A mountain, a song, a heartbeat.

We have exactly 9 weeks left until we leave Hirosaki, to move home to the beautiful Pacific Northwest. 9 weeks. That’s it. It seems like yesterday I was planning my 8 week running plan, and here we are, with almost the equivalent of that left here in this beautiful country full of wonderful people. Kyle and I will be leaving Tokyo on July 28th to start the next big adventure! People ask us every day, “How do you feel about leaving?”. Every day, it’s the same: Bittersweet. Yesterday, Kyle and I went to Yamarock: an outdoor music event held at the Iwaki visitor center located on the foothills of Mt. Iwaki. Imagine, a stage, people sitting and laying down on blankets, food booths, birds chirping, music playing, and in the backdrop, a giant freaking mountain!!

Yamarock circa 2013.

                                                               Yamarock circa 2013.

We have been a part of this festival every year since we first got here. For four years, Kyle and the rest of his band played together on the stage. This year, we were simply spectators. It’s also the place where I heard, for the first time I ever, Tate Takako play one of the best shows of my little music-loving life. A very strong, clean and clear voice that is surprisingly gentle, accompanied by her own electric piano. She says おかいりなさい (welcome home) to the Iwaki spring, takes a deep breath and begins to sing. I listened yesterday, like I had listened to her every year before that. Sitting alone on a rock just beyond the blanket I’d been sitting on moments earlier. She asks us to open our ears to the trees and the birds, so I shut my eyes and inhale slowly as I take in the sound of nature in the Japanese wind. It was beautiful, just like it had been the years before.

When her encore started, I put down my camera and motioned Kyle to come sit by me. He sat on a rock beside me, and I got up from mine and seated myself on the ground leaning against his knee. I then let the beauty of Iwaki surround me. I listened as the birds responded to Tate’s melody, glanced around at the people smiling, kissed the warm breeze with my cheeks, gazed up at the giant mountain beyond, and felt my heart start to beat hard beneath my chest.

The Beautiful Tate Takako.

The Beautiful Tate Takako. (Photo by breakandrunout.com)

I had recognized her last song as the same song she’d played in her encore my very first year watching her in 2011. A flood of memories and love for a people and a place where there had been none 5 years before, slowly and silently began to fall from my eyes and across my cheeks. The trickle held the sweet memory of our first year at this festival. Our best friends playing on stage with Kyle, surrounded by so much love from so many people who were excited to be in the company of Americans. They loved us just because we were us. We had done nothing special. All the “you can use chopsticks” in the world couldn’t hold me back from loving them in return. This was just them, using one of the only phrases in my language that they knew, trying their best to make a connection. Memories of the many people who have come and gone, and of the loyal caring friends who have stuck with us through everything and who continue to love us no matter where we are. People who have worked through pain and misunderstandings to remain true to us, and those who didn’t. I was reminded at that moment of the absolute generosity and hospitality that the Japanese have shown Kyle and me, five years later they treat us just the same. The deep and lasting friendships, with both Japanese and ALTs, that I will continue to have with so many of those I’ve met in Hirosaki and Aomori-Ken. I was in the moment, reflecting on all the moments that I have been blessed with these past 5 years of my life. My home.

Her set ends. She thanks us. It’s the last time that I’ll be here, at this mountain, with these people, watching her bow. I still can’t believe I’ve already had 4 moments like this. And I can’t believe that this one is the last one.

“How are you feeling about leaving?”

Today, I feel sad, and I feel grateful.

Iwaki Mountain from Yamarock.

Iwaki Mountain from Yamarock.

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