Tears stream down my face as I hug Eriko good-bye for the last time. I am leaving my exchange family to go see the rest of Japan in the next week… I’m excited and devastated all at once.
Eriko isn’t somebody you forget. Eriko is my best friend, even though I’ve only been with her twice. Eriko is sugoi. Awesome. Period.
I never realized what being a foreign exchange student, or having one, truly meant, and how it really changes you. I never realized that real, long-lasting friendships can result from a simple exchange. I truly underestimated the experience. I’m just glad I didn’t overlook it.
Though the times with our friends were fun, having a night on the town after school or whatever, what I treasure most are the times with Eriko and her family. What I do remember is the day I spent at the Kyoto Studio Film Park with her family: Eriko, her mother, her father, her older sister, and her grandmother. I was sad that her younger brother, who had been shut in his room most of the week I was there studying for exams, couldn’t come with us. He didn’t really come out with us at all, now that I remember. But I still liked him very much. I laugh remembering how my host father would have to yell his name (starting quietly at first, then sort of calm, then shouting) just to wake him up in the morning, and sure enough, within 10 minutes or so, he’d stumble downstairs, hastily dressed, with slightly tousled hair, his glasses on straight and a sheepish smile right in place for the giggling American sitting at the breakfast table.
As we ride the train into Kyoto, I cannot stop my tears. I open the letter she wrote to me as a final goodbye, and I know how hard it will be not being able to see her until next year, and then after that, possibly never again. I take a deep breath and glance out the window into the gloomy grey skies as our train pulls out of the station at last.
Japan is beautiful wherever I go. Every area has it’s own kind of charm, it’s own story to tell. Kyoto was a town growing around its great history and tradition; Tokyo was a bustling place where you could find anything to do, encounter anything going on, both hectic and peaceful, depending on which of the districts you may have been visiting. Fukui was somewhat of a cross of the two. But what I loved best was Tokyo’s park.
The group didn’t matter when I could look between the Tokyo trees, and over the lake where a few swans sought each other’s company. A pressing sadness, a loneliness overwhelmed me, and yet I relished the feeling. I couldn’t mind being lonely in such a setting, a setting obviously overlooked by those around me. That park is one of the places most vivid in my mind and will remain one of the most vivid for years to come, I bet.
And yet I wanted the opposite of seclusion. I wanted someone for me. And as I approached the isolated gazebo in the middle of the lake, each step on the bridge’s wooden planks, I prayed there’d be someone there, sitting there, waiting for me.
I wanted to see Eriko again. I didn’t want to leave Japan, the one place where I truly felt at home. I just wanted to stand amidst the soothing water and never leave.
But all good things must come to an end.
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