Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Old Smells and Sounds Die Hard

(Ibaraki Prefectural) Kashima Senior High School.

From 1990 till 1992 this school was the center of my existence. It was the initial reason I was sent to Japan and, though I wound up doing far less there than at the other three public senior highs I visited once a week, I was treated with far more respect and civility by my Japanese coworkers there. Inevitably, because of the same (disastrous) curriculum changes that got me more or less stuffed in a closet, I was rotated to (far less friendly) Kamisu High School, which served as my home base till my contract ended in 1993. However, I still looked forward to my visits to Kashima H.S. every Friday. I never had much to do, and I had little contact with the students, but it was still a very friendly place.

The last time I set foot in Kashima H.S. was in 1994, when I popped in with a friend to borrow their broadcast media club's studio equipment. Although I frequently drove or walked past it in the years that followed, I never went there again.

...until today.

Ironically, this was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. It was a meeting of the association of senior high music teachers for our local district (motto: "The guy who knows the motto didn't show up today"). Mr. Ogawa had some "important" business to take care of, so he asked me to go instead. It was just supposed to be a quick summing up of the schedule for the upcoming school year and a naming of the new officers. Considering the chronic apathy that affects most music teachers worldwide, it was a given that the meeting would be over in thirty minutes. Basically, all I had to do was sit down, drink my coffee, and then get up and leave again.

It sounded easy enough. Still, I was intrigued with the idea of setting foot in my old stomping grounds for the first time in more than a decade. I was convinced I wouldn't remember the place any better than the people there now would remember me.

The fact that I accidentally drove in through the exit (ignoring the "do not enter" sign) reinforced that theory. When I went in through the main entrance, as I'd done so many, many times in the past, it didn't feel familiar to me at all. I was a total stranger visiting a totally new place. It was actually kind of scary.

But then the chief secretary came out of the office. She was the same one that had been there in my day. She'd come out to talk to another music teacher who had just arrived, but when she saw me she stopped short and just stared at me with surprise. She responded to my greeting by just continuing to stare at me blankly.

It's good to see you again, too.

Actually, the music teacher who had just arrived turned out to be the one that had been there back in the early 90s. Now he's stationed at a different school, but when I was an (increasingly bitter) ALT at Kashima H.S. back then, he was the one in charge of the music program. As we walked down the old corridor/bridge to the music room, we couldn't help reminiscing and laughing at the irony of it all.

Then, all at once, it began to hit me. The dim light of the hallways. The view of the traditional garden in the courtyard below. The way my footsteps echoed. That same, old, musty smell. And then the chime rang; not the clear, bright, electronic chime of the academy where I work now, but that old, deep, dark, grandfather-clock-like ringing that sounded with a hint of warm, tube-amplifier distortion. Memories came back like a flood.

Frankly, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to go sit in the staff room for a few hours and wallow in sentiment or run away screaming. As it turned out, I had no chance to do either. We arrived at the music room on the third floor of the middle block, and the meeting began in earnest.

Unfortunately, the meeting didn't end in earnest. I was a substitute from the only private school in the lot (i.e. there to observe and take notes, naught else), so I mainly just sat there while the others discussed a lot, and went off on a lot of irrelevant tangents, but decided nothing. Finally, after two hours (of one hour scheduled), everything was suddenly decided in a three-minute burst of decisiveness, and the current music teacher at Kashima H.S. told us to hurry up and get the f*** out. I did just that.

I found my way back to the exit alone, seriously worried I was going to get lost in that massive complex. Indeed, though the sounds, smells, and outdoor scenery were still digging all kinds of memories out of my brain, the layout of the buildings was still unfamiliar to me. It still looked and felt bizarre, as if the familiar had somehow been superimposed on the alien. Still, I found my way out without any trouble.

Interestingly, as I went along, every student that passed me greeted me cordially in a loud, confident voice. What a change that was from the final year of my ALT era, the first half of 1993, when the students in general (mainly the younger ones, not the older ones) seemed to be getting colder and more apathetic, and the new freshmen were so hostile to English and to foreigners in general that teachers at Kashima H.S. stopped inviting me to their classrooms and I was asked to stop practicing kyudo (Japanese archery) at the school's range (since the freshmen said they refused to practice if "that gaijin" was there). The cycle has come and gone, I guess. Besides, Kashima H.S. now has a much higher academic ranking and a much better reputation than it did back then. Maybe I should also comment that the students there now seem friendlier and more proper than the (spoiled rich) kids at the academy!

Yep, there is definitely a "do not enter" sign at the exit. Oh, well.

Okay, the trip down memory lane is over. It's back to the academy for me. I have a tune to arrange for the orchestra.


  • Its weird to me that your trip down memory lane is one based in Japan. No, nothing wrong with that, just weird because I cannot relate. Do you remember another decade previous, say 1983? Rogelstad, Korsness, Roessner - sounds so foreign, yet so familiar.

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post!

    By Blogger DewKid, at 11:02 AM  

  • ...He slipped on a sheet of acid, and that was the last time we saw him...

    No, just kidding, I figured that was the only way you could have such a mind blowing experience. Memories of my highschool only dredge up things I wish I couldn't remember anymore. And really, it just goes to show you have spent almost half your life in Japan, and now the USA will seem like a strange land to you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:39 AM  

  • is there any chance to listen to some music of your orchestra? If I'd be glad because I love classical music. My favorite CD is of "Georg Friedrich Händel~ Der Messias for example. It is a Live Recording of December 10 in 200 aus dem Hauptraum der Frauenkirche Dresden. It was Perscholka, Wölfel, Wörle, Hempel Hallenser Madrigalisten Virtuose Saxoniae unter der Leitung von Ludwig Güttler. I've seen Güttler in our Community he had a Trumpet Concert and is actually the friend of my old boss. He's a great musician. :)

    By Blogger Tanker Angel Nelly, at 12:03 PM  

  • Dewkid
    Please...don't make me dredge that up!!!!

    It's not yet half my life (I'm not that old...or that young...), but pretty damned close.

    I'm currently involved with two orchestras. I'm co-director of the one at my school (one of very few youth orchestras in this part of Japan, and there really aren't all that many in the whole country). I also play principal clarinet/saxophone with a community orchestra called the Kashima Philharmonic (which is now in its fourth year..and doesn't sound quite so bad anymore).

    I also play off and on with a jazz combo, a jazz big band, a blues combo, and a rock band. I also direct a student jazz big band. Meanwhile, my principle hobby is composing music and recording it in my home studio (most prog. rock with some electronica and new age thrown in for fun).

    No, I don't like music at all.

    I do have some recordings of our school orchestra. If you really want to hear it, maybe I can burn you a copy of their latest CD. Don't expect high quality, though. It's a student-made project.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 5:39 PM  

  • Are you serious? You don't like music at all? heh! Sounds like you really love it. Ooooh yes I'd love to have a CD of your School Orchestra and I don't expect high quality. Especially because it is made from Students it's worth of listen to it. :)

    By Blogger Tanker Angel Nelly, at 8:41 PM  

  • That's a kind of experience I've never had. Must be eerie. Familiar, yet strangely different.

    "You can't go home again". Or maybe you can. But not through back entrance.

    By Blogger Momo the Wonder Dog, at 9:39 AM  

  • Kevin: I know exactly what you mean. I went back to Minori-machi and it floored me how much it hasn't changed. The school wasn't open (Sunday) but I'm not sure if I would have went in even if it was. My two years in Ibaraki was a bittersweet experience and reliving this in memory can play tricks on me today.

    By Anonymous Jeff Nicholson, at 10:30 AM  

  • Memories,
    Light the corners of my mind
    Misty water-colored memories
    Of the way we were
    Scattered pictures,
    Of the smiles we left behind
    Smiles we gave to one another
    For the way we were

    By Blogger Robin, at 3:33 PM  

  • memories are always good for you..take you to the past, slap u a bit...but i think it makes me feel alive, and like i existed in the past

    By Blogger saba, at 4:52 PM  

  • Jeffu
    Kashima High School doesn't seem to have changed much, but it was strange how the smells and sounds seemed familiar but the sights (at least my immediate surroundings) seemed totally alien. It was kind of like deja vu except that I knew I'd spent three years working there!

    Maybe my subconscious wanted me to forget...

    I remember singing that song in my junior high school choir with my arm around a girl I definitely do not want to remember!

    Gee, thanks for reminding me!

    Memories are definitely a treasure to be cherished...unless they start to haunt you. I know I have trouble figuring out people that just cannot learn from their past...or try to pretend it didn't happen...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:38 AM  

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