A ticket to Japan was never more than a pretty thought in black and white, a daydream that I often struggled to allow myself to see in true color. I had always felt that the country was somewhat intangible; it was a sliver of land anchored and isolated far out in the Pacific, a hundred miles from my reach, and a great mystery.
And yet, there I was, chosen to participate in the Youth for Understanding Student Exchange Program of 2008, taking my first steps onto the plane that would fly me clear across the ocean to the very place I had known only in my imagination. I remember the excitement of being independent. I was nervous before the departure. In fact, in my distracted state, I recall having rolled my luggage over a man’s foot rather roughly, and after he’d exclaimed in Japanese I had bravely apologized with an exceedingly deep bow!
Arriving in the Narita Airport in Tokyo thirteen hours later, I knew that nothing could go wrong. A week later, I was lost.
The afternoon had started as sweet-smelling and as warm as the one before it. My host sister and I were leaving the high school together on our bikes. As I followed closely behind her, I was pondering how quickly I’d settled into my new home, and how I’d taken an instant liking to my host within that short week. It was then when I witnessed the traffic light across the road turn red. Naturally, I halted on the bicycle, but I saw that my host sister, Haruho, had continued onward through the intersection to cross. I blinked, watching after her as she made it (barely) to the other side. The cars then shot nosily between us, blocking my view from Haruho completely and bringing the wind up to smack me forcefully in the face. I assumed she would be waiting for me patiently on the other side, but as the cars lessened and as the light had shifted back to green, I opened my eyes to discover she was nowhere to be found. I squeaked. I was alone.
I slid mechanically off of the bike, staring forward at the space where I had last seen her. I teetered there a long moment, stunned, and then I remembered suddenly the business card. “Yes!” I searched through my bag for the card my host mother had given me earlier that week. She was a saleswoman at the local Mercedes Benz, and hastily I searched the block for the company building, singing to myself to stay calm. When I’d found it, I propped the bike against a tree and scurried to the front glass doors. I poked my head inside, and the entrance was wide and spotless, with two monstrous cars on display beside an equally colossal window. Inside, I’d given the card to the kindly man at the desk and waited as he phoned my host, for she had not been working that day. My host other and sister arrived shortly after that, quite overwhelmed and happy to see me!
In the worst possible situation, I was able to rekindle my love for a country regardless that I had been rattled in the beginning. Simply, I wanted to share this experience with you, for it is memories like these that float in my mind nearly every day, and continue to drive me to tackle my major in Asian Studies.
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