Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Christmas in October

Box from Japan
One of many.
Yesterday, as I went out to my relatives' place for Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving is the second Monday of October), I found a box from Japan waiting there for me! 

Back when I first left Japan, I tackled that pressing issue that every expat encounters - what to take back to their home country, and how to get it there. My case was more dire than most, as I had replaced my entire wardrobe while living abroad, and I am also a voracious reader. I left Canada with just thirteen books in my suitcase and returned with two hundred. Let's be serious - no true book lover could possibly throw or give away a collection like that. I also knew that since my Board of Education was not taking on a new JET, I wouldn't have a successor to sell or give my household items to. When I handed in my final contract agreement at school, I had already started working out just how I was going to get everything home.

I'm a skilled suitcase packer, but my spacial perception isn't great, so I envisioned - wrongfully so - that I could creatively fit my most important belongings into four, perhaps five, large boxes, and give or throw away the rest. The post office was the best deal at about 14,000 yen for a 30-kilogram box. I would have liked to have used a moving or sea shipping service, as my friends did, but since I was going back to my hometown on the extreme east coast of Canada, that option wasn't available. It was pretty much the post office or nothing. 

I started out trying to be forward-thinking and responsible about my packing. In March, all the books that I wouldn't be reading before I left in July went into a sturdy Kuroneko box that topped out at 29.5 kilos (64 pounds). Then I realized that I wasn't sure how to get this box, which was more than half my weight at the time, to the post office. I strapped it to the back of my mama-chari, and then walked the wobbly five minutes to our local post office. Who told me they did not have the equipment to send via seamail.

I wobbled back to the nearby train station, parked the bike and hailed a cab to take me to the bigger post office in town. Then I decided I would find some other way to move out the rest of my stuff.

Luckily, I discovered a way, and that means that you (yes you, reading this!), if you ever find yourself moving back overseas from Japan, can do it too! The post office will actually allow you to call and schedule an at-home pickup. I went down there and grabbed a bunch of international shipping labels (for Canada, you must be very detailed in your contents description), and set a date and time a few days before my departure for the post office to come. At the time I was still thinking "Yeah, five boxes ought to do it." When the guy showed up, however, and took my five boxes' measurements, my apartment was still cluttered with stuff, and the packed boxes were overweight! I had to pull things out, and only half the apartment seemed gone. I had started with the things that I wasn't going to need during the month of July - so, of course, I had packed some pretty inconsequential stuff that I probably should have left behind, but I took thinking that I had the space. Well. 

One of those five took a long side-trip, but I'll get to that later. 

The process of sorting an entire apartment into boxes and bags.

We scheduled another pickup for two days later, the day I was supposed to moving out of the place. Needless to say, I had quite a lot on my plate already - between myself, Em and my friend Mitsu, who was going to be taking my couch, we barely got another four boxes packed up, as well as my precious kotatsu, the Gundam model kits Drew had left at my apartment en route to Mount Fuji, and the Fuji climbing stick left behind by Alec. 

When the landlord turned up to pick up the keys, along with my go-between from my school, the place was still a disaster. Embarrassing. I said we were going to need a few more hours. He said I could stay the night - I would be heading out to the airport the following afternoon. So I scheduled another post office pickup, one for after I was going to be long gone, to make sure it was all going to be done and ready. I spent the night hastily sorting tons of papers to avoid shipping home stuff I would never need again, hoping that the electricity wouldn't be cut off any minute (we had tossed an extension cord over the balcony to Emily's apartment, just in case!) and then at 4 AM, as the sun was coming up, I lay down on the bare hardwood floor for a nap. My futons and couch were already gone. When I finally stumbled out of my apartment to take my bike over to school and do a final check on my desk, I was running only on adrenaline. What I wouldn't give to have pushed back my departure just a couple of days!

When I got back from school, it was time to go. Later, Em would pack up the last two boxes and return my keys to the landlord, while I got on the plane and headed back to what I still sometimes call "my past life."

In the weeks after returning to Canada, boxes of my possessions trickled in, though it was impossible to fit an apartment's (even an 1K) worth of things into a small bedroom that already had a lifetime crammed into it. I took most of them with me to Toronto, so even now, when I visit my mother's home, it feels like I've stepped right back into my pre-Japan life. It's very odd. Since I took everything from my Osaka apartment and plopped it into my Toronto apartment, I can look around this room, and at least half my possessions and 90% of my clothes are Japanese-made, even now, a couple of years later! 

Of course, a post office move comes with its own complications, not counting the mistakes made by my poor planning. There was a box that came open in transit and lost a few items, two boxes that had the labels swapped and I opened "books and clothes" to find it full of housewares, a box that had been measured at thirty kilos and charged accordingly when it was only thirty pounds, and finally a box that didn't arrive at all. 

Two months after I left Japan, the missing one turned back up at Emily's apartment, returned to sender. It was labeled "household goods," but it contained books and shoes, and the contents of the utility closet. (Maybe this is why it was returned. Oops.) It weighed thirty kilos - too heavy to drag back to the post office on foot, so it sat there in Emily's apartment in the meantime, until she left Japan for good as well. 

She posted me that last box with a few additions - hence why it's Christmas at my apartment now, despite it being only October. As I went through the contents last night, some of those precious things that I thought were gone forever out of the ripped box and others items I had forgotten I ever owned, let alone packed, I just had this wave of homesickness and nostalgia for Japan. I know they're only things, but they were symbolic. Maybe it's the Japanese tendency to treat objects, especially beautiful or meaningful ones, with such respect. I had to pack it all away again, in preparation for our move to a new apartment at the end of this month, but the first time I drink tea out of those teacups, I'm going to take a little bit of time to really appreciate and admire these items like old friends.