In the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, I attended the Asian Studies department open house. As a then prospecting Asian Studies major (now declared) I was excited for the opportunity to meet fellow Asians enthusiasts. Unknown to me, I would meet a person that would eventually play a vital role in my future.
Looking around the room I was surrounded by unfamiliar faces. However, one face in particular caught my attention: an Asian one. I felt nervous at first, but I mustered up what little confidence I had and went up and spoke to her. Aya Nakayama was her name. She was an exchange student from Waseda University in Tokyo. This was her second time in America, her first being a year of high school in Detroit. Through a joint program offered between Waseda and Furman, she was able to come here for a semester, and she was excited for the opportunity. After talking to her for awhile about her life and Japan, we went to the dining hall together and got to talk even more. The night was the first of many as we quickly became fast friends. The next few months were filled with classes and working hard, but there were several trips to Walmart, a Halloween party, and a dance show that helped break up the business. Fast forward to May 2012, and you will find me doing something I had only joked about: hanging put with Aya in Japan.
I talked to Aya prior to the May X trip about meeting up, and she was happy to oblige. After trading several messages over Facebook while in Japan, we got everything worked put. On Monday following our trip to Sonya, myself and a few close friends met up with Aya at Akihabaru Station. We had been to the area before with the Waseda students, but this time we had a different Waseda student with an entirely new plan in mind. She led us through some anime stories, which was perfect for our nerdy needs. After shopping for awhile and resisting many economical temptations, we went to something I did not imagine we would have had time for on this trip: a maid cafe!
Japan is known for its cafe’s with waitresses dressed as cutesy maids. Aya had never been to one before, so she thought this would be a great new experience for all of us. A maid guided us to our seats and she quickly began explaining the different options on the menu. Aya (thank goodness we had a native speaker) had a very lengthy conversation with her. While they talked, I was able to glance around the room. Every few feet their was a high pitch speaking girl with poofy maid outfits. The combination seems a bit strange to people foreign to the culture, but I can testify that the result was something extremely adorable. We eventually ordered our respective items, I chose iced milk and a chocolate bear cupcake. When the waitress brought our drinks, she had us repeat after her (once again, Aya’s bilingual fluency came in handy). We all made a heart with our hands, ten said “Moi, moi, Kui!” Food followed a similar procedure, and tasted really good too. After we had finished eating Aya got her and myself a picture with a maid. The concept was fun, but I turned as red as a tomato when these maids were talking to me and I had no idea what they were saying (Aya, thank you.) after the maid cafe we moved on to a few more stores, then headed back to Ikebukuro for dinner. The activities were pretty straight forward, but it was the conversation that made it all worthwhile.
Being in a foreign country is a very unique experience. It has been nice to be part of a class and share this experience with others, but I have also enjoyed branching out and meeting new people. When I met Aya in the train station I had mixed feelings. I was happy to see someone so familiar, but it was so strange to realize that this foreign land to me is her beloved homeland. In addition to that, I am in this new country, and I have a friend here already that I met from the other side of the world. As I continued to think about it, I realized I have friends from all over the world, and that is a really exciting prospect. I will forge even more friendships over the years, but I will always cherish the ones I have now. It had been such a blessing to hang out with Aya again, and I know that since she was an exchange student for only one year it will be a long time before I get to see her again. Luckily, the next time I visit Japan I know exactly who to call. And no matter what happens between now and then, we will always share these unforgettable memories.