First of all, I give my thanks to the Japanese-American Society, namely Patty Woods and Lydia Kanki. I would also like to thank James Benson, Mr. Takeshi and my lovely host families the Miyakes and Matsushitas. Through their kindness I was allowed to have one of the best experiences in my life. The connections and wonderful people I met on this exchange will never be forgotten.
This was not my first time visiting Japan, nor will it be my last. Our journey to Kurashiki was somewhat strenuous, yet held an air of quiet anticipation. Once we landed at the airport, I quickly felt the excited buzz of returning back home. I had just left my other home from America, yet this land called to me in a different way. Every person we met along the way was kind and curious. From their kind smiles to the polite gestures of communication, the effort they conveyed to make sure my group and I were welcomed was enormous and wonderful. When we finally met up with James Benson however, the group was exhausted. I was energetic and excited to get my taste of some Japanese food after so long. We went to a small bar/cafe and ordered a variety of shared dishes, consisting of succulent meats and flavored noodles.
It hadn't hit me yet that I was in the country of the rising sun, my senses somewhat dulled due to the extended trip. Not having slept in over twenty-eight hours made everything dream-like and numb. That didn't deter my enthusiasm however, and instead led me to anticipate the next day with new challenges. My Japanese was rusty but managed to come across smoothly, and I wanted it to improve even more.
Immediately the next morning after breakfast, we made our way to the Paco cafe for the host family introductions. The Japanese kids going to New Zealand and America sang us songs and did a wonderful dance routine. We in turn did the Cha-Cha slide and sang the "Cup Song" to them. Everyone clapped and laughed while eating food. It was such a light and joyous atmosphere that I had no doubts my stay was going to be a wonderful one. My host families were the Miyakes; they included Yoshiko and Kenji. My father Kenji was at work and could not attend but my host mother Yoshiko (I called her Okaasan at that point) was a sweetheart to me. She dressed elegantly and had a calm demeanor which I could never replicate if I tried. My other family, the Miyakes, were a youthful, rambunctious family that included my father Kousei, my mother Tomomi, and my three brothers, Shouei, Tenfuu and Yamato.
During my stay with the Miyakes we visited many places and had lots of snacks. Traveling by Shinkansen to the Okayama Castle and its garden, it began to thunder violently. I felt the streets were going to flood! Every day we had succulent sweet peaches and grapes with lots of pudding since Okaasan realized it was my favorite dessert. The biggest surprise was when my host brother Keisuke came down to visit from his pilot training in Tokyo to visit with me and play with our pet beagle Ryoma! We walked together with my father every evening around the countryside and before I knew it, when the weekend arrived he showed me tickets to Tokyo! It was his gift to me! On Saturday morning Okaasan and I rushed through the mountains to the airport and made our way to Tokyo on our flight. When we arrived we travelled by boat to Tokyo Sky Tree and bought our tickets. It was one of the most breathtaking sights I've ever seen; they even had a restaurant on top! That same night there was a fireworks festival and thousands of people flocked to see the two-hour performance. We barely made it to our hotel by midnight.
The next day went by super fast. We traveled to Akihabara and managed to snag a time slot at a Cat Cafe! They were precious and so sweet. After shopping around at a Ghibli store and visiting shrines we had to bid goodbye to my brother Keisuke because he had to stay to finish his training. I finally hugged him goodbye and thanked him for his kindness. I will never forget the view of the city at night as I flew slowly away on the plane.
The Hiroshima trip impacted me greatly, mostly because the calm, but serious, atmosphere of the town of Hiroshima's peace memorial gave me shivers at the great history still lingering in the air. Though somber in memory, theoOkinomiyaki and Itsukishima shrine trip lifted my spirits with hope for a brighter future.
When we met the Mayor and traded families at the city hall, my mother Yoshiko bade me farewell and the Grandma Matsushita picked me up with Yamato and Grandpa. Immediately I was pushed into a busy young family life greeting my father who is a massage therapist and my mother who is his assistant. Every day we were either going to the pool, visiting the hot springs, or touring the O-Seto Bridge. I met all three of my brothers and managed to beat every one of them at a Naruto video game. We laughed and ate out every night, telling jokes and learning about each other. Tenfuu had to leave for New Zealand but my mother and I talked about history a lot. I even helped Yamato with his English homework. Much more happened that I cannot type down, but they were beautiful memories.
When it was time to bid everyone goodbye I cried the hardest out of everyone. The day trip in Kyoto was wonderful because we got to sing karaoke with Benson and even see Geisha! We stayed up very late singing, laughing and shopping and lived every moment to the fullest.
The two families that became a part of my life will stick with me forever and their smiles and kindness I treasure every day. When we bid goodbye to Benson at the airport we hugged him fiercely because he, too, became a part of our family and journey. His contributions and jokes to ease us back into the culture were a huge help to all of us. To this day I send my host family packages every few months and letters filled with love and thanks for what they helped me learn and accomplish. Japan has taught me so much and I will once again return to say hello to those smiling faces in person someday. I look forward to a brighter future with this goal in mind.