Goodbye Blues, Part II

After mentioning it in my posts for what seems like months, the end of the school year has finally arrived. Yesterday was the last day of the term, which means school will be weirdly quiet for the next week or so. (However, this being Japan, AKA “land of the students who try too hard,” lots of kids are still coming in for extracurricular academic classes.)

First, a bit of background info. In Japan, teachers don’t stay at the same school for extended periods of time, as they do in most Western systems. At my high school in Pennsylvania, there were teachers there who had taught some of my classmates’ parents. In Japan, you’d never encounter a situation like that. Instead, teachers are transferred from one school to another after anywhere between three and seven years. The mentality behind the practice is that by transferring teachers to different schools, it ensures that talented teachers will teach groups of students from many different areas throughout the years, rather than being stationary at the same school their entire career. Teachers almost always are transferred to another school within the same prefecture, but there are exceptions; last year, we had a teacher move in from Hokkaido.

While I understand the reason behind this practice, it’s tough to see it being carried out. Teachers have no say in the timing or location of their transfers. Imagine being told every four to seven years that you have to pick up and move your family, house, and entire life. Not exactly the most stable of situations.

At the end of the year ceremony yesterday, each of the transferred teachers gave a goodbye speech to the rest of the school. Last year, my Japanese ability was laughably low, so I didn’t really understand much of the speeches. My Japanese is still awful, but I understood a good deal more this year…and man, is it tough seeing your coworkers, people who are usually so cheerful and positive at work, being reduced to tears as they talk about how much teaching at Aomori High School has meant to them. Several teachers could barely make it through their speeches, and there were plenty of kids crying, too. (However, not all of the speeches were tearjerkers. One of my favorite teachers is moving up to a principal position at another high school, and he ended his speech with The Beatles’ line, “I don’t know why you say ‘goodbye,’ I say ‘hello.’”)

ALTs hate the day that transfers are announced, too. Last year, I lost one of my favorite English teachers, and this year, three of the teachers are being transferred, one of them being my supervisor. It’s strange to think that unless our paths cross at a JET Programme conference (Doubtful, as her new school won’t have an ALT), I won’t see her again. It makes me realize that I’m really very lucky to be able to have a say in whether or not I stay in Japan at the same school.

Silver lining, though…there are lots of delicious 送別会 (soubetsukai, farewell dinner) to attend. The school-wide party was last night, and I’m usually a bit nervous about attending those. The tables there are assigned randomly, so I’m always petrified that I’ll end up a table with no English teachers. But then again, that happened last year, and it was one of the most enjoyable parties I’d attended! Parties with all of the schools’ teachers are also pretty entertaining for me, because many of the coworkers I otherwise don’t interact with much always express abject disbelief when they see that I can use chopsticks or scarf down sashimi without a second thought.

Newflash: just because I'm not Japanese doesn't mean that I can't eat raw fish. (Admittedly, though, I'm not a huge fan of the mini squid.)
Newflash: just because I’m not Japanese doesn’t mean that I can’t eat raw fish. (Admittedly, though, I’m not a huge fan of the mini squid.)

I also attended 送別会 for the tenth grade and English departments. The dishes I’ve eaten at dinner parties the past few weeks have been really varied, though that’s nothing new. Lots of delicious sushi, raw horse meat, 鍋 (nabe, hot pot), and そば (soba, buckwheat noodles) was consumed.

Horse, served rare.
Horse, served rare.

My favorite party of the three was definitely my English department dinner. Those teachers are usually the most patient with me when it comes to speaking Japanese, so it’s not so nerve-wracking for me. Most of the English dinner was standard, delicious Japanese affair, but two things stood out to me. First, one of our dishes was really rare beef served with wasabi. I’ve only had wasabi with fish before, so I was a bit wary of switching the proteins. I shouldn’t have worried, though; unsurprisingly, it was absolutely delicious.

That meat didn't stay so prettily lined up for long.
That meat didn’t stay so prettily lined up for long.

The restaurant also had a really extensive drink menu, and since our dinner included a 飲み放題 (nomihoudai, all you can drink), we weren’t at all conservative on ordering drinks. I’ve never met a deathly sweet cocktail that I didn’t like, and 梅酒 (umeshu, plum liquor) is one of my favorite Japanese drinks. The restaurant had a large menu of flavored 梅酒, and at the urging behest of one of my coworkers, I abandoned my wine after a few glasses, and started in on the 梅酒. I made it through two chocolates (definitely the most delicious), one mango, and one caramel coffee drinks before wisely calling it quits. Understandably, I didn’t feel the need to try out the 人参-flavored (ninjin, carrot) drink…

And I couldn't resist snapping a picture of the placard that welcomed us.
And I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of the placard that welcomed us.

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