Friday, November 13, 2009

Last days in Matsuyama

I was able to share the very next day.  While walking around Matsuyama Castle Garden, I came across a 70some year old man who was so overjoyed with meeting me, he volunteered to be my guide.  Everywhere we went, he proudly pointed at me and introduced me as “American (then he said the bank name I used to work at) business girl”.  He was overwhelming and absent-minded at times but I knew how happy he was to meet me so I stayed with him for several hours while he took me back and forth around park.  I was very grateful to him and tried to show it in any small way possible.


Famous Dōgo Onsen- supposedly the oldest one in Japan

I spent a few more days in Matsuyama exploring the city on my own during the days while Ryota worked and talking to him in the evenings about his travels while his girlfriend and grandma cooked dinner.  On my last day, I bid farewell to Ryota in the morning when he left for work.  It was difficult to part.  I gave him a big hug and sincerely wished to see him again. 

I walked around the city all day and came back to his house in the early evening to pick up my bag.  There was no one else home but his grandmother.  When I walked through the front door, she met me by the entrance.  And then she said the most magical word:

- “Okaeri”. 

It means “welcome back” or “welcome home”.  The proper response is “Tadaima” which means “I’m back” or “I’m home”. 

I was so overwhelmed by her welcome that I barely whispered it back.  Now, I realize that to Japanese it might be just a saying which is so overused that the special meaning loses its uniqueness.  But it was the first one for me.  I almost cried when she said that one simple word to me.  It was just like Hisae’s mom making me my very first bento box (back in Hokkaido).  It was nothing special to them; in fact, Hisae said that her mom felt bad that she gave me such small and ordinary box.  But to me, it was very special.  I felt I was part of their society, even if it was just my imagination.  Being welcomed with Okaeri felt the same.  I was in Japan, I was in Japanese home, I was “welcomed home” by a Japanese obā-san (grandmother).  I was on the highest cloud. 

I packed my bag and left a small gift and a note in the room where I stayed.  Obā-san walked me outside and wished me good travels. 

Barely lit by the house’ lantern, she waited by the door until I turned the corner.  Overwhelmed with feelings I slowly walked in the dark and cried.  To be so ultimately happy felt almost unfair.  Knowing that my father was working long hours to raise money for his family, my mother was spending lonely days at home missing her children, my older brother was struggling to find a job in New York while helping out my best friend to babysit her child, my younger brother was working at a low-paying fast food stand in Israel while learning a new language, my younger sister was trying to find a full-time job teaching English in Taiwan to pay off student loans, my best friend was working full-time in New York and raising a child while waiting for her husband to come back from Ukraine; knowing all this, I was still able to put aside my feelings about them and allow the feeling of happiness of the moment pour into me and overflow.  That was a selfish thing to do?  May be but may be not.  At least they know that I can be happy at moments like these.  And may be being happy for me will give them enough strength to face tomorrow with a smile.


  1. Of course we want you to be happy. Your happiness is our happiness. Just like you worry about our worries. We gain happiness knowing that your trip is bringing you such moments or joy. That's what family is.

  2. i look forward to saying "okaeri" to you when you come back to hokkaido someday!! the loft will be awaiting you. ;)