Japan: the land of the rising sun. Ten years ago I fell in love with the language, when a good part of “summer in Indonesia” meant watching the un-dubbed versions of Doraemon, Rurouni Kenshin, and various other anime, or, Japanese animation. Several of my cousins had learned the language and visited the country, and as told me of their experiences with Japan’s culture, from bathing in onsen (hot springs) to omatsuri (festivals) to ikemen (cute boys), my curiosity grew, and I decided I would one day see Japan for myself. So last year I applied for the chance to do just so through a Sister City program my city has, and what do you know- I made it in!
Thus, three months ago, after my (shortened) yearly visit to Indonesia, I found myself waiting in the Narita International Airport for the rest of my group to arrive from San Francisco. The eight hour wait I feared I’d spend wandering aimlessly around the airport passed by fairly quickly, mostly with me simply relaxing at either of the two rooftop observatories, watching the planes and birds take off and land while trying out all the different drinks the vending machines had to offer. It was so peaceful up there, but when it neared the time for everyone to arrive, the calmness such an environment brought over me disappeared when everyone finally arrived- my visit had officially begin.
Later that night, we finally arrived at Nirasaki’s City Hall, where our host families and an enthusiastic greeting awaited us. I turned when I heard “Rizu”- it was my host mother calling. I was immediately taken home by my host parents and sisters, Kana and Yuka, who cared for me as a member of their own family. We played Wii Music, watched “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” and even went yukata shopping with Baa-chan (grandmother) together. Kana passed on to me her love for the Japanese band EXILE’s music, and also their main vocalist, TAKAHIRO. The last night of my stay, the three of us held a mini-piano recital, where we each played a short piece.
We experienced so much of Japan, visiting Hiroshima’s calm, almost somber peace memorial, Kyoto’s excitement-filled Gion festival, and Tokyo’s fashion-filled Harajuku district. We were even able to visit several middle- and high schools, where we got the chance to interact with other students our age- we visited their English classes and participated in various after-school club activities, such as taiko drumming and tea ceremonies. We ate various foods as well, from everyday meals such as dango and onigiri to special treats such as “flowing somen.” Though we didn’t stay long enough to watch the Nirasaki’s yearly fireworks festival, we played with sparklers, both the handheld sticks and the larger light-on-the-ground ones, with the same excitement and energy a child would have.
Those three weeks in Japan were so packed and eventful, yet “goodbye” came much too soon. Though communicating with my host family was a bit of a challenge at times (thank goodness for dictionaries!), I’ve learned that words aren’t always essential in building a relationship. My host mother especially touched me with her words: “Me, no English, but, I love Rizu.” Last summer’s memories made with old friends and new, and those made with my adoptive family, will never be forgotten.
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