Thursday, March 09, 2006

Requiem For A Friend

At 4:15 PM today, I said my last goodbyes to a very good friend. Wasabi-kun and I parted ways.

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Before I came back to Shimane to work as a member of the JET Program, my friend Hiroshi told me that I was going to need a car. "Hakuta is a town," he said, "that has some buses, but there aren't that many and the last one is at 9 PM. You're going to need a car." When I arrived in Hakuta, I saw the logic in his statement. Hakuta is a great town, but without wheels, you're not going to be able to get out much.

So I asked his mom for some help. She took me to the Mitsubishi dealer in Yasugi and introduced me to Mr. Sota, who the Yamanes have done their car business with for many years. I had no idea what was going on, but she worked out a deal with Mr. Sota to get me a used car for 300,000 yen (about $3,000). It was a light blue 1993 Minicar, the kind of car I used to point at and laugh at when I was an exchange student. The irony alone was enough for me to choose to buy it. I went on a payment plan and paid it off in a year.

At this point, Wasabi-kun was not yet Wasabi-kun.

The story of how Wasabi-kun became Wasabi-kun begins in Canada. Or, to be more specific, with a Canadian. Janet Lewis, Yasugi City ALT, 2002-2004. She said that the color of my car was that of wasabi (Japanese horseradish). I begged to differ, but Janet wouldn't have any of it. "It looks like wasabi, so we're calling your car 'Wasabi-kun'!"

DK Rule of Survival #827: Never disagree with an angry Canadian, especially when her name is Janet Lewis.

I fought the name for as long as I could, but, after a while, the name started to stick. Even though I still say Wasabi-kun was more of a sky blue than a wasabi green, the name worked.

Wasabi-kun was a loyal car. First car I ever bought with my own money. Five and a half years, 110,000 kilometers. A trip around Kyushu during winter vacation 2001. A trip around Shikoku in April of 2002. A four thousand kilometer trip up the Sea of Japan coast in the summer of 2001. A four thousand kilometer trip from Hokkaido back to Shimane in the summer of 2002. A trip around the Kii Peninsula in the fall of 2002. A day trip to Kyoto and back in March of 2003. Trips to Matsuyama, Tokushima, Nagoya, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Oita, Izushi. An eight-hour drive from Shimane to Kumamoto to see my then-girlfriend, only to find the next morning that the trip killed the battery (her dad bought me a new one). Exploring the myriad mountain roads in Shimane together. Moving up to Hokkaido together last summer. More nights than I can count bundled up in a sleeping bag in the driver's seat in some rest area in some random part of the country. Magnificently paved highways. Gravel roads barely wide enough for Wasabi-kun. Straight stretches of road. Roads that curved and went uphill forever. Out of the 47 prefectures in Japan, Wasabi-kun and I went to 46 of them. (The other one, Okinawa, is a little difficult to drive to.)

Ahh, yes. Good times were had by Wasabi-kun and I.

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At 4:15 PM today, I stood in the driveway and watched as Wasabi-kun drove away into the sunset. As he went over the hill and disappeared from sight, I had to choke back a tear or two.

At 4:15 PM today, I said goodbye to a partner and friend.

Thank you, Wasabi-kun. That'll do, car.

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