A mid-term resident of Tokyo reports – Part 10: Departure

This is part 10 of what is intended to be a collection of overview reports on living in Tokyo by someone who is here for longer than a short stay but shorter than a long stay. Hopefully they will be helpful to others in similar situations.

Though it does not seem possible to me, in a surprisingly small number of days I will have been away from Tokyo for as long as I was living there. A large part of the difficulty in seeing that is that I have been travelling quite a bit since I left Tokyo, and having spent less than 2 months at a time in any given spot makes it very easy to lose track of time. In the non-linear way that time is sensed, those consecutive months and seasonal changes in Tokyo seem like much, much longer than the equivalent number of days fragmented into small bits and pieces.

That said, it has been many months since I left. Departure was both personal and anonymous, routine and novel. My flight left Narita in the early afternoon, and having finalized my packing the night before I found myself with a few hours in the morning to have a leisurely breakfast, walk around the neighborhood, and enjoy the fact that I was not one of the thousands of people moving past me on their way to work. Back in my flat, I met with the building staff to turn over my keys and officially close out my stay, and with a very warm and hospitable send-off they carried my bags to the waiting taxi for the short trip to Shinagawa station. Having been told that I was leaving Tokyo, the driver was effusive with his love for the city and his hopes that I had enjoyed it, and as he unloaded my bags also gave me a personal sendoff as if we had known each other for far longer than a 5 minute taxi ride.

From there I was an anonymous traveler. I already had my ticket for the Narita Express and somehow maneuvered my bags up and down busy escalators and stairs and through the sea of black-suited businessmen and women to the platform, and then after a hurried boarding found my reserved seat in the midst of a nearly full car with no available luggage storage. The seat next to me was empty, and hoping for luck I used it to hold my oversized suitcases as we pulled away toward Tokyo Station. As we left Tokyo station with no one calling for that seat, the final stress of the trip was over and I was able to sit back and let my mind wander through the mixture of thoughts associated with leaving a place that you enjoyed as the train pulled through the Tokyo suburbs under a foggy and misty sky.

The transition from rail to airplane passenger at Narita was as smooth as ever. The reality of departure hit home at the emigration gate when a polite and efficient official took my Japanese ID card and removed all the little slips of paper which various offices had stapled in my passport during my stay. After some last-minute purchases at duty-free to use up the last of the Yen in my wallet I was on an airplane and lifted off; my last view of Japan being a rainy view of a golf course surrounded by rice fields as the airplane entered the clouds.

True departure, however, began far earlier. As the project I was working on began to wind down and the reality that I would eventually be leaving sunk in, I made a determined effort to be able to leave without regretting things undone. In my last month as a Tokyo resident there were evenings of going out and about far after I would usually have settled into my flat for the night, if only so that I could re-visit favorite areas I would otherwise not get to. On a weekday off I made a point of getting up and out so that I could once again experience the mass of humanity which fills the Tokyo subway system during rush-hour (something not for the faint of heart and which I enjoyed not usually needing to be part of). I went back to my favorite shops with the mindset I would not be back (and knowledge of how much space I had left in my suitcases). I found fleamarkets and parks, gardens and museums which I had overlooked before. I went hiking in new and familiar areas, both in the mountains as well as through city neighborhoods.

Although much of what I did in those final weeks was quite active, I also allowed myself time to simply be and enjoy the moments as they passed. I made a pot of tea and went out and sat on a park bench by my flat and enjoyed the sounds of the neighborhood. I made liberal use of the onsens I came across. I sat in front of the TV and tried to make sense of the various programs. I spent more time talking to my colleagues.

By the time I lost sight of the Japanese ground I felt I had left as well as anyone could.

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