one week of the year when the people of Aomori truly let themselves go. I noticed the love hotels in Aomori were all full when I walked past, and there's also such a thing as 'Nebuta babies' in Aomori - there are a lot of kids born in May.

Saturday the 6th was my last night in Aomori, and me and some friends wanted to go see the Tachi Neputa, another festival in a nearby city called Goshogawara. While Aomori City's festival has huge wide floats, Tachi Neputa's unique selling point is that the floats are really tall. It was also different in that not just anybody could join in dancing, so there was a much more organised, coordinated feel. After watching the parade we drove back to Aomori City to enjoy one final night of drinking at Passage.

We stayed up till the early morning and I said my good byes to everyone, arriving back at my mate's house at 5pm. I had an hour to pack up my stuff and take a drunken shower before leaving Aomori, but I managed it with the help of some friends, and I then got a lift from another friend to the Shinkansen station. People were there from work to see me off, and the Shinkansen left at 6:45, getting me to Tokyo Station for just before lunch time.

After arriving I found a hotel nearby and booked a room and dropped off my luggage. I went for lunch at a nearby curry restaurant - there are hundreds in Tokyo - then in the evening I met up with a friend from my Japanese class at Sheffield Uni. He's living in Tokyo at the moment, and he'd just got married the day before. Me, him and his new wife ate a Thai restaurant and had a good chat about the past and our plans for the future. Then I got a few hours sleep before catching a train to Narita Airport the next morning. I checked in early with my emergency passport and boarded the plane around 11am.

The flight was with British Airways and as I'd checked in early I got a seat with loads of legroom near the emergency exit. I listened to some music, ate some airline food, watched Thor (3.5/5), Just Go With It (3/5) and Source Code (4/5), and came across this article in the free paper we'd been given. It talked about the visit of the Bremen cruise ship to Aomori Port, and I'd interpreted at that event, so one of my lines turned up in the article.

Pretty soon we'd arrived in Heathrow, where it was early afternoon. I had one more flight, which was delayed due to a worn tyre on the plane, but we eventually boarded, and 30 minutes later we'd touched down in Manchester. My mum, sister and brother were waiting and we drove back to my mum's place, arriving home around midnight.

My last week in Aomori was a lot of fun, and it was a great way to say good bye to the city and all my mates. But right now I'm really enjoying being back in the UK. This year I'll be spending much of my time studying for a masters in Broadcast Journalism at Sheffield University, and classes begin on September 26th. Until then I'll be hanging out with friends and starting working at Pizza Hut again - my induction is on the 20th of this month. I managed to save quite a bit of money when I was in Japan, but it's not enough to cover the cost of the masters, so I'll be making the cost up with work at Pizza Hut.

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