Likki 2008-2019

I have never looked up the Kanji to write ‘Omiyage’, but among the countless precious discoveries that our 2008 exchange held in store for us was the observation that omiyage meant more than just ‘souvenir’. As ‘omiyage’ our hosts, the Japanese delegation, had prepared a CD with a thoughtful selection of their favourite songs for us. Having never heard any music from Japan before, I was thrilled and immediately fell in love with one song in particular: “One more time, one more chance” by Yamazaki Masayoshi. It was apparently not a new song, but had recently regained popularity for being played in the 2007 movie “5 centimetres per second”. A movie about deep fondness which follows two people through three stages of their lives.

Fittingly, a deep fondness is also what I’ve felt during the three trips I have so far made to Japan in the last 10 years.

In 2008, I had just finished school and feeling excited to start exploring Japan, I eagerly practised greeting forms. So while I was prepared to learn about a new culture, it was however not long after arriving in Tokyo - where masses of people buzzed around frictionless while artists practised step dance on a street corner - that I actually felt like I had just come out of a cave (and gazed at a new world).
The resourcefulness in the details of everyday life stunned me: sinks build atop toilet tanks to flush with grey water; clockwork public transport going into every corner of the country; staying at a place to eat instead of having everything to-go; boutiques selling beautiful etuis to transport one’s own reusable chopsticks.

What made this exchange truly priceless however, was the personal exchange: visiting a Kindergarten where small children climbed around trees freely and playfully exploring their own responsibility; meeting dedicated ‘vorantia’ working with youths and organising outdoor activities; and experiencing a home stay with a wonderful female Shinto priest and her family were just a few of the highlights, that made me want to stay.

In 2013 I had finished by Bacherlor’s degree and was finally back for a 5 month internship at Bosch in Hamamatsu – a coastal city of ca. 800,000 people unknown to most outside Japan, which harboured a myriad of beautiful and unique surprises like finding a huge surf and skate community that included half my colleagues (!). Over the golden week holiday, I had convinced a friend to fly over from China, and so we strapped my Tokugawa Ieyasu mascot to my bag and travelled through Honshu stopping by Himeji castle, Okayama garden and many more places. We joined several Matsuris and discovered that every town no matter how small or remote, harboured its own little delicacies and wonders worth visiting.

In 2015, it was my Master’s thesis on Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA), that brought me back to Japan. While delving into the Tokyo student life at Waseda University, I was introduced to JICA, the Japanese Aid Agency and met inspiring alumni of JICA’s volunteer program, who had served in remote places from Malawi to Myanmar for two and three years. Beyond interviewing them for my thesis, I learned how their experiences had made lasting impacts on their life choices back in Japan. Impressed by this treasure of untold stories, I felt that, again, I awarded with a lot more that I had come for.

Now in 2019, it’s been four years since I graduated and since I last visited the country. Luckily, my Japan experience is not a story in three parts but a series with the next episode in the making (and release date hopefully, this year)

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