Journey To Japan

A dense selection of sake from Rihaku headquarters in Matsue.

I woke up the next morning a little sore from all of the dancing and had the slight film of a hangover. Like my first day there, the house was buzzing with activity. I ate my breakfast with the family like I did every day since I arrived, got cleaned up and said my goodbyes to Yutaka and Haruka who had work. Our parting was short, sweet, and sincere. Grandma Setsu had long since left to attack the day, but I knew she wished me well. I love her spirit.

An abandoned shrine in Fukutomi-cho, Matsue near the Suzuki’s.

The ride to Izumo Airport was a solemn affair. There wasn’t much said, because there wasn’t much to say. This was goodbye and I believe we had come to love each other as family deeply, without pretension in our short time together. There had been a running joke on the trip about Japanese people’s propensity to wave one goodbye until both parties could no longer be seen. I had seen numerous examples of this, from leaving our bus driver and seeing our chaperons off on the train the day before, the Japanese would actually do this and seemed to enjoy it.

A photo of Shigeru Mizuki Road in Sakaiminato, Tottori from my day trip with Yutaka and Daigo. It’s home to the museum to the legendary manga artist of the same name who is largely responsible for the depiction of modern yōkai (demons) that are popular in manga and anime.

When we arrived inside the Izumo Airport, everyone gathered around and took one last group photo around the Prefecture mascot statue “Shimaneko”—a Pikachu-esqe cat that wears a crown that resembles the great Izumo Taisha temple and whose name is an amalgam of the word “Shimane” for the home prefecture and “neko” which means “cat” in Japanese. When it came time for us to pass through customs, I explained to Natsuko that I had left final gifts for the family in Daigo’s room but found unraveled and undone. I could barely speak at the thought of leaving my new family. I managed to pull it together before leaving, but that’s probably a gross overstatement for what actually happened.

Once we got past custom and settled in for the long ride home, the images fluttered through my head of Japan as they always had. This time, however, the images were mine and rooted in something real and tangible. I did what I set out to do. I experienced Japan on my own terms and it gave me an immense sense of accomplishment that only rivaled my sense of loss. Firmly fasted in my seat, buckled and eyeing the stewardess for the first round of wine, I looked out of the window and saw something absolutely beautiful and amazing. As the plane built up speed, in the concourse, I saw a myriad of hands waving furiously behind the glass. Like always, they kept doing so. “These people really are too much” I thought to myself. Of course that was after I had stopped waving myself. By then, I was firmly in the air, leaving one home for another.

In Japanese the word “Sayonara” which is cheekily used in English as a substitute for “bye” is actually a stronger word than the way we use it. “Sayonara” actually means “goodbye” with the intention of not seeing one again for either a long time, if at all. Hunkered down for the long flight, I resolved myself to use another expression, mata kondo ne or “until next time” because I know I’ll be back and that’s more than I can say before. Much more.