Monday, March 12, 2012

The words to say goodbye

My neighbour died.

He was an amazing man. He was the head coach of my school's volleyball team. And the head of NPO Sports - the organisation that puts on all the cultural and sports events in town. And the head of the neighbourhood festival team. And so on, and so forth.I'd gotten to the point that if I went to an event and didn't run into him serving as the head of something, I was shocked.

Not only was he amazing in general, he was amazing to me. In a country notorious for having little or nothing to do with foreigners, he was welcoming. Even in my neck of the woods, which is supremely friendly by Japanese standards, it's just not the norm for Japanese people to go out of their way to befriend people.

He did. He told us to call him Masa, for short. We never told him why that was funny. He came over to explain some of the crazy Japanese randomness. He brought us the happi (coats) that we would wear while pulling the neighbourhood float. He told us what time to be there. I think our festival team is the only one with a foreign contingent: the 4 or 5 English-speakers plus 10 or so Vietnamese. And he let us lead the procession (although I suspect the weight of the big lanterns might have something to do with that -lol). And when I mentioned, on Facebook, that he'd passed on English teachers from as far back as 7 years ago said the same things about his kindness and friendliness.

Here we are in last year's summer festival. That's me and my colleague in the marroon happi he lent us.  The light blue happi behind is one of the Vietnamese.

The night I found out, we stopped by his house, and his little brother sent us up to the funeral home to the viewing. I gave his wife my condolences, but I wanted to say more. And now, I've got even more to relay. I don't want to give a generic condolence. This man meant something to me. Enough that my experience in Japan is what it is because of him. And I don't know the words to say that. 

Sometimes that is the hardest thing about living in Japan. I am a wordsmith. In my native English, I can speak in any register, any tone. I can write, and read and understand anything. I can be succint, or I can pad my speech with superfluous, but flowery imagery. I can weave tales and write poetry. I can even do some of that in my 2nd and 3rd languages. Words are my business, and my heart. 

And it's hard not to have them. 

So I'm saying it here. My neighbour meant a lot to me. I can't imagine that he won't ever wave to me from his driveway as we both shovel the mountains of snow that have fallen in a ridiculously short time. I don't know what the town's summer festival will be like. In my mind, it doesn't exist without him. I will miss him.

Rest in peace, Masa. 安心に休めて下さい.

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