The Kawaguchis

We left Kyoto on Friday morning en route to Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city by population.  Yokohama is not an exciting city by any means, but our sole purpose of visiting was to meet my former host family Koji and Erisa Kawaguchi and their two children from when I studied abroad there one summer 9 years ago.

I found this awesome Japanese style hotel/long-term residence for only ¥5500/night, where we spent our final days in Japan.  Not only was it equipped with a fridge and portable stove (with cooking utensils available for rent, free of charge), we even had our own, private washing machine!IMG_6369 IMG_6372 IMG_6371 IMG_6373

Since the beginning of our trip in March, Chris and I looked forward to this weekend the most. The plan was to hike to the top of Mt. Fuji for sunrise with Koji, his son, and another American student he had hosted 5 years after me.  That Friday night after arriving, we excitedly packed our weekend bag for the epic hike, only to wake up the next morning to the news of an approaching typhoon.  I’m not going to elaborate on how upset, disappointed, and frustrated we were, but our hearts sank low, especially since we had just solidified our plan to return home that upcoming Monday.

At first, we only hoped that the Japanese were being overcautious (as they typically are) and we considered doing the hike ourselves even if Koji backed down, despite the bold, red danger warnings on websites.  However, a quick weather search led us to an animated gif of an approaching swirly ball of death: IMG_6376


That morning was calm, but it was reported that there would be sporadic rain with the gnarly downpour on Sunday.  Winds would gust up to 50 mph.  The peak of Mt. Fuji often reaches freezing temperatures (it was forecasted to a low of 4ºC that day), and the thought of spending a day and evening fighting the winds and snowstorms quickly turned us off.  (After that weekend, Chris found this article related to the typhoon. Yikes!)

It was a clusterfuck of a morning.  Since we were no longer hiking Mt. Fuji, Chris spent his Saturday in the hotel room for some much-needed time catching up on work.  On the other hand, I, along with Megan (former host student) and her friend, met Koji at the subway station as planned.  Koji at the last minute decided to take us on a day trip to Nikko, a popular tourist destination for the Japanese located high in the mountains, about a 3 hour drive from Yokohama.  Due to its high elevation, the air was crisp and refreshing, which was a pleasant getaway away from the heat and humidity.10588986_10201730603106769_772244693_nIMG_6381

Since we couldn’t hike Mt. Fuji, we hiked another mountain in Nikko instead.  However, we arrived at the foot of the mountain at 3:20pm, when everyone else had just descended. Flabbergasted, others warned the hike would take a total of 5 hours roundtrip, not to mention the typhoon that was on its way.  Although we continued the hike anyway (which was brutally and painfully steep filled with paths often obstructed with boulders and tree roots), we only made it to Station #8 (there were a total of 10 stations).  When we reached the station, it was 5pm and slightly drizzly and slippery.  With darkness rapidly drawing nearer, we decided for the best and began our descent.IMG_6386IMG_6389IMG_639210609334_10201733249092917_610036569_n10603139_10201733267693382_99146479_n

As we descended, it began to rain. 10595933_10201733248612905_1785539369_n

The last hour of our hike left Megan, Roquette, and I whimpering like sad dogs.  We trudged on in pitch darkness and fog, convincing ourselves that we were “almost there” when we were nowhere near our final destination.  Hunger and muscle fatigue took its toll; we were drenched in the cold rain, and our hands became hard fists of ice.  Even with my poncho, I was miserably wet, as the wind showed no mercy and my even my GoreTex shoes could not withstand the gushing rain.  With each squishy step down the mountain, I gratefully told myself how calling off Mt. Fuji was a wise choice.

Because we also took a different route down the mountain (safer but longer), we ended up being further away from the car than we would have preferred.  We reached the car by 7:30pm and spent the long car ride back to the Tokyo/Yokohama area defrosting our bodies. Koji dropped me off at my hotel shortly after midnight, and we planned to meet the next day so I could hang out with his family.

Sunday, our final full day in Japan and our final day of the entire trip, was spent in Yokohama with the Kawaguchis.  We met at the Landmark Tower Plaza, where Pikachu was tearing shit up.20140810_113525 20140810_114217

After lunch we made our way to the Kawaguchi’s house, where I had once resided for two months.  Chris bonded with the children in the car.IMG_6402

Once we arrived at their house, Koji took us to meet the neighbors to see if they remembered me.  After all, it had been 9 years. And they DID remember me!  Mr. Muroka proudly showed us his bonsai collection, which turned out to be phenomenal.  IMG_6408 IMG_6409 IMG_6411

Apparently Mr. Muroka is the proud artist of a number of award-winning bonsai plants (see framed awards below).  We felt fortunate to have been given a tour of his bonsai garden.IMG_6413

Chris posing with an award-winning bonsai:IMG_6415

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the Kawaguchi’s house, where I spent a few hours speaking the Japanese language I thought I had forgotten.  To my surprise, a lot of my vocabulary and grammar came back to me.  YAY!  Chris also satisfied my cruel desire of making him try natto for the first time.  I don’t think he’ll be trying it again. (Chris’ note: Agreed.)IMG_6418 IMG_6419

Finally, it was time to go.  It was honestly the perfect way to end the trip in Japan–hanging out with my Japanese family, reminiscing on good ol’ times and getting lost in translation along the way.  10592339_10201738670068438_2019860857_n

As Chris and I waved goodbye from the front of their house, Koji snapped this photo below.10596171_10201734946695356_213454915_n

For some reason, this photo stirs a simultaneous feeling of bittersweet happiness and sadness within me.  It represents friendships and bonds all over the world, with long periods of time between each personal encounter.  Despite all the new stories, growth, and change, the memories and friendships will continue to last.  It had been 9 years since I last saw the Kawaguchis, and here I was now hanging out in their home, conversing for hours as if nothing had changed in a foreign language I had not used in 7 years.  The next time I see this photo with the Kawaguchis, our sentences will begin with, “Remember the time when…?” And who knows when that time will be.  Hopefully it will be less than a decade when that time comes.

I have this same feeling for everyone we met throughout this trip–family and friends from Hanoi, and all the new friends from around the world we met in Southeast Asia.  I know I’ll meet them again.  Although our bodies and faces will have aged, our memories from some of the most amazing times in our lives will prevent us from being strangers.

I’m already looking forward to meeting all my new friends again in whatever country it will be in.  I’m especially looking forward to revisiting all those countries again, along with the new countries we’ll be seeing in between.

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