Coming into Toyohashi Station without a pack of nervous teenagers dragging their suitcases behind me feels odd. I haven’t been here since the last home stay exchange program I coordinated in 2005. Too long.
And though the building remains the same, the reception is missing. No broad smiles behind the exit turnstiles, no waving arms or bows. No bus waiting to jam us in and cart us off. No speeches or formalities to begin home and school life in Japan.
Everyone is still at work. This afternoon I’m free to walk through a downtown I’ve never seen before even though I have disembarked here numerous times since 1998.
This time I will check into hotel life. The Toyoko Inn—a newer one than the digs I had on Kokusai-dori, Tokyo—is still fresh and fully up to modern speed. Touch screen computers in the lobby show me the sites of interest that I might visit during my stay, offer restaurants of all kinds for my choosing and suggest where I might shop.
A great—and inexpensive—Japan-wide chain for the traveller on the move, Toyoko Inn has everything anyone might need: full breakfast with coffee, free internet service and printing in the lobby, Wi-Fi in all rooms, laundry facilities and more. Their website says it all.
On checking in, Manager Kayoko Kumazawa immediately appears at the receptionist’s side. From the back office she’s overheard my greetings in Japanese and has come to assist. In flawless English she welcomes me to Toyoko Inn. Returning my passport, she’s curious. “Why have you come to Toyohashi?”
“To visit friends.”
After a few days of steady traffic in and out of the hotel to pick me up and whisk me away she will ask, “How is it you have so many friends in Toyohashi?”
I’ve been blessed. There is nothing in the world quite like returning to dear friends after a long time away. However, my colleagues, after almost 20 years of exchanges between Japan and Canada, are not ordinary friends. They are my Japanese family. In some ineffable way, I’ve come home.