The past few weeks have been a dizzying mix of extremely busy and I-literally-have-nothing-to-do, due to the end of the school semester and the designated job-switch time in Japan.
My third graders graduated (in America they would be 9th graders) and moved onto high school after many goodbyes and notes; and my sixth graders also graduated and moved onto the first grade in middle school. Luckily I teach all of the middle schools as well as the elementary schools on the island (totaling 11 schools), so I really only had to say goodbye to my third years.
On top of this, the teachers and staff members of the BOE (Board of Education), town hall, cultural office, etc are also all changing so it’s been a flurry of paper stacks and bright green slippers as everyone cleans out their desks and visits new workplaces.
The other day, after two morning ceremonies, we were finally able to meet the incoming staff. Unfortunately, when I asked my supervisor if I was supposed to stand in a certain spot, he thought I didn’t understand the word “new staff” in Japanese. Knowing my supervisor well enough to know he would dash for his phone in an attempt to translate, I took the time to stand up and get in line with my back against the wall (assuming that was the right thing to do) in order to greet the new arrivals.
At this point, I could see the new members lining up on the opposite side of the office doors, getting ready to make their first impressions (which, by the way, are incredibly important in Japan. Take the importance of first impressions in America and multiply it by 1000. ish.) But before they could enter, my boss completed his search on his phone and leaned over to show me. “Nuu feeh-sue” he said. I replied with a “oh. yeah, you can say we are getting new faces. But we generally say new staff or members.”
Disregarding the latter, my boss shot his arm out to gesture to the door exactly as it opened to let the new members in and loudly exclaimed “NEW FACE!! Hohoho hooo!” into the silence as they filed in to make a line against the opposing wall. I noticed a couple of eyes darting around in confusion but once they saw my blonde hair and blue eyes in the midst of a sea of Japanese people, they completely dismissed anything weird. You can get away with anything if you’re explaining something to a foreigner.
On top of meeting the incoming staff, I was able to witness an official Oki Farewell since many people were transferred to the mainland.
At the port, coworkers and friends (sometimes husbands or wives as well) were everywhere. Several of my elementary students came with farewell signs and sang songs as the traditional rainbow tape was slowly raised up the side of the ferry. I almost took a video of a particularly adorable little girl, but I realized just in time that that was a total creeper move.
After about a half hour of waving goodbye and singing, the ferry finally began to take off and I decided that, in order to better fit in with my surroundings, I ought to wave goodbye as well. I felt especially awkward because I actually didn’t know any of the people leaving on this particular ferry, but I waved anyway and glanced around to see if anyone noticed anything fishy. They didn’t.
When the ferry started to pull away, the people on the wharf continued to hold onto their end of the tape for as long as they could until it was pulled out of their hands. Then they waved until they could no longer see their friends on the ferry (when the ferry was almost out of the port).
In Japan (or at least in Oki) people will almost always stay and wave goodbye until the last possible second. It could be a minute or, in this case, it could be between a half hour and 45 minutes. Regardless of how tired your arms get, or if you get bored, or if you have other things you could be doing, you stay. And you wave.
This, on top of the fact that this tradition is unique to Oki, made this experience especially touching. I’m pretty sure I will be crying when Aaron and I leave this island. Especially if our taiko group comes out and plays on the wharf for us. But I’m not going to think about that now.