Having no routine allows you to see the things around you as if for the first time. Since we closed our school, we’ve both had a lot of time to discover things that have actually been around us for years and we never registered or took the time to interact with. I’ve had analogous experiences on our two-week vacations in the US, in which I go to places that were always nearby for the first 24 years of my life but just never saw as interesting enough to stop playing Diablo 2 for.
In that spirit, between the time we quit our jobs and started the final rush of cleaning and packing that has culminated in us waiting at Haneda International Airport as I write this, we’ve finally made friends in Japan. Not students, not students’ parents, but people who we like and who like us without wanting much in return. This is as rare as a full armor set drop in Normal Difficulty. Sorry, my Diablo schema got activated.
If that assessment of the rarity of friendship sounds pathetic, note that it seems to be universal around here. Many of the people we voluntarily spent time with mentioned that they also didn’t usually see people outside of work, or commented on how it was nice that people like us could hang out although “we have nothing in common”. In Japan, “in common” generally means the small palette of formal identifiers that people make their public selves. Not equally being part of some purposeful, formal human gathering like a workplace means that you have no reason to talk, let alone care about each other. If you think you really are friends with your JTE or other Japanese colleagues, see how many of them keep contact with you, or even wave back if you see them in a restaurant, after you quit or move.
I tend to think the totally non-operational friendships are more valuable. I value the relationships I had with my students, but I don’t think most of them knew me as the sometimes cranky, self-absorbed, attempted intellectual that I am (though a few do). The people we’ve met since we stopped being teachers seem not terribly interested in what we can do for them, and blessedly, not interested in English.
We’ve landed now, and it’s unlikely that I’ll see many of these people again soon. What guarantees that if we do, we will still be able to have a good time is that we got together in the first place for no particular reason.