This past month went by pretty fast. I've been back in the US since August 1st... so about 2.5 weeks now.
Anyway, I'll try to sum up my last couple of weeks in Japan now...
July 21st I had to ride my bike to work one last time. I was using a vacation day, so I technically didn't have to go in, but I had to pick up my pay check. The weather was HORRIBLE. It rained, thundered, and lightninged ALL night and into the morning. That last bike ride to work was pretty miserable. When I got there, all the teachers couldn't believe that I had ridden my bike... even though I've ridden my bike to work everyday and that has been my only means of transportation to that school for the past year... but anyway... My supervisor was nice and offered to drive me to the Ube airport. I really had no other way of getting there since I had to go all the way back to my apartment for my suitcase and the trains weren't even running because the weather was THAT bad. He dropped me off and I went to check-in. One of my students came to visit me to say goodbye which was really sweet. My flight was delayed a little while because of the weather, but it wasn't too long of a delay. I got to Tokyo and made my way to Saitama Prefecture. I have a friend there who offered to let me stay at his apartment. He was actually in China and just left a key under the mat for me, so that was really nice. That night I made my way back into Tokyo and met some friends for dinner.
The next day, July 22nd, I met up with Ian in Shinjuku, Tokyo. He flew in that afternoon and we wandered around all day trying to get our stuff ready to climb Mt. Fuji. It was pretty exhausting just running around all day - getting food, ponchos, etc. We finally caught the bus to Mt. Fuji at 4:50pm. The bus arrived at the 5th station around 7:15pm just as the sun was beginning to set. We had planned to eat some noodles there before we left, but everything was closed! So we bought a bag of chips and that was our dinner. We started climbing around 7:45pm. We made it to the 6th station with no problem... went on to the 7th station... still no problem... but after the 7th station is where things started to get really difficult. There were a couple of 7th stations and each one was harder and harder to climb to. By midnight we had made it to the 8th station and I was completely exhausted. I think we made it to the 2nd or 3rd eight station stop before I finally told Ian that I couldn't go any further without some sleep. I paid the 5500 yen to stay the night in a little hut and Ian was hard core and stayed in his sleeping bag behind the hut. It was REALLY cold outside too. You'd climb some, get hot, sweat, then get cold from your sweat, then get hot again... it was a bad cycle of hot to cold all the way up the mountain. But anyway, we stopped for 2 hours and slept. Even though I was inside, I was still cold because of my sweaty clothes. I seriously got to my spot on the floor and just laid down and fell asleep. At 2am we started out again and the weather was pretty bad. We had about 2.5 hours left to get to the top and it sprinkled on and off. As we got closer and closer to the top a line began to form because the trail narrows and there are a lot of people trying to make it up there for sunrise. We passed a bunch of people who stopped and were sucking in oxygen from these cans of air. I just had my water in hand and kept drinking it as I walked. We had brought our own food and pretty much ate the whole way up because we were burning so many calories. We finally made it to the top around 4:40am - just in time for sunrise... but instead of a sunrise, we got pouring down rain :-( Luckily I was in the bathroom when the rain started and I just stayed in there until it stopped. We hung out at a little shop at the top for awhile because we were completely exhausted. I bought some udon to eat for 1000 yen... but it was so worth it. It was funny because there were vending machines on top of the mountain!... only in Japan. Around 5:45am we decided to make our way back down the mountain. It was really foggy and the rocks were slippery from the rain. Once we past a certain point though, the trail turned into this volcanic ash and we didn't have to climb down rocks anymore. The volcanic ash trail was a different trail than the one we took to go up the mountain. I don't think people would actually be able to climb up it. We'd take a step and then kind of skid a few feet... and that's how the entire trail down was except for the top which was the slippery rocks that we had used to get up the mountain. Eventually the sun came out and it was pretty cool to look down at the clouds below us. We made it back to the 5th station around 10am. There were a lot of people passing us near the bottom on their way up. I must have looked completely exhausted from their reactions, haha. When we got back down there were these 2 people asking everyone if they had seen the 2 people on the posters they were holding. Apparently 2 people went missing on the mountain. I later looked it up online and it turns out the 2 missing people had started climbing the mountain that Sunday with a group of people from their work and then didn't show up to work on Tuesday (because Monday was a national holiday) and then people started to worry. We climbed down Thursday morning and that's when they had started searching for them. Turns out 1 of them was found dead near the top of the mountain Thursday afternoon and the other 1 was found dead shortly thereafter. But anyway, once we made it back to the 5th station we got some noodles, bought some souvenirs and caught the 11am bus back to Tokyo. I'm really glad I climbed Mt. Fuji, but I don't think I'll ever do it again. I seriously think climbing that mountain was the most physically demanding thing I've ever done in my entire life. My entire body hurt for over a week later.
Friday morning (July 24th), I took local trains all the way from Saitama to Shiga. I stopped in Shibuya, Tokyo to get a picture of the busiest crossing in the world - Shibuya Crossing. I was on local trains for about 10 hours that day. I made it to Shiga Friday night and stayed with my friend Nathan in Maibara for the weekend. He lives right next to Mt. Ibuki. If I hadn't just climbed Mt. Fuji then I probably would've climbed it, but I was all climbed out. We went to Osaka Saturday night and met up with my friend Mina for dinner. I met Mina back in 2003 when I did a summer homestay in Osaka. Sunday was a really chill day and we got to catch up on some of our tv shows. Monday, July 27th, I took local trains from Shiga all the way back to Yamaguchi. On my way to the train station in Nathan's town, this man pulled over his car and asked me if I was going to the train station. I told him I was and he said something along the lines of "if it's ok with you, can I give you a ride there because I'm going there too." It was about a 40 minute walk from Nathan's house to the train station and I had all of my stuff with me, so of course I accepted the ride from him. He was telling me about how his family was hosting an American high school exchange student right now and he'd just arrived about a week before. He was a really great guy and saved me from the 20 minutes I had left of lugging my stuff to the station. That day, I was on local trains for about 13 hours. I made it back to Ube around 9:30pm. I had to stay at Meng's apartment since my lease was up.
Tuesday, July 28th, I had to go back to my base school to sign a few papers and make sure all of my bills were paid. My contract ended July 27th..... but they still asked that I go in, so I did. After that, I ran around Ube all day trying to get rid of stuff that wouldn't fit into my suitcases. Throwing stuff away in Japan is a hassle to begin with - you have to sort your trash about 9 different ways or they won't pick it up. Now I was trying to get rid of things like shoes, shampoo, etc. I basically just made a lot of trips to the convenience stores and threw stuff away in the trash cans they have outside. That night, I met up with the teachers from my base school who had become my friends - the art teachers, Biology teacher, Math teacher, and Japanese History teacher. We went out for yakiniku and they gave me presents.
inkan - this little stamp that everyone has and uses as their "official" signature. That was really frustrating. I told them I didn't have one and they told me to go get one made. They wouldn't accept any form of identification I had either. So I just didn't cancel my bank account. Whatever. When 4:30pm rolled around, I got a taxi to come and pick me and my stuff up to go to the bus station. Mayuko, a friend of mine in Ube who I met at the Indian restaurant came to the bus stop to say goodbye. I finally made my way to Fukuoka. The bus dropped me off and then I had to grab a taxi to drive me to the airport. I left all of my luggage in lockers at the airport because it was a lot easier than trying to lug it all to Ian's house in Saga and then back to Fukuoka on Saturday. After I put all of my stuff into lockers, I caught a train to Saga and made it there on the last train which arrived around 11pm.
Thursday and Friday (July 30th and 31st) I hung out in Saga. Saga JETs are all really nice and I always enjoy hanging out with them. I went around with Ian and some of the Saga new people on Thursday and helped them at the grocery store, etc. Thursday night a group of people went out for dinner and it was good food for a good price. Friday I hung out with some Saga people who didn't re-contract for another year while Ian was at work. That night they were having a going away dinner for Eddie and Glen which was a lot of fun followed by karaoke.
Saturday, August 1st, I woke up pretty early and made my way to Fukuoka. I flew from Fukuoka to Seoul and had about a 5 hour layover in Seoul. Then I flew from Seoul to Chicago and my mom and younger sister picked me up at O'Hare and we drove back down to Indiana. We got back around 1am Sunday morning.
Being home has been nice so far. It's nice to not have to pay rent or bills for awhile :) I got a cell phone and a car... now all I need is a job!
Since I'm not in Japan anymore, then I guess this is the end of this blog. I hope you all enjoyed reading my blogs and looking at my pictures throughout the year! I definitely hope to go back to Japan - either to study or work again. For now, I'm trying to keep my options open. I might be back!