Friday, April 12, 2013


When Leiya went to the States for high school 8 years ago she was a little less than 16 years old.  The plan was that she would go to American high school for three years as a regular student rather than as a foreign exchange student.  (She has American citizenship.)  She spoke fair English but was somewhat shy.  I went with her to Ohio and spent 4 or 5 days getting things arranged for her with bank accounts and class schedules and then I left her with a host family that welcomed her with open arms... but I still remember lots of tears as I stared out the airplane window on my way back to Japan and my first words to Tetsu when he met the airport bus was...

"She's not going to be able to do this.  There are too many requirements for passing classes and graduating.  She'll never be able to read all the material and write essays and reports.  She was already balking at the homestay family's rules.  I left her crying at the airport and she has no family and no friends to lean on."

It was a gloomy ride back home from the bus station but Tetsu comforted me (and himself) by saying,

"So... Even if she doesn't complete the three years, it will be an experience and she'll gain something from however much time she is there.  We'll just have to hope she'll make friends and be strong enough to keep on trying."

Leiya would occasionally let us know about classes (hard, but the school was letting her focus on art), and the home stay family (strict, but ever going out of their way to give her new opportunities) and friends.  FRIENDS!!!!  Leiya has made FRIENDS!!!!  I don't know when I've been more relieved!   

Leiya's best friend was Erin. and from quite early I heard about Erin and Erin's family.  Pretty soon Leiya and Erin were going to the Asian supermarket after school, or Leiya was staying overnight at Erin's.  One year passed, two years passed.  Tetsu and I finally met Erin and her family when we went to Ohio for Leiya's high school graduation.  Yes!!!  Leiya really blossomed (with lots of help from friends, neighbors, church members, host family, teachers, counselors etc.) and she was able to graduate on schedule and be accepted to a college.

(Leiya and Erin during their high school days.)

Even though Leiya and Erin went to different colleges, they stayed in touch and Erin's family have let Leiya stay with them during vacations (and taken Leiya with them on vacation!), given her a summer job, and have made the trip to see Leiya's art at college exhibitions.  They've advised her and comforted her and helped her in numberless ways.

I am absolutely positive that without Erin's friendship and her family Leiya would not have had such a fulfilling high school life and may not have even completed American high school.

And now Erin is in Japan!!!  She is working here for a year and her mother is visiting for two weeks.  AND the two of them came up for a day trip to Nikko!!

Not that much time to show them around and repay them for all they have done for Leiya.  The best I could do was show them Leiya's Japanese life.  We drove by Leiya's kindergarten and elementary school and jr. high school.  I took them to visit Tetsu at the convalescent home (a surprise visit for Tetsu.  He didn't know that they were coming!)  We ate the specialty of the town... pot stickers... not the most glamorous of meals...

They visited the house and met all the cats and the dog and they saw Leiya's bedroom (though it is now my sewing room).  We did make one tourist stop to the shrines of Nikko and we did visit Leiya's favorite cracker shop where we sampled lots of rice crackers.  And then back to Tokyo they went.

It was wonderful that I finally got to spend time with two people that are so close to Leiya!  I wish we had had even more time together!


Allie said...

I can't imagine how hard it would be to adjust to life in another country, far from family and friends - so glad Leiya made such a good friend, and that she got to come to YOUR country too!

Marlene said...

That's fantastic that you were able to spend time with them on Leiya's turf!! I'm sure they loved it. and Leiya has obviously had an influence on Erin as well! Working in Japan for a year. can cook for her again!!

Nancy J said...

Tanya, I know how much you would value this visit. Our Japanese host daughter lived with us for all of 2002, her Mum came to visit us in November that year, joy all round.we thanked her so much for entrusting us with the care of Mayumi, and in return she thanked us, in Japanese!! for the care,love, friendship and more we had given. In 2011 Mayumi and her friend Akiko came again, a very short 5 day holiday. Happiness and tears all over again.Families who extend the hand of friendship to one from another country are very special, and Leiya was so fortunate to have such wonderful friends and family in US. Greetings from Jean

HOA Mgr Lady said...

How much alike we all are and so different ! Tell us more!

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully written, Tanya.
Erin and her Mom look like sisters!
Best regards from Gail in Wa State

Mim said...

This post made me cry. Very touching.

Deborah said...

We have exchange students from Japan every year at our local high school. We have been a host family twice. They are usually here for one year. I always marvel at how well they do and especially because they are away from all that is familiar and their friends and family. What a wonderful time you must have had introducing Leiya's friends to her Japanese life and what a hard decision you all made when Leiya came to North America for school. An amazing experience for all of you I am sure. It is often in the hardest things that we get the greatest rewards.

Julie Fukuda said...

We have enjoyed visits from those who befriended our kids and parents of kids that we befriended. Sometimes it gets hard to tell where family stops.
What a great opportunity!