After eighteen hours I had managed to annoy all passengers within a two aisle radius with my squirming inability to sleep and incessant talking. When the seat belt sign lit for landing I felt the butterflies rise within me, and my thoughts raced as I envisioned a land filled with slanted eyes, white, powdered faces and men and women dressed in silk kimonos. My grandmother who is Japanese, my mother, and my aunt ushered me out of the plane and there I was, an alien in a country only my grandmother had ever truly experienced. At eight years old I was trapped in a narrow minded world where I was awed by the most trivial, superficial, things. Yet, little did I know that this journey would teach me to value memories above everything else I thought important.
We first arrived in Tokyo, Japan. The city was a sea of people that spilled magnificently over the edges of the sidewalks and wedged taxis between waves of crowds all fixed on their individual destinations. I watched them from our room in The New Sanno Hotel located at the heart of downtown Tokyo. It was so different from the states and on our first night I had already gotten tangled in the hotel’s sticky web of tantalizing gift shops and ethnic restaurants with indistinguishable menus. Eating in Japan had quickly become more of a lucky guess than a chosen request. I remember in one of the street side restaurants we visited I had ordered Miso Soup, a common Japanese side dish, and was surprisingly not given a spoon. Puzzled, I reverted to my straw which caused my strictly traditional grandmother severe public embarrassment. My lack of cultural familiarity led to several more faux paus during our two week vacation. I hadn’t realized how Americanized The Sanno was until boarding the only transportation, a creaking wooden boat, that took us across a lake to our next hotel in Kyoto. As we crossed that lake I noticed the glisten of the fading sunlight on the water’s surface, towering reeds engulfing the lake’s rim, and a heron whose wings cut the water’s surface as it flew. I absorbed the seemingly untouched elegance of my surroundings and became attached to this land that so deeply intrigued me.
The next week in Kyoto was nothing less than mesmerizing. I visited ancient temples, serene yet beautiful rock gardens, and parks where insatiable deer begged passerby for food. Later we met my second cousin Yuki and Great Uncle Hiroshi at a nearby restaurant. At the table I watched my grandmother talk to them in her effortless Japanese; it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. She spoke excitedly and smiled completely engrossed. At eight years old I ignored her mannerisms, not recognizing their significance.
I remember riding the bullet train through the district’s countryside and realizing that looking out the windows was pointless because the train’s velocity only permitted me a blur of green, hillside scenery. With my hand pressed against the glass I thought about our journey and how it was slowly coming to a regrettable end.
This was it. Japan and I would part ways and have to accept that our future reunion would remain a mystery to us both. Now I understand that the significance of my journey was to truly grow to appreciate family and the memories we are lucky enough to create. It is our memories that make us happy for the past and optimistic for the future, and that remind us of how important it is to cherish every moment.
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