The Last Days of The Village

The Last Days of The Village

The following are translations of just a few of the letters I received from my students when I was leaving The Village. Most were written as a class exercise, but some, like Yoko’s below, caught me completely by surprise with their insight and consideration. Habitually shy, Yoko had barely spoken a word to me in two years.

To Maikeru-sensei,


Thank you very much for teaching us English for two years. You taught us all sorts of things like the English for families, the English for food, and the English for body parts. In our first class, in my heart I felt, “Oh… a new teacher. I’m nervous. Is he scary? Is he nice?” But Maikeru-sensei was nice. At first you weren’t used to Japanese, but now you can write and speak fluently. I think that such a person is amazing. From April, I think—well, I’m not sure when, but you’ll be going to another place, right? You gave it your best at Friday Elementary, so wherever you go, please do your best there, too. Thank you very much for these two years.


From Yamada Yoko, Grade 4

To Maikeru-sensei,


Maikeru-sensei, we’ve done a lot of things these two years. Thank you. I love your lessons. Maikeru-sensei is a cheerful and kind person, and you really cared about people. It was also Maikeru-sensei who made those fun plans for Halloween and Cobytmas. These two years were fun, somehow. You also taught us Mai-keru-pon, that fun paper-scissors-rock game. Everyone here at Friday Elementary loves Maikeru-sensei. From here on, please continue to be the cheerful, kind, fun Maikeru-sensei that you have been.


Grade 5 Ume Class, Miyazaki Yuka

To Maikeru-sensei,


Maikeru-sensei, thank you for these two years. Maikeru-sensei’s lessons are really interesting—especially Mai-keru-pon, and quizzes where we could get Mike Money like on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (Maikeru-sensei’s face was really funny). Things like eating school lunch with Maikeru-sensei, memorizing Japanese tongue twisters, and playing dodgeball together were all fun. Being able to do all sorts of events (Halloween, Cobytmas) while learning English was also good. I could never wait for Maikeru-sensei’s lessons. It was a fun two years. Please do your best from here on, too.
From Nomura Maki
Grade 5 Ume Class

To Maikeru-sensei,


Maikeru-sensei, Maikeru-sensei doesn’t come to our school except on Fridays, but the Fridays this year were totally fun. The person who made those Fridays fun was Maikeru-sensei.


The things we did changed with the seasons. That was fun. What I remember most is Cobytmas. Everyone coloured Santas or angels and hung them on the Cobytmas tree. I won’t forget that memory for as long as I live. I’ll never forget my year of Fridays with Maikeru-san. For a year’s worth of Fridays full of fun memories, thank you.    


Mito Misako
Grade 5 Ume Class

To Maikeru-san,


Thank you for teaching us English. It was fun singing songs together at Cobytmas. You hit me in dodgeball, and I was mortified. In games, during the animal-touching game, I was one of the last three people left, but I lost, and I was mortified. Even if you go to another town, stay well, okay?


Yuri Tanaka
Grade 2

Yuri was the smartest, most energetic kid in her class. I gave her airplane rides and pushed her down the hall like Superman nearly every week…and this is what she remembers!


Ah, kids.


Then there was my farewell ceremony at Thursday Elementary, where Hiro in grade 6 made me the following promise:


Whenever we see Canada on TV, we’ll be thinking of Maikeru-sensei. And of course, we’ll always be rooting for the Detroit Blue Jays.”




To be fair, in Japanese, only two letters distinguish “To-ro-n-to” from “De-to-ro-i-to.” But it’s just lucky he didn’t mention the Detroit Maple Leafs, or there would have been suffering.

And So We Come To It…

I suppose it was all quite a maudlin affair. Farewell letters came in by the bundle, and I was finding hidden gems among them every day. My favourite class, the grade 6s for whom I had stayed, broke down in tears during their graduation ceremony; I strained so desperately for composure that by the time I finally shared a few parting words of my own, I’d locked away all my emotion and couldn’t get it back. But in their final lesson the week before, while everyone was still tired from playing a very physical round of Fruit Basket, I’d concluded by telling them that, if I could, I would stay one more year to teach only them. Everyone went completely silent.


From Friday Elementary’s graduation I went directly to the junior high, where the students were barely able to finish singing their graduation song for weeping. One of my best students, Taro, left the gymnasium with tears held in the last clasps restraint, the very portrait of a young man in grief. He later gave me the 100-yen coin he’d kept in his pocket all year.


I had intended to leave early, but after being asked to take a photo with some students who’d tracked me down, I realized I wasn’t ready to let it all end just yet. I went back inside and signed yearbooks for the first time since high school. I took photos. I chatted. I signed Wataru’s T-shirt. I said goodbye.


When they graduate, students take the buttons off their uniforms and give them to friends. The one over the heart is meant for your closest friend or crush

Leaving The Village was leaving home in ways that leaving Toronto had never been. I can return to Toronto in two years, in five years—in ten—and I will still have a home, a family, a place that will indelibly be my own. But when I left The Village, I was taking everything with me. I would be replaced, and whatever space there had been for me would be gone. The Village would linger only in memory. All I could do was choose the state in which I would preserve it:


Spending an hour catching cherry blossoms with Mizuki and Yoko. Yuta and Ichiro randomly chanting “OK Blue Jays” in the hall six months after I’d taught it. Spontaneous after-lunch massages from Ami, Moe and Miki. Guerrilla hallway attacks from Ryota, Maho and Misa. Koji nearly in tears when I couldn’t eat lunch with his group. Legitimate difficulty wrestling Kenjiro. Shunsuke’s random intellect. Seita in the mornings. Rambina beating me up. Skids, my eternal fan. Midori: possibly the greatest person I’ll ever meet. Hideya. Yuki. Toko. Hitomi.


My students they told me that if you catch three cherry blossoms before they fall to the ground, you will find happiness. I caught three almost by accident, put them in my camera case, and lost them while getting ready to take a photo.


I took this to mean that happiness would come to me naturally, but I would lose it through carelessness