I found out later that Murayama city had a connection with Ireland for cultural exchange. I participated in some cultural events and programs and I got to know a young Irish woman who was working at Murayama City Hall. She was introducing Irish culture to local people. Her name was Jackie. One day, there was an announcement in the newsletter from the city hall that Jackie would be finishing her job for the city hall and leaving Japan soon. And there was an invitation to join a two-week tour in Ireland with her. The tour was open to any Japanese person who resided in Yamagata Prefecture. I applied without hesitation. That was the opportunity I had wanted for a long time! This became my very first ticket to go overseas.
It was my first time flying in an airplane in my life. It was July 1996, and we arrived in Amsterdam first and then landed in Dublin. We visited a number of tourist places and cities from the east end of Dublin to the west end of Galway as well as Inishmore Island. We also stopped at Jackie’s home in Wicklow. I was excited to see western people on the trip. I always have had huge respect and admiration for western people and culture. I used to try to talk to foreign customers while I was working in a restaurant in Yokohama city back in 1992. I thought I had to act and be like western people so I was trying to speak my English clearly and loudly when I talked to them. Also, I often tried to talk to the Irish bus driver of our tour group while we were travelling even though I could not speak much English.
One day in Amsterdam, I was waiting to enter the Anne Frank Museum with Jackie and a Japanese man. But we were in a long queue and it was hardly moving. I became too impatient and I decided to head for the Van Gogh Museum on my own as the other Japanese people had already gone to it. I enjoyed the Van Gogh Museum so much and I was glad I had chosen to visit it. At the gift shop, I bought a small watercolour set and a blank sketchbook with an iris painting by Van Gogh on the cover. I knew of Van Gogh from a video I had seen when I visited the Yokohama Museum a few months before this trip. I made some colour drawings of Ireland and Amsterdam with colour pencils in the sketchbook I bought during this trip. I walked and explored the city of Amsterdam by myself and I had to figure out how to get back to our hotel somehow. Also, I was asked for directions by other Japanese tourists. They must have thought I was living there. Probably it was because I was walking by myself.
Travelling with a group of people had been a frustrating experience for me. And probably it is frustrating for others who travelled with me because I don’t stay with the group. I often disappear to somewhere else alone. I did the same when I was visiting Kyoto during a high school excursion. While everyone was visiting traditional temples, I stepped into the city and walked around and shopped by myself. I usually did so when I felt I was not fitting into the group or I wasn’t feeling well. But definitely, I don’t think I am good at working with many people at once. I prefer being alone or dealing with one person at a time. That is because, when you are in a group, there are limits to how much you can do what you want to do. Also, being with a group requires a lot of discussions and negotiations. I tend to give priority to other people’s ideas or needs over mine when I am in a group. And I usually end up compromising a great deal. I like to be flexible and free. There are many good things about being with a group, but I’d rather be alone and take some risks.
During the Irish Trip
I made friends with a male in the tour group. He was in his late 40s and also worked in the city hall. I was still trying to talk to the Irish bus driver occasionally. He seemed to be avoiding me as I continued to go up to him too often. He might have thought I was weird or I was trying to seduce him. There was always Irish traditional music playing on his bus, which I really liked. So, I wanted to find out from him where I could buy that music.
Everyone was asleep on the bus when we were moving from one place to another, but I never closed my eyes on the bus as if I was trying to take pictures of everything I saw on this trip with my eyes so that I would not forget. I looked at views on every street. I felt what I was experiencing was something really precious for me because it had been my long-time aspiration to go outside of Japan and it took me a lot of struggle and time to make that finally happen.
We stopped at Inishmore Island near Galway one night. We had taken a small boat to the island, which I also really enjoyed. We went to a bistro-type restaurant for dinner. Before the meal, an Irish band played Irish music on the terrace. We sat together and listened to it. I really liked the music and I asked them to sign my dictionary afterwards.
Later that night, some of us went to a pub. It was a large pub and a local rock band was playing at the end of the pub in front of the dance floor. I really felt like dancing. That was because it was just after I had had a great time seeing my first Bon Jovi concert in Yokohama City in Japan. But nobody was dancing and everyone was at the bar ordering drinks or sitting and chatting. I was longing to dance for a while but finally, I stepped out onto the empty dance floor and started dancing in front of the rock band. Then Jackie ran and came up to the floor, pulling my Japanese male friend’s hand. And everybody in the pub came onto the dance floor and started dancing! We danced like we were all having a party together. Many came to dance with me and we danced like they were my friends. The band was smiling and looked happy. I thought, “what a great country Ireland is!”
THIS Is My Reality
We stayed in a large beautiful old castle that had been converted into a hotel. Also, we tried an Irish dance with Irish people. I really liked everything about Ireland – people, scenery, music and food. I had potato skins (I had a baked potato at the restaurant on Inishmore Island) for the first time in my life and also, I really liked the potatoes I ate in Ireland. So, I bought a bag of potatoes at a street stall in a town to bring back home as we were getting close to the end of the trip. At the end of this trip, we were having lunch at a local restaurant. One Japanese man said, “Now we are going back to the reality (of life in Japan).” I thought in my mind, “THIS is my reality.”
Upon leaving at the Dublin airport, a girl who was one of the Japanese tour members told me that I could not bring any vegetables back to Japan. And then Jackie said if I put the potatoes in my suitcase, they wouldn’t see them. So, I did. Jackie helped me choose some music CDs of Irish music at Dublin airport. She had also helped me to do so at another gift shop. I bought two cassette tapes and two CDs in total on this trip. I think I stood out in this group as I had been acting very differently than other Japanese people. So, it took a while for the bus driver and Jackie and all the other Japanese tour members to understand what kind of person I was. The bus driver said goodbye to every Japanese person who had joined this tour. And he gave me the biggest goodbye at the end. Jackie said to me “Ganbatte! (Wish you well)”. Actually, I said the same words to her and we happened to have said the same words to each other at exactly the same time.