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July 31, 2016

Five Years: Saying Farewell to Fukuoka


We are leaving Japan. It pains me to type these words but we've got less than one month left now so it feels like time to share the news. After five unbeatable years living in Fukuoka, we were faced with the big decision, and for certain reasons we have chosen to go home... for now. とりえず..



I don't really talk much about our personal lives here in Japan outside our travels, but for context I'll explain a little. We came to Japan on the JET Programme in 2011. Although both Kam and I were accepted and assigned jobs, we weren't married at the time and as such our job placements were in totally different prefectures - Kam in Fukuoka and myself in Fukui. As our main objective was to live in Japan together, we had to make our first big choice of where to live. A quick google search proved Fukuoka the best option (sorry Fukui!) so I declined my position and came over as a free agent while Kam settled into his new role as CIR at an International Centre in bustling Tenjin, Fukuoka.

Our life in Japan has been golden. Luck has come through for us time and time again, to the point where I feel undeserving of all that we have experienced. But our biggest lucky break was the initial JET placement of Fukuoka - a city we had not even heard of beforehand (all of our previous Japan trips were Honshu-centric) but which has become the truest and kindest home to us, and certainly my favourite Japanese city. I fell head-over-heels for Fukuoka and I'm seriously struggling with the idea of no longer being here. Let's try not to think about it too much for now. 

The next piece of fortune was the volunteer project, turned internship, turned full time job at Fukuoka Now: a magazine and online guide for foreigners in Fukuoka. The opportunity popped up during my first month while searching for English teaching jobs (that I didn't really want to do). I had no idea that the volunteer project would precede an exciting, wonderfully challenging and absolutely fulfilling three years in which I got to try my hand at being Editor - a role I loved. I met some of my best Japanese friends through work, was able to attend countless events and openings that would otherwise have been out of my reach as a regular gaijin, and gained confidence whilst honing my skills of editing, writing, event planning and more. I learned about Fukuoka City and its culture swiftly, and working inside a hub of local information compelled me to explore as much as possible in my spare time. The job shaped and informed my first three years of life in Japan. I came here planning to put things on hold career-wise, to take up a job as a teacher in order to experience life in Japan, but instead I gained experience in the exact field I wanted to enter if I had stayed in Australia.

Next was the chance to change jobs and switch my workplace from the centre of the city to home - starting a new phase of life in Fukuoka. My free time multiplied, my stress dissolved, and we were able to travel more freely within Japan. Kam's office is open 7 days a week so his days off were irregular and didn't always match up with my weekends at Fukuoka Now, but my new job was flexible enough that I could choose my own working hours. We purchased our first car - the much beloved, little white Pajero Mini - upgraded our tent/camping gear and took off on lots of expeditions around Kyushu, and Japan.

Going off the top of my head - some highlights include: live music and camping on the ski slopes at Fuji Rock (twice), countless hiking adventures including the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage and hiking amongst ancient cedar trees and moss forests in Yakushima, seeing the ancient thatched-roof huts covered in snow in Shirakawa-go, exploring "art island" Naoshima, taking part in traditional events like Yamakasa in Hakata or Hakushu-sai in Yanagawa, watching the sunrise over rice fields as hundreds of hot air balloons bumped through the skies in Saga, chasing fireflies with friends in the countryside, trips to the big-city neon lands of Tokyo & Osaka, road trips in Kyushu and Shikoku, snorkelling with giant sea turtles in Okinawa, learning about country life in Yamaguchi.

Not to mention the everyday moments, which I cherish: flea markets, local festivals, bike rides to cafes, epic karaoke sessions ending in tonsilitis, soaks in the onsen, cat cafes, vintage shops, record shops, baseball games, swing dancing lessons, camping, castles, shrines, train rides.

The seasons here hold such significance and shape your life, and I've come to adore all of the tiny signs in nature that point to change in season (certain flowers blooming, leaves sprouting or changing colour, seasonal vegetables showing up in the supermarket, special packaging and flavours depending on season).

Then there are the people who have made our lives in Japan special beyond words. They know who they are, and they are without a doubt what I will miss most about our home in Fukuoka. The amount of kindness, hospitality, acceptance and friendship that has come our way is surely not deserved.

I could continue to gush about all of the places we've seen, the things we've experienced, and the reasons why I love Japan so much; but when I think about it, that's what I've been doing on this blog for five years. Sometimes I worry that my enthusiasm may be sickening for those outside of Japan, but I assure you it's authentic. This space has been my ongoing love-letter to a country whose beauties I will never cease to be amazed by. Five years is not enough, but I have a feeling that a lifetime wouldn't be enough either. Magic is found everywhere, everyday. The supply is infinite.

I have so many questions and reservations about how I will fit back in when we arrive in Australia at the end of this month. I'm sure it will take some time. The five years we have been away have been very formative ones. Age 22 to 27. Kam and I came as girlfriend and boyfriend, fresh out of university and it was our first time living together - our first time living out of our parents' homes for that matter. We got engaged here, got married, saw our Japanese friends married, moving overseas, having babies - saw our Australian friends doing the same things from a distance (mainly over social media). There's a point somewhere within five years when something clicks and you realise you are no longer a visitor in your new home country, and your old life starts to go out of focus. Keeping one foot in each country can be difficult but it is also an honour and a privilege to have two cities full of people we love.

In my most positive state, I am excited about the possibilities ahead, ready for another big adventure. I know that Kam and I are a strong team and understand that we can return to Fukuoka if things don't feel right in Perth. At my weakest, though, I can't begin to comprehend the decision we have made. The concept of "home" has changed so much, and I myself have changed so much that I barely recognise the 22-year-old who hopped off the shinkansen in Fukuoka for the first time 5 years ago today (August 1st, 2011) and came home to our humble apartment (with no hot water, no shower and (at that stage) no furniture!) in Nishijin to spend my first week navigating the supermarket, buying curtains and riding them home in the basket of my mamachari bike, and fumbling my way through "ありがとう”'s and "初めまして"'s. We've come such a long way.

So, what do I do now? How can I go about saying farewell to the place which has come to form the largest part of my identity? How do I say goodbye to the city I love as fiercely as a best friend? And even more difficult - How do I say goodbye to the true friends I have made here. Our Fukuoka family. Sometimes I don't think my heart can deal with these realities.

All I am planning to say is またね、Fukuoka. And よろしくお願いします Perth. This isn't the end of my blog so please stay with me - in the final weeks here I've got lots to share. And thank you to every single person who has taken the time to look at my photos or read about our life in Japan. It has been magical at every step of the way, and I hope I was able to convey that here, just a little.

ありがとう、ありがとう、ありがとう

P.s. the photo at the top of this post is from the first time we went to Ohori Park, in the first week of being in Fukuoka (August 2011).



8 comments:

  1. AnonymousJuly 31, 2016

    Good read El. Excited to have you both back and hope you can keep that excitement during the change. love DP

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    1. Thanks for the kind words! We'll be seeing you guys really soon, and have a few new boardgames to bring to the table.

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  2. AnonymousJuly 31, 2016

    What a surprise!! Never thought you'd leave Japan, but I'm wishing you good luck in your bright future and hopefully we'll see each other in Australia! I might come visit you in Perth! :) Naoko x

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    1. Naoko, I know it's still kinda unbelievable to me. Thanks for the lovely words, it was lovely working with you at FN and I'd love to see you in Perth one day! xx

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  3. I would never expect that you would be back to Australia, what a surprise !
    It must be a hard decision but I wish you good luck for he departure and hope for both of you to have a happy life in Australia.

    I regret to didn't have the occasion to meet you again. I'd love to go eating in some delicious place in Fukuoka and talk about various things. Maybe when you'll travel here again. Let me know :)
    I'm looking forward your blog post from Perth.

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    1. Hi Bene! Thanks a lot - I'm gonna miss Fukuoka a lot so I'll certainly be checking your blog for updates :) Keep it up! Btw we are still here for three weeks so if you do want to get a cuppa tea in Nishijin (or, I'm kinda searching for a beautiful summer kakigori to photograph!!) I'd be happy to meet up and say bye. You can msg me on instagram if you have time x

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  4. Oh!!! You guys are going back home?? I still remember you came to Fukuoka now office for an internship . I can't believe it has been already 5 years. time goes by so quickly.hope see you soon somewhere!!!!!!

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    1. Nobu-san, five years has flown by! I remember meeting you in the FN office too, and Kam and I are always happy to bump into you around Fukuoka and have a little chat. Keep up the excellent photos, it's great to follow your adventures to exciting places. All the best 'til next time!

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