My final week in Hokkaido: The end of the camp, but not the end of my travels – Part One
August 26, 2011 Leave a comment
This was actually my fifth week in Japan, haven’t yet written anything about my first week. It was quite a turbulent week with a lot of moving around and some work to clean up the school before the kids arrive. I might write up a post about that week, although it is quite a while ago, so I am not entirely sure I remember what happened.
There is a lot to say about the final week, so I have decided to split the post into two, rather than have one massive wall of words.
But, my fifth and final week in Japan was a mixed week in many ways. It was quite sad when the kids left and the staff started leaving in ones and tows since this signaled the end of my time in Japan. At the same time it was the beginning of another adventure, my exploration of the eastern side of Hokkaido, or at least a part of it.
The kids left on the 14th, we woke up at our normal time of 5am, did our morning jobs, had breakfast, and then helped the kids pack their belongings. Since many of them were from quite far away, places such as Tokyo and Kobe, their belongings were being mailed back to them. This also meant that they were split into groups, some were being taken to Shin-Chitose, the main airport in Hokkaido, others were being taken to the central Sapporo Train station, and a few were being picked up directly by their families.
This whole process was a great example of organized chaos, and more often than not I was simply wandering around with little to do, since many of the kids could happily pack everything themselves, and the few that were being difficult already had several other staff pushing them along. There weren’t all that many times during the summer camp where I was wandering around with very little to do, so they are quite memorable in an odd way.
We had the award ceremony, which was something that happened at the end of every week. Although the camp was three weeks long, many of the kids were there for maybe one or two weeks. We would have some of the children leave one day, and then new kids arrive the day after. Those who were leaving were presented with certificates for passing the course, and many of them were given certificates showing that they had completed the 40km walk. All the staff wrote a little message on the back, unfortunately for me my Japanese writing is very bad (especially Kanji), so I had to stick with English, which was quite embarrassing.
Everyone who had completed the full three weeks were given different, more elaborate certificates from those who had only been there for a week. Every ceremony was fascinating to watch, with speeches from the main staff, and of course a picture taken of all the kids holding their certificates. This time however, all the other staff had to give a small speech about their time at the camp. After this we had our group photo in front of the rocks, which I believe, hold a plaque saying what this nature school is about (my ability to read Kanji is horrible). This as then followed by a traditional Japanese ceremony that is performed at the end of such events according to the boss of the school JETT. It had been threatening to rain for most of the morning, and halfway through this ceremony the heavens opened and it poured down, once it had finished we all ran back into the nature school, collected our lunch of onigiri and the final hour before the kids started to depart began.
When the kids started to leave there were tears of course, many of them from kids that I wasn’t expecting to cry, and of course from some of the staff. It was a sad moment for everyone since over the course of the three-week camp we had grown close through our many adventures and trials. One of the volunteer staff, a Korean had also decided to leave with the kids. It was a great time being there, and the kids were absolutely brilliant. In fact by this time I had already made up my mind to return to the camp the following year, there were so many brilliant experiences and I wanted to come back and see everyone again.
Once the kids had left, all the staff went back inside and we had our lunch of Onigiri and momo (peaches), although there was the standard talk and banter it was slightly more subdued this time I think. The school was also eerily quiet; it is amazing how you get used to not only the presence, but also the noise of the kids and staff as we went about our daily camp life. It is true that you often only notice something once it has gone.
The rest of the day was spent cleaning up the guesthouse where we were staying, and then finally the time for the staff farewell party. This was a much rowdier affair than the one the night before with the kids. The staff had ordered in a keg of beer, which we had on tap, shouchu and plum wine. This was the first time any of us had drunk alcohol; it was banned during the camp for obvious reasons. The food was great, the beer and shouchu were great, and the people were great. All the staff who had come to the camp from other countries were presented with a little going away present, in the form of Lacquer bowls or drinking cups, all with a very traditional paint work, truly wonderful gifts. The party went into the early hours of the morning, and eventually we all made it to our beds.
The next couple of days were marked by the departure of various staff members, one or two at a time, everyone going their separate ways. I had initially planned to leave on the 16th, since there was a festival in Kuromatsunai on the 15th. Unfortunately because of various reasons I was not able to visit the festival. The 15th marked the start of a new series of camps for Shizen Gakko. From what I was told, there had been some sort of campaign or fundraising to bring kids from the Fukushima area to Hokkaido so that they could experience the outdoors away from the high radiation area which surrounds the stricken power plant that I am sure almost everyone by now knows about.
So for one night I was helping with this camp, it was a relief to have something to do again and have some form of noise back, the school was quite creepy without people around. After a night of seeing the kids run around like mad beasts I went to bed with a relatively long journey ahead of me the next day.
The journey from Kuromatsunai was both slightly lonely since I was travelling on my own again, but also fascinating. A few days before I had decided to visit Kushiro and Nemuro, I had no idea what was there, but Kushiro is Japans most easterly city, and Nemuro its most easterly town, so based on this information I simply decided to visit them. The local trains in Hokkaido and across Japan and usually one or two carriages, and although they are slower than the express trains the views you get and the towns you pass through are al fascinating. The entire journey from Kuromatsunai to Sapporo took about 3-4 hours in all, and then I had a four-hour journey to Kushiro on the ‘Super-Ozora Limited Express’.
All this travelling, although quite tiring was fascinating, and the excitement of visiting somewhere new and unknown helped me along. I arrived in Kushiro at about 7pm, having caught the train from Kuromatsunai station at 9:36 in the morning, quite a long journey in all. My first view of Kushiro was during the night, so all I saw were the neon signs and general lighting, it was however, much quieter than Sapporo, which was to be expected considering how far east it was.