Airport encounters: the Japan connection
The sliding doors at Auckland Airport’s international arrivals terminal opened to let me out and into my new life in Aotearoa---an unfamiliar territory, a new country, a fresh start. Pushing my trolley with all my worldly possessions precariously piled up---including a Papua New Guinean tribal mask I insisted in carrying with me, perhaps as guard against all evil spirits---I hesitantly walked towards the waiting crowd, unsure of who was there waiting for me and how to recognize them. My jet-lagged eyes focused blearily on an elderly Asian looking man, holding a bunch of yellow flowers. Their vibrant color helped my eyes to sharply focus, like a laser beam, on my immediate surroundings and on the bearer of the flowers. A kind, smiley face, one of those with eyes squeezed shut when smiling. He stood next to a Western looking woman with very light blond short hair, beaming at me with a bright smile, full of warmth, one of those that reveal a perfect line of pearly teeth. I approached them more confidently, attracted instinctively to this friendly pair of people with no apparent connection to each other or to me. My instincts proved right. They introduced themselves as Linda and David, my new escorts who had volunteered to welcome a stranger to Aotearoa on a rainy early spring Sunday afternoon.
I looked at them closely this time, with the recognition of a kindred soul, and took an instant liking to them.
The sliding doors at Narita Airport’s international arrivals terminal opened to let me out and into my new but temporary life in Japan---a slightly familiar country to me through past short-stays. Pushing my trolley with my matching red suitcases neatly stuck up, I was on the lookout for my local escort. And there he was, the smiling Asian face of a short elderly man swimming on a suit several sizes too big, holding a piece of paper with my name on it. He bowed and welcomed me with a genuine smile, shining with a golden tooth, seemingly very pleased to meet me. He asked politely about my flight. I was self-conscious. In an effort to save much needed suitcase space I had decided to wear my bulky hiking boots, what would he think of me? I had come highly recommended. I remembered to pass on Linda’s and David’s special greetings at which his face lit up with joy. Much of our subsequent conversation was about Linda and David, their friendship and past visits to Japan. They were part of the same academic network that had brought Linda to Tokyo to lecture at the University I was now going to lecture for a semester. She made it happen. Her friend’s university needed an English-speaking visiting lecturer on cross-cultural communication and professional writing, would I be interested? She and David had spoken so often of their stays in Tokyo, where they lived, the fascinating variety and tastes of food they had experienced, the mesmerizing cultural nuances, along with myriad amusing anecdotes, all described in such vivid detail, in a manner so characteristic to natural storytellers. I said yes, I would be very interested.
Before I left, they gave me comprehensive instructions on just about everything, where to get the train from, what shops to go to, which restaurants made the best noodles, what to expect of students and how to find my way to and around the university. I had felt I had already arrived before I did.
My hosting Professor helped me move my suitcases outside the terminal and into the bus that was to take us the long way around Tokyo, from east to west, where my new home was to be for the following three months.
The sliding doors at Kagoshima Airport’s national arrivals terminal opened to let me out and into my brief visit to the south of Japan---an unfamiliar part of the country. Carrying only a small bag for my short stay, I walked towards the sparse crowd, knowing that my host would be there waiting for me. The tall and gracious looking Japanese man I had met years ago at an island studies conference was there indeed, warmly welcoming me to the south of the Kyushu island. The air smelled tropical and it was warm despite the advanced autumn time, warmer than in Tokyo in any case. I had come here to deliver a research seminar on climate change communication in the Pacific at a research center. While living in Tokyo I had sought opportunities to visit other parts of the country and giving seminars on my research was the most natural and all-expenses-covered way of doing so. I had received an invitation after writing to the Professor, and I took the opportunity to spend a few days exploring the region.
My hosting professor handed me some tourist information leaflets for Kagoshima city and the region and offered to take my bag. I took a deep breath, sensing the sea in the air, liking it instantly. It did feel like arriving at a Pacific Island destination.
As we left the terminal, my thoughts were of Linda and David, composing an email in my head already, telling them about my explorations of this part of the country.
The sliding doors at Kagoshima Airport’s arriving terminal open to let me out and into my new but temporary life in the south of Japan. I have been through this arrivals before. Pushing my rather uncooperative trolley with an assortment of baggage---China Eastern Airlines had forced me to split my clothes into two separate bags which had resulted in a quick and harassed purchase of an overpriced extra bag at the airport in Auckland---I walked confidently towards the waiting crowd, knowing that someone would be waiting for me from the Research Center that would be hosting me for the next six months. The young professor was there waiting for me with his Lilliputian family containing four adorable Lilliputs ranging from 9 to 1 years old, with their politely curious and welcoming smiles. Last time I was here, my hosting professor had dazzled me with his hospitality. He had taken me on a personalized tour including visiting the local volcano across the bay, a samurai’s village, volcanic black sand bathing, satsuma pottery making and various eating establishments. I had been charmed by the place and the unexpected hospitality. The seminar I had delivered during my first visit had been received well and I had been encouraged to consider applying for one of their international visiting research fellowships. I was flattered. I had stored the invitation at the back of my mind until the opportunity would arise for its realization. I am magpie when it comes to collecting countries. It had taken me three years but here I was, back in Kagoshima.
A few days before I left home to take up my fellowship, Linda and David had taken me to a farewell lunch at Yuzu, our local Japanese restaurant in Auckland, a place where we have been meeting regularly on Saturdays, sharing our love for Japanese food and discussing literature. They showered me with farewelling gifts---"something kiwi to send you off with," they had said.
As I exited the airport and into the intense sub-tropical humid rainy season heat of southern Japan, I could not help but start connecting the dots of my airport arrivals’ encounters. One dot leading to another and here I was ascending from the South to the North Pacific.