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07/03/2016

A Day in the Countryside

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If you’ve ever watched anime or read manga, you’ve seen the scenario. Lots of young students gathered together at some remote location for an overnight trip. It’s almost always a time of warm nights. Maybe the protagonist falls off a cliff, and her love interest somehow ends up next to her. Or maybe there’s a test of courage. Or maybe it’s a sports-themed and the entire team has to get super-powered before some big competition. Whatever it is, it’s happening overnight.

Known as a 合宿 (gasshuku), these training camps/overnight trips are a quintessential part of most foreigners’ imaginary Japan. At least, it was a part of mine. This weekend, I got to participate in a gasshuku with my tennis circle, and this experience (as expected) defied my preconceptions while (happily) exceeding any and all expectations. Our location? Hadano—a small town located in the hilly田舎(inaka—countryside).

My trip began in darkness. Class ended at 6 pm, but dinner, bathroom breaks, and general delays resulted in us arriving at Hadano Station at around 11 pm. From the station, we had to walk 30 minutes to reach our lodging for the night. A few streetlights lined the street, and we walked in the quiet of the night. A few of the male club members challenged each other to じゃんけん (jyanken—rock-paper-scissors) on the condition that the loser carried the others’ bags for a set period of time. Another member tried to scare us with ghost stories that just so happened to have taken place in Hadano. It was a simple, carefree walk, but it was also a long one. By the time we reached our destination, we were thoroughly exhausted and quite sweaty.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for us, the night was only just beginning. After everyone showered, one of the members produced a DVD of Annabelle, a horror film, to my abject horror. We spent approximately two hours of screaming, yelling, and sharing mildly violent reactions. We clutched each other’s hands and stomped on the floor. Retrospectively, the film was really quite silly, but being able to be afraid with one another was an extremely fun (and tiring) experience. After the film ended, we retreated to our respective rooms and went to sleep. There was no test of courage, lost classmates, or hidden confessions.

We woke up early the next day to play tennis. From 7:30 am, it was already clear that was going to be a beautiful, sunny day, which means that it was also guaranteed to be a hot, horrible, and sweaty day. It was. We practiced often, and I tried my best to not make a complete fool of myself on the tennis court, and also did a wonderful job at failing at just that. I missed the returns, rarely served properly, and spent a lot of time resting/hiding in the shade. Nonetheless, it was incredibly fun and unbelievably fulfilling. I was able to get closer to other members in my club, and I was able to do so much more naturally. There’s something intimate about spending the night with people, and there’s almost an inevitability of getting closer to one another.

And that was all. Some might find it boring, and perhaps as a story (or a blog), it is. But as a memory, it is unforgettable, and as an experience, it is one of my most learning ones. There was no drama or excitement of puppy love or hot-blooded training. There was, in many ways, nothing but a quiet, and intimately shared contentment. But that, in the end, is more than I could have ever imagined or asked for.

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