Y dropped me off at Tagawa City Nursing College, where I met up with Lisa and Allison. We were introduced to the president of the college, which reminded me of the times I used to hang out with the principals of elementary schools. You sit on the couch, you drink some coffee, you talk about the weather and the importance of education. The president was a charming man, who spoke a fair amount of English. He let us know that he was a physician by training, but was focusing more on anatomy these days. After our visit with the president, we hung out in Ikuyo’s office while we waited to meet the dean. As we waited, Ikuyo called in a friend of hers who taught English at the college. He was originally from England and first came to Japan on a program similar to JET. He told us about that moment that I was all too familiar with – the point where you get really comfortable in Japan and want to stay, but realize that you don’t want to continue living the life or doing the work of an ALT. He said that he thought the really brave decision was to decide to go home, to make a life for yourself in your home country rather than continue on with a comfortable life as an ALT in Japan. He said he found a compromise, by returning home long enough to get his master’s degree in English and teaching and then returning to Japan to teach English at the university level. I admired his clever solution and felt a wave of nostalgia for a time lost – a time that I’ll likely never regain. I can’t ever foresee a time that I will be able to live in Japan again, where I could indulge in simmering in the language and culture. That being said, when I left Tanegashima, I thought I might never return to Japan and somehow, here I am, in a context that I could never have imagined.
After our brief meeting with the dean, we sat down to review our notes and prepare for our presentation. We had a quick lunch and then it was time to meet with the students. It was a much different crowd than in Tokyo – younger, less experienced and more of them. They asked many questions and seemed to be shocked by the fact that only 10% of births are attended by midwives in America. Admittedly, this is a surprising (and unfortunate) statistic, but both Lisa and I felt that it set the stage for an interesting dynamic during our focus group. During our focus group in Tokyo, we got a lot of solid information about interventions and how they were viewed and physician-midwife relationships and changes that the midwives wanted to see made. The students in Tagawa seemed reluctant to speak about these things and often turned the questions around on Lisa and me, which was frustrating at times. However, they did seem to be more willing to talk about cultural aspects of birth – how pregnant women and pain were viewed by Japanese society, different customs and rituals around birth, etc. After the focus group, we spent some time visiting with the students and then they presented us with a special gift: Customized aprons like the ones Japanese midwives in birth centers wear.
I was exhausted by the time we finished at the school, but was stoked to learn that Y’s mother had prepared temakizushi for dinner. We arrived back at Y’s place to find her sister and her sister’s three children there. Y’s oldest nephew is three, her niece is two and the younger nephew is one. Y made a joke that I only understood half of and when we looked up the rest of it in the dictionary, I learned that she was referencing her sister’s lack of family planning. The rest of the evening was like watching someone play whack-a-mole, with Y, her sister and her mom all trying to feed the children, keep them from tearing up the house and running into the hot stove. At some point the baby simply started wailing and when they removed him from his chair and put him on the floor, the family dog started humping him and that’s about when the absurdity of it all was just too much. Y and I started laughing unhelpfully, while Y’s mother tried to get the dog off the baby. Eventually, we said our goodnights and I fell asleep in the bath before heading up to bed.