Why are goodbyes are always so difficult?

For many people the answer is simple: a goodbye marks the definitive end of a time spent with someone. What once was is now no more, and before you part for the final time, you have this final chance to say what you want to say.

But it’s never enough time.

Hasta la vista, adieu, or sayonara, the meaning is the same across all languages as is the difficulty of saying the words. It never gets any easier, but learning how to part ways properly is one of the most important skills a person can develop.

You never get a second chance at a final farewell.

Graduation’s Arrival

In an earlier post I talked about how graduation loomed on the horizon of my third-year students’ lives. And with each day that harbinger of departure grew ever closer.

On March 13th, that day finally came.

The graduation ceremony was a beautiful one, rife with raw emotion and heartfelt moments.

Homeroom teachers called the names of their own students one by one to receive their diplomas.

Appreciations from All

The former Student Council President gave a speech thanking the teachers, parents, and fellow students for making the past three years meaningful and memorable.

The first- and second-years all rose to sing for the gradutes as well as thank them for their guidance as senpais, those above them in rank and status.

This post-song message was delivered through smaller phrases divided amongst the remaining student body, a touch which I found acutely sincere.

Gratitude was expressed by the PTA and all the other parents as well, and many members of all parties cried at one time or another. The melancholy of a farewell was in the air, though it did not remain for long.

After the ceremony, all the sadness was dispersed, replaced instead with celebration of what had been and what was to come.

Sendoffs and Sayonaras

“Miokuri” translates to “sendoff,” and it is here that the graduates’ final goodbyes are said.

All students, teachers, and parents line up outside the school, creating a corridor of friends and family. Then the graduates walk down this proverbial aisle whilst they receive a final inundation of praise and congratulations.

Many younger students in the aisle pass flowers and a message to a graduate, and the same is done by the graduates. Rather than talk about their thankfulness, they demonstrate their gratitude and have it reciprocated in kind.

Through the miokuri, the graduates find the joy in their graduation rather than the heartache. By the time they reach the end of the aisle they are smiling that it happened rather than crying that it is over

The End of the Aisle, The End of the Line

At the aisle’s end, just about every student remains to laugh, take pictures, and enjoy each other’s company one final time. During this time I meandered through the crowd joining in the celebrations with some of the students, and I took pictures with many of them.

A student says goodbye with a special note. She valued our time together and wanted to say a proper goodbye.

Some students gave notes to me, others wanted to shake my hand, but all of them were excited to see me there to send them off. I don’t know where all of them or going, and I doubt I will see many of them again. Yet in that moment, as we shared definitively final conversations, none of that mattered.

All that mattered was the appreciation we shared for each other. And there was more than enough to share.

Slayer’s Swan Song

In the week that followed my own farewell to my students, I had unique opportunity to witness the final performance of metal powerhouse Slayer in Japan. And here I saw a goodbye more sentimental than any one I will ever say to my own students.

Slayer has been touring for 38 years, and Japan has been a mainstay in each of those tours. But now Slayer is doing one final world tour, a time to pull out all the stops and bring down the house at venues all over the world before they set down the guitars, drum sticks, and microphones for good.

And March 21st, 2019 saw the final show in Japan.

I bought my ticket to the Download Japan Festival so I could see Ghost live for the first time, but the prospect of seeing the final appearance of Slayer proved almost as intriguing. I had never been much into them, but to see the Swan Song of a band almost twice as old as I am was too great to pass up.

Slayer's final Japanese performance was incredible both in power and emotionality. It made the goodbye at the end all the more impactful.

The performance was electrifying to say the least, and the connection between the crowd and the band was incredible. People were head-banging, jumping, moshing, singing, and letting the music take control in the most visceral sense of the term. I didn’t know any of the songs, but the energy in the hall was impossible to deny

With the show’s completion, the time for farewell arrived had arrived.

The lights went up, and the band members went to the front to throw out guitar pics to the crowd, though the lead singer, Tom Araya, did not follow suit. Rather, he stood at the front of the stage, looking out at the crowd.

Araya stood at one side and gazed out at the crowd as they chanted “Slayer” and maintained the energy he and his bandmates had instilled in them. He slowly moved across the stage, always gazing out at the crowd, his face pensive and somber.

Eventually, it was just him on the stage, a man alone with a sea of his fans for the final time.

Then, in front of this legion of adorers, he thanked them. He thanked them for their continued support over the years, for their enthusiasm for his music, and for what it means to him, before finally saying farewell and leaving the stage for good.

And he said it in Japanese.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela

For a final farewell to the fans in the Land of the Rising Sun, Tom Araya said goodbye in their native tongue. And this gesture was the most meaningful moment of the festival.

This moment had been lying in wait for three decades, and its delivery was in the most heartfelt way imaginable.

The Last Word

Seeing this, I truly understood the importance of a proper goodbye.

I said goodbye to students and was touched by the tidings I received. Well wishes were shared and we parted ways, but our relationship was brief.

Our time together was barely eight months, a flash in the pan compared to Slayer’s 35 years of musician/fanatic bond. Their parting was at such a high tier that it made me realize how a goodbye can truly mark the end of your time with someone.

It’s the capstone to the pyramid, the final cut in the film, the last brushstroke in the masterpiece. To do it right takes finesse, and that takes a lifetime to master.

Whether it’s in English, Japanese, Swahili, or any other language, goodbyes are always a signal of the end, and it is ever-paramount to make sure they are done correctly

Because you never get a second chance at a final farewell.

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I had to say many goodbyes this month, so it felt appropriate to unpack what those experiences meant. Seeing Slayer’s farewell concert cinched it for me, and I found that it really helped me understand what goodbye really means.

I hope that my examination of goodbyes was to your liking, and if you want to see more, join our mailing list! And share the story with others to keep the discussion going!

Thank you for your continued support. I can’t overstate my appreciation.

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Song of the Week

Memoirs of a Gaijin Playlist

“One Last Time” performed by Christopher Jackson and Lin Manuel-Miranda in Hamilton: An America Musical

Read all about this week’s anthem on Wednesday here!

If you would like to listen to this song or any of the other prior Songs of the Week, check out the Spotify Playlist linked above!

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