こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University
Japan

Saying Sayonara to Japan and All of My Friends

As much as I enjoyed every minute I was in Japan, I knew it had to come to end at some point. For most, the end of their adventure in Japan was the last week of July and the first few days of August. But, for me, I had an archaeological excavation that was part of one of my classes and ended August 7th. So, as one of the last to go, I had to say goodbye to everyone. Some left quietly on the first bus to the airport or to the train station; some left with a crowd of waves, and most of my friend group left to the ever dwindling remnants of our diverse crew of Europeans, Americans, and Taiwanese alike, with the token AIU student, looking sad but used to saying goodbye. Although I had planned on doing it for all my friends, I never remembered to take a final selfie with everyone before they left, so I can’t put in everybody’s pictures.

One of the first friends to leave was Eri (Japan): all of us played ping-pong together at the beginning of the year. It was a real full-circle moment for us, because we started off Orientation Week playing ping-pong, and the last thing we did together was play ping-pong. Eri was a really, quiet girl, but, apparently, she had one of the best English scores of her class: she just didn’t like talking. We had “developed” a game called “Circle Ping-Pong,” in which we would all run around the table while keeping the ball on the table, and whoever missed the table was out. The last two standing would play a best of two to determine the king of the table. All of us would play this game back to back for hours: playing circle ping-pong is one of my fondest memories of Japan.

This picture is one of the first pictures of my stay in Japan. This was the first week that we had all met each other. Eri (Japan) is the one taking the selfie with the glasses on. Next to her is Shinu (China/Japan), who was one of my other really, good friends while I was in Japan: she was one of my few AIU friends throughout my stay. Behind them are some familiar faces: Savannah (Penn.) and Martijn (Netherlands), and next to me is Danika from Alaska.

 

This is from that last week before my excavation. Once again, Eri is taking the selfie, and behind her is one of her and Martijn’s mutual friends, whom I met that day and whose name escapes me. And behind them is the familiar Trio of Martijn, Theo, and I.

 

This is effectively the same picture, but I like it, so I added it. It was an interesting circumstance because all of the guys, excluding me who wore chinos and a t-shirt every day, wore pretty “relaxed clothes.” Martijn usually wore a fancy button-down collared shirt and jeans, so this casual black shirt was rare. Theo had a wide range of apparel: he sometimes had a button-down shirt, khakis, and Sperry-like shoes, but he could also pull off this “bumming” outfit with the tank-top, swim-trunks, and shower shoes. On the opposite spectrum, Eri and her friend had the typical dressed up, loose fitting clothes that all the Japanese girls wore: she seemed almost over-dressed compared to us.

 

The weekend before I started the excavation, two of my best friends would leave the same Monday I left for the farm stay. It was mainly Jordan’s idea, as were most things we did (his charisma and drive in life were hard to turn down), that we watch all three of the John Wick films each night before they left. During those weekend nights, as we had many nights before, Theo and I sprawled out on the House Lounge sofa, but this time we were joined by a group of other friends to watch the films. My long-standing friend throughout my stay in Japan, Martijn, his good friend from Mexico, Jose, as well as Theo’s friend, a fellow Scandinavian from Denmark, Mikel. It was one of my favorite weekends of all time, mainly because it was so simple: we all just hung out and watched cool movies while eating an array of Japanese instant noodles and snacks. The final night was when a lot of our nostalgia kicked in, and we spent a good bit of time talking about when and how we all met, and, for most of us, it was on the first day, which made our imminent parting that much more depressing.

Both of these pictures were taken at around 2 a.m., but none of us felt very tired: we mostly wished we could stay longer. Jordan is taking the selfie, with his friend, someone I met a few days earlier, Satoshi, behind him: he was the tallest Japanese person I had met; we were the same height. Martijn and Theo are split by Jose, whom I spent a lot of time with that last week but not at all really before. He was pretty candid about America’s “strained” relations with Mexico under Trump: he was fairly charitable, since most other people were more angry about it than he was.

 

This picture was taken the night before Mikel left. It was confusing for me to talk to him, because he had the same name as my twin brother (spelled differently), but it was, in Danish, pronounced completely different, although he used my brother’s pronunciation for the “Americans.” He also had a girlfriend that came with him to study at AIU: her name was Nini, which was apparently a pretty common practice among the Scandanavians/Nordics. I had two other friends that were named Nana and Sisi. Mikel was probably the tallest person at AIU: I think he was around 6’6”, but they use a different system, so I never asked. He was also in the Danish military and had some pretty crazy stories about their basic training.

 

My best friend Theo saw me off to the farm stay before making his solo walk to the airport, because he said he wasn’t going to pay for a taxi. Our parting wasn’t as emotional as I expected it to be, but neither of us are particularly emotional people: we gave each other a bro-hug, mentioned hanging out or face-timing sometime down the road, and I ended by telling him to say hi to his girlfriend for me. With that, my class and I made our way to the farm where we would spend the next week excavating a local Junior High School that had been shutdown in the 80’s: the Junior High School was a known location of a Final Jomon site, which is Japan’s earliest pre-historic society.  Although we did a lot of fun and interesting things during the excavation, I’ll just keep it short: it was really hot and humid; there was a lot of digging; and, there was a lot of really good food.

 

Here is a picture of me in full Archaeologist attire. Since Japanese people are generally much smaller than Americans and Europeans, both my shirt and pants were 3XL, which did nothing for my insecurities. The hat, which was a hit with the other students and supervisors, was actually a women’s farm hat, but I just took the black-satin ribbon off of it and it looked pretty cool and archaeology-ish. The sign behind me is for the farm owners, saying it was their family’s house and it was also a boarding house.

This poster was really cool for our class. The school actually had it made for us as a promo for our work and our end of seminar project on our research/finding. This is a picture of our class trying to use a measuring device: it was probably the most tedious thing I had ever used in my life. There were so many things we had to do before using it, and it did such a simple thing: found angles to create squares. Alex (Russia) is the only other guy, and his partner, Honoka, is the one looking through the lens. My partner, Nanaho, is supervising us: in actuality, she was much better than me at levelling the device and finding accurate measurements.

 

This is a group photo of all the excavators. From the right is: Nishimura-san (a Tokyo Univ PhD. Student), Honoka, Nanaho, Saki (our Manager), me, Aleks (Russia), Sekine (Wasada Univ. Undergrad), and Kuma-san (Wasada Univ. Grad student).

 

 

This was the day before I left and my last day of excavation. Most of the labor had been done by then, so it was all detail work, measurements, recording, and scale-drawing. Negishi-sensei (the lead archaeologist and our professor) let me take a solo pic inside the dig site. It gives you some idea of how small the site was, but we still managed to spend 8 hrs. every day for a week digging and making measurements. It was a lot of tedious work, but it was all very interesting.

 

The night before my last day, I went to Akita City to watch the massively popular Kanto Festival. The Kanto Festival is an annual Prefecture wide holiday that is celebrated in the heart of Akita City. All along a huge, 4-lane highway called, Kanto street, thousands of spectators and vendors lined the entire length of the street. The main attractions were community teams of drum and flute floats, which were following behind the Kanto performers. Each paper-lantern mast would have logos that represented local communities or businesses. Our own AIU Kanto team performed as well. The sounds of the flute were quite shrill, and the shouts that were used to keep the drums in rhythm echoed down the street and off the buildings. After the performers had spread out to their respective spots, the Kanto team would form a circle and start their performance. Each Kanto mast weighed anywhere from 50-150 lbs., and many of the performers would support this with one hand, their waist-belt, or, for the truly talented, their forehead.

 

This gives you an idea of how many people were lining up to watch, and this was the furthest point of the festival. In the picture you can see the drum platform, on which the flutist and the singers would stand, as well as the drummers. This was taken as all the teams were lining up to start as dusk appeared.

 

 

This is a close-up of one of the teams of Kanto performers, with their mast lying on the ground in front of them.

 

 

 

 

Here is a picture, courtesy of one of the AIU Kanto member’s Facebook, of one of AIU’s Kanto performers transferring the mast, all while fighting the wind.

 

 

 

This is a great picture, again courtesy of the aforementioned Facebook profile, of AIU’s personal Kanto mast, with real flame-candles in each paper lantern. You can also see the vast line of Kanto teams performing. When I was walking back to the beginning of the Festival street, I saw one of the heavy masts fall into the crowd: luckily no one was hurt, but it is always a spectacle that elicits large cries and shouts from the onlookers. It is some what like a tree falling: very drawn-out and dramatic.

 

That night, I finished stuffing all of my clothes and souvenirs into my suitcases and said goodbye to my AIU friends and the full year international students. The next morning, I woke up early to eat my last meal in Japan: a bowl of cafeteria ramen. I met with “the few, the proud, the August 7th crowd.” With the exception of Atsuki, three of us went to Tokyo together on the same plane. I was in a different mood that day, whereas, the night before, I was very sentimental and nostalgic; that day, I was basically ready to go home. I was not looking forward to the long, twenty-hour total flight back to North Carolina. At Akita Airport, I bought some final souvenirs for my family and hung out with Ben and Mary, who were the other two flyers to Haneda, Tokyo.

This was taken the morning of our flight: I had shaved that morning, so I looked particularly pale. Atsuki was probably my best Japanese friend while I was in Japan. He loves Formula-1 racing and dune-buggy racing. He is also on the Kendo club, which is Japanese fencing with wooden swords. He is planning on becoming an English teacher for High School students and spent most of his first semester looking into ways to reform the Japanese primary education system, which he believes does not allow enough flexibility for students to explore academic interest and doesn’t put enough attention on English acquisition programs.

I apologize for the creepy face: it must’ve been a bad angle. In between Ben and I is Mary, really Hsu Ching-Hua, from Taiwan. I actually met her mom and dad in Tokyo at Haneda airport. Their English was pretty good, and her dad helped me get a limo-bus to Narita, from where my flight to O’Hare would be. Funny story: I saw her right before my taxi showed up and she asked if we could share, and I said yes, so she ran to Komachi Lobby (on the other side of campus) to cancel her cab. However, before she got back, my taxi showed up, and I didn’t know enough Japanese to ask him to wait for my friend. I later met her at Akita Airport’s terminal for Haneda, and I profusely apologized and she forgave me.

 

This is a pic of Akita Airport, as you can see from the hill outside, which says AKITA. It was the smallest airport of all the ones I had been to throughout my trip to Japan.

 

 

This is a picture of Haneda airport (one of their two terminals, each of which was about the size of O’Hare). I had just hugged Mary goodbye and was waiting for my limo-bus to come. It was my second time to Haneda, and it was just so huge. The ride to Narita took 45 minutes, and I finally got to see the vast urban sprawl of Tokyo City proper. As someone who has never spent any time in a proper “metropolis”, Tokyo was impossibly huge: the highway bridges were like 20 feet off the ground and hovered between vast expanses of tall buildings and apartment complexes.

 

 

 

This is a rather picturesque view of the skies above the U.S. before we arrived over Greensboro. This was a tiny jet, especially in comparison to ANA’s new Star Wars themed BB-8A that I landed in O’Hare in. In contrast to my flight to Japan, where I couldn’t sleep at all throughout the entire 40 hour process, on the flight back to NC, I slept most of the way.

 

 

This is a grainy pic of Greensboro before landing. I felt a tinge of comfort being back in NC, and I was ready to see my family and my dog.

 

 

 

 

Although it was sad to have to say goodbye to all of the wonderful people that I had met during my stay at AIU, it was by far, the greatest experience of my life, so far. I look forward to going back sometime in the future, but, for now, I have to make sure I graduate on time! Anyway,  I would like to sincerely thank all of the people who helped me get to Japan, not just my family, but also Dr. Widdows and Ms. Wright in the Global Education Department, who were so patient and helpful during my long process of applications and bureaucracy, Stephanie Joynes and the Career Services Department, who helped through the application process and gave me encouragement, Dr. Dinmore, who has helped me in so many ways during my time at H-SC, Dr. Irons, who took me to get my passport finished, and Dr. Eastby, who got me started on the whole process back in my Sophomore year. Without them, and many others, I would not have been able to realize this dream to go to Japan, and, for that, I am eternally grateful.

日本はとても面白かったです。日本に来年もどります。それまで、さよなら。

Sorry for my feeble attempt at Japanese, but I plan on going back to Japan after graduation, so, until then, goodbye!

 

 

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