Over the weekend before finals got too rough, I had the opportunity to go to Nagoya in Aichi prefecture. During my high school years, I helped to start a sister-school relationship with another high school in Toyota (outside of Nagoya), and throughout that time I hosted 3 students and stayed with 2 of them, so I had 3 families I wanted to see.
My oldest friend, Chiharu, who I have now known for over 6 years, offered to let me stay in her house with her mother and sister. So, for a weekend, I bought a shinkansen, packed a bag, and headed to Nagoya!
I first had reservations- should I go visit everyone? It's so expensive to travel, what if things are akward since it has been so long..... honestly, they were the most ridiculous thoughts. I am so, so thankful for Chi's hospitality and the opportunity to visit my friends. After all, who knows when I will be back??
Friday night I met up with my second student, Miho, for dinner and some window shopping. She's a busy third year student in the lacrosse club, but she managed to make time for me! We ate miso-katsu, which is a local dish in Nagoya, comprised of fried pork cutlet with a sauce made with miso and sugar (mostly). It is AMAZING, and if you ever go to Nagoya, PLEASE EAT IT. It might be my favorite dish in all of Japan. Seriously.
After the necessary purikura, or picture booth session, we parted ways and I met back up with Chi, who drove me about 25 minutes to her house. (Distance is so relative- I couldn't believe how far she was from the metro station!)
Saturday Chi and I visited Toyota Minami High School, where she was a student and I visited twice as a member of the sister school program. She said afterwards that it was a little awkward and unusual for people to come back to school and visit, but because it was Saturday and most teachers weren't around, they were okay with us walking around (with a chaperon). I stumbled across a very old photo from 6 years ago hanging on the wall, of the first exchange ever- when Chi came to visit Texas! Afterwards we went to this amazing Japanese restaurant. They served traditional style set meals.
We went back home for a short break (during which I met her sister-in-law and niece and nephew). Then we left to go to a store in town primarily used for kimono shopping, dressing, and other preparations for the coming-of-age ceremony when girls turn 20. At this shop, Chi and I got to use an old-school spool and essentially make a coaster; however, we got a feel for the boring qualities of the job, and the employees showed us the string they used to make kimonos with- it would have taken weeks to make an entire kimono in those days!
At the store we also saw some gorgeous jewelry and browsed through kimonos, and I was forced to try one on. I treated it like my own miniature ceremony.
That night, the sister-in-law and her kids came back for a takoyaki party! Takoyaki is really similar to okonomiyaki- cabbage, a flour-based mixture to hold everything together, a few other ingredients- however, it is ball-shaped and has octopus inside. This was my first time making takoyaki, so it was so much fun! I love to cook and bake, and I definitely want to buy a takoyaki tray now!
Afterwards, Chi's older sister joined us in a nail-painting party. Her sister wants to be a professional nail artist, so she did my nails, and they were so gorgeous!
Sunday, my last day, Chi's mother treated us to the breakfast service at a popular local restaurant. We had delicious coffee, toast, and eggs before they saw me off at the station. It was so heartbreaking to leave them, they truly are my second family halfway across the world, and their hospitality is second to none.
When I got to Nagoya station, I met up with the mother from my third host student, Aiko- she is currently studying abroad in Canada, so I couldn't see her. I met with Aiko's sister and mother, as well as 3 other mothers from the exchange program. I was SO surprised! I remembered everyone's faces, but they ALL remembered me, and we so excited to get to see me (even if it was only for an hour). They treated me to (more) coffee and cake, and every single one of them bought these tickets so they could come up to the shinkansen platform with me to see me off and help with my luggage.
They presented me with a cute package full of snacks and a gorgeous headband, and even bought me so cold water for the trip. I boarded the train, and they followed the windows to my seat, where they didn't stop waving/making hearts/sending me kisses until I was out of sight. I think I was crying the entire 1 1/2 hour trip back to Tokyo!
The people I met during my trips in high school never stop surprising me with their kindness. These families are amazing people, and I am so thankful for their friendship and the ability to keep in touch with them. It's made me realize how hard it is to network and make friends and families in our global world- if I'm in America, I miss my Japanese friends, but when I'm in Japan, I miss my American friends. I'm not sure how I'm going to deal with my emotions when I return (soon) to the states, as being here for nearly 5 months during school I've made so many amazing friends.
I guess I'll just have to come back to see them again, won't I? (: