Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Remembering Japan 500 years ago

I'm going to write just a little bit more about my long-lost AIESEC Japan friend, and then I'm going to stop completely before it becomes cocktail party fodder again.

If you've been reading this blog, you may remember that last week I got an email from this friend who had disappeared from the face of the earth when we were both in college. We had many happy times together in Japan, joining activities for AIESEC Japan, but we'd stopped meeting one day and then lost touch. Well, last week he'd found my name via the AIESEC alumni network, which has recently become active again with the upcoming AIESEC Alumni Asia Pacific Congress 2011 to be held in Manila from October 21-23, 2011.


Anyway, this friend, who was one of the first people from AIESEC Japan I met when I moved to Japan for third-year college, sent me one interesting message via Facebook. "Long time no-see," he wrote. "I apologize for not having contacted you for so many years. You are entitled to hit me twice when we meet again. But hopefully we will become good friends again later."

His message made me smile but I was just too busy to reply right away. Well, last Monday, I finally found time to reply. I was in the car stuck in traffic and on the way to work, and I wrote him back: "Nice to hear from you after 500 years. And I'm not angry about the no-contact. You were young and stupid then. Hopefully you're smarter now."

Of course I put a smiley face at the end of my message. I think I was entitled to a bit of a tease after such a long period of silence.


And on Tuesday morning, he sent back a reply that certainly proved he hadn't lost his wit and sense of humor after all these years. He wrote me: "I don't know if I'm still stupid or if I've become smarter now; but I'm certainly better at numbers, and I can tell you it has only been 24 years and not 500 years since we last met. I am also smart enough to have only good memories about you. I can still recall seeing you at Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto, in the fall, with lots of red leaves in the background. Can you?"


And this is where today's blog entry begins. I couldn't remember our trip to Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto, Japan's old capital and cultural heart, which is basically a day trip from Osaka, but this morning at about 3 AM I had another message in my In Box refreshing my memory: "Nanzenji is the famous Zen temple in the northeast section of Kyoto. When fall comes, I think of the time we visited this temple together."

Actually, Nanzenji Temple is a great favorite among people who truly love Kyoto, an enigmatic and mysterious city, for its serene beauty. It's not among the top 5 great temples of Kyoto, but it's one of the most important Zen temples in Japan. It was built as a retirement retreat by the Emperor Kameyama in the 13th century; and today, it is considered a great example of the aesthetic beauty of Japanese temples.


Anyway, my friend's initial message about Nanzenji Temple made me think about what I remembered of my first days in Japan, and especially those memories connected with this old friend.

"If I think really hard, I remember walking around your beautiful campus with you, during your university festival. And I also remember how we used to meet up in front of the Big Man screen in Umeda Station in Osaka," I wrote him. "And when did we first meet anyway? Was it at the AIESEC Input Meeting in Hachioji, or at some meeting in Nagoya?" I couldn't remember now, although I knew that we'd gotten along very well from the moment we'd met.

The reply came back quickly. "We met in Hachioji, and then we met again in Nagoya, where the AIESEC Freshman Meeting was held." And then he added: "Actually, even when I didn't know you very well, I already was your personal reception officer."

In AIESEC, a reception officer is responsible for coordinating all the logistics for arriving AIESEC trainees from abroad. These include meeting and greeting at the airport, arranging home stays and entertainment. But usually there's one reception officer for one AIESEC chapter, and not for one person alone. But, now that I think about it, it's true that he did become my personal reception officer. In those first few months of my stay in Japan, he practically arranged all my home stays with AIESEC members all over Japan; and this enabled me to meet and become lifelong friends with so many Japanese families and to truly get to know Japanese culture in a way that few people are able to do.

That first year in Japan, when everything was new and wonderful, and when Japan was at its peak because of a fantastic bubble, was full of truly happy days of learning and discovery. And remembering all these nice times certainly made me want to plan a trip to Kyoto again sometime soon.

* * *

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