Last week, I went out to Tokyo for a few days.
On Thursday, I stayed with a friend from high school who lives in Yoyogi. She moved to Tokyo in January, and works at a company in the online art business. Her apartment was very cozy, her work hours were long, and (it being Tokyo) her cost of living was significant. Yet she was living her dream–to be with her partner in Japan, working for a community that she cares about. She treated me to a delicious izakaya-style dinner despite her modest budget, and let me stay the night.
On Friday, I went sight-seeing in Tokyo with a friend from my JET Program days. After JET, he started doing research in the linguistics field at a university in Tokyo, then passed the university’s graduate school entrance exam, so he will start grad school in April. He was working 4 part time jobs to save up for grad school as it is difficult for foreigners to get loans.
Pressing my typically vague itinerary (“Let’s hang out in Tokyo!”) upon him, he took me out on the town to visit the Sky Tree, watch the sakura (hanami) in full bloom and visit Kaminarimon at Asakusa, and stay the night at his place in Urayasu. Along the way, we briefly got a little lost, found soba flavored ice cream (for which he had to sacrifice another flavor to absorb a maccha [green tea flavored] ice cream cone), and had a delicious sushi dinner with the whole restaurant to ourselves. In other words, I impinged and relied on him for the whole day. Although I had a ton of fun, I hope he did too–in between having to watch out for and clean up my messes. He even saw me off the next morning.
On Saturday, I went to Ikebukuro to meet up with a long-time friend from high school who is living there now. We hadn’t seen each other for over a decade. In that time, he had worked for Microsoft, gotten married, and obtained his master’s in computer science. We had a delicious lunch at a standing sushi bar, then went back to his place. I finally met his wife, who is a delightful lady, thoughtful as well as talented in many arts and crafts. It was a joy to see them happily married, and we chatted away the whole afternoon. In the evening, we had ramen before I went back to Kawagoe.
On Sunday I toured Kawagoe with Y, who is married to my rotation sponsor, and their 3 year old son. Or to be more accurate, she took me on a tour of the city, visiting historic parts of town, seeing the sakura blossoms, and exploring museums. I was treated to lunch (washoku!!!) and all sorts of goodies. I had a great time, and learned all about the history of Kawagoe and Japan. She is expecting a child in 3 months, and taking care of an energetic 3 year old already.
I speak of my friends partly to record the details of my trip, but mostly to illustrate how they are all working hard, in their own way, to keep their lives meaningful. And, although they are already working so hard, they welcomed me as a friend in ways that I could not have imagined. I wished only for good conversations and a corner to lie down for the night; not only did they open their homes to me, but also went out of their way for me, a silly traveler, already so lucky to just be here, with unending generosity. I learned again the meaning of “gambaru,” renewing my desire to pay forward the kindness that has been shown to me in so many ways.