Finding love in Japan
TOKYO, Japan – I did not plan to fall in love when I decided to follow my dreams of studying abroad in Tokyo. It was the last thing on my mind. And while my heart was swelling with joy, I secretly doubted whether it was what I really wanted. How could anyone resist an all expense paid opportunity to study a graduate course in Economics at one of Japan's best universities? How could anyone choose to follow one's dreams at the expense of leaving someone you have been loving for so long?
And so I made the selfish choice. I decided to leave for Japan in 2004. I was the last one to board the plane and cried through most of the flight because a part of me wanted to stay and forget the dream. I knew that leaving and being away would change my life and open wider doors.
When we lost our dad when I was 13, my personal dreams had to take a back seat because of responsibilities I had to shoulder a little earlier than most people my age. So I had my reasons why I wanted so badly for my world to be bigger and my life to be better. On the other hand, I knew that leaving would make hearts falter and perhaps, even forget.
At that time, I had been praying about settling down with someone really special. He did not want me to go but he refused to make me choose. I wanted him to say he would wait for me. I wanted him to insist that I stay. I wanted him to make promises about things being the same even after I am gone. I wanted him to let me soar and believe that I would still head back home to him.
I spent my first few months in Tokyo heartbroken and feeling the pangs of stabbing guilt for choosing to leave. And so before the first semester started, I decided to do the most difficult - I told him that it was unfair to make him wait; that I was letting him go.
I felt brave and scared at the same time for doing so. It took me a lot of courage to let go of something I thought was mine for the longest time. Yet I dreaded such loss just because I wanted this dream. And so when I heard that he got engaged to and married one of my good friends only a year after I left, my world turned over.
That was when Pido joined me in my journey as I found healing and love in many secret places in Japan.
Pido was one of the scholars who came to Japan with me to study MBA at Waseda University. He was friendly, easy going, smart and very opinionated. We did not have a lot of encounters in the beginning except that he would watch me from a distance as I cried while making an overseas call in the lobby of the hotel where we were all staying while studying Japanese. He would engage me in conversations that I would be least interested in because I was too preoccupied missing someone else. He became a good friend even while I was not prepared to return the kindness.
I spent the saddest summer in beautiful Sapporo, a city in the northern part of Japan that is known for its delicious seafood and miso-flavored ramen. In between the long bus rides along wide roads leading to the most picturesque mountains and farmlands, adventures in making tofu and buckwheat noodles as well as meetings with local government officials, I walked around the city for hours and wept through most nights as I grieved over that lost love. Pido was one of those who patiently called from Tokyo and listened to my sobs and often fierce wailing. He did not offer answers to my spiteful questions. He gave me the space to hurt and the moment to go through my pain in my own terms. He knew that his affection for me which was already growing stronger was not what I needed. Again, he watched me from a distance as I searched for the true kind of healing.
The weeks and months went by and I fought hard against the growing sense of alienation that kept me from discovering the joys of my new home. Yokohama, an hour train ride from downtown Tokyo, became my favorite secret place. Little did I know that I would not be going there on my own. Against a backdrop of what was once a quiet fishing and farm village that turned into a shopping street called Motomachi, I began to see Pido in a new light - standing in a place of strength. He started going to the same Christian church I had been going to which was a few meters away from my favorite street of coffee shops, restaurants and small stores. I saw how he slowly learned to entrust his life to God. His confession of weaknesses and how much he needed God's grace to overcome them, made me slowly admire the strength of his character. I would sit there and listen as he shared his faith to a college friend or I would be amused with the way he made us laugh with his silly jokes, witty narratives and how he encouraged our other friends in need. He befriended those closest to me and he introduced me to his world. Again, he watched from a distance as I slowly learned that this heart, no matter how wounded it gets, knows how to give in to that stubborn voice of a sincere friendship.
It is amazing how one season leads to another and I often wonder how this moment of spring has arrived so quickly after a quiescent winter. And what is even more surprising is how our hearts learn to heal, to let go, to say goodbyes and to accept abrupt endings. And then summer comes and ends as soon as autumn makes you long for chilly mornings and falling leaves. I would not let any of the seasons slip by without visiting Kichijoji. This interesting neighborhood lies a few minutes away from downtown Tokyo and remains to be one of the best places not known to many tourists. My favorite spot is the Inokashira park which boasts of long walking paths surrounding a lake against a charming view of cherry blossom trees in spring, lush greenery in summer, striking autumn colors in late November and withered trees seemingly sleeping in the coldest winter. Over lunch or dinner of Thai food in a restaurant nestled in the middle of the park, Pido and I started sharing dreams and discovered the joys of being together as a couple. Again, he waited from a distance as I took my time to know if it was my season to love all over again.
Minakami town, Gunma
No one knows exactly when the heart is ready to move on. It is one of life's exquisite surprises. One day, you are enjoying an easy solitude. The next day, you are ready to jump and be vulnerable again. Often referred to as one of the best places to go white water rafting in Japan, Minakami was where Pido held tightly to a small box that housed the precious diamond ring. The rough ride down the river and the way we got bounced around, almost thrown out of the boat as we braved the rapids and conquered the mighty jump from a cliff, all reflected his excitement to finally ask me the question if I was ready to join him in the rest of the ride for the rest of his life. I said yes on top of Mt. Tanigawa, one of the famous mountains in Gunma, lying a few minutes away from the river. I cried as he carefully slipped the ring in my finger and led me in a prayer of thanks. I indulged in that precious and undeserved gift of starting over.
In 2008, after a series of sunsets and rain showers in my life, I came back to my first home in Japan this time as Pido's bride who was ready to take chances in love once again.This man-made island in Tokyo Bay, known for its many romantic spots and uniquely designed buildings was were I stayed for two years when I was a student. From the seaside, one can enjoy a perfect night view of the Tokyo Tower standing tall and golden against the vivid glow of the Rainbow Bridge. And as I made my careful but eager steps as soon as the doors of the glass chapel opened, the look in my groom's eyes snatched me away; as if there was a graceful force that glided me towards the man I knew I almost lost. But because he waited and prayed and pursued and believed that such night would come, I finally realized the kind of love I really wanted all along. That moment I began to understand why the ending of my story had to be different and beyond what I had imagined. For the first time, I saw that beautiful stretch of lights that painted the young Tokyo skyline as an answered prayer of many fresh beginnings.
Sometimes I wonder if second chances are only for the brave or for the blessed. On those lonely nights, I was far from being brave and have almost forgotten that regardless of my situation, I was still blessed. A few good friends expressed love awkwardly yet patiently and stood by me as I let the tears come. I just wish I could always do the same to someone else. I wish I had all the words to comfort another broken heart. I wish I could make her trust that right where she is now is one step closer to healing. I wish I had the wisdom to make her see that while answers are scarce to her desperate prayers of finding love again, nobody could ever make her stop from believing that her turn will someday come; that there will be that bracing season of answered prayers; and that one day, someone will choose her, watch her soar as she reaches for her dreams and be in love with her just the same.
I know that my new journey of love will never be easy and perfect. But this time around, I am glad that I have chosen to stay. – Rappler.com
Avic C. Tatlonghari has been living in Japan for almost 10 years. She graduated from the University of the Philippines with a degree in BA Political Science and MA Public Administration. She is now a stay-at-home mom and spends her time taking care of her two-year-old daughter and writing stories about discovering her "little great joys" in Japan. You can follow her at www.littlegreatjoys.com
Image of Luce Mare Chapel of Hotel Nikko in Japan from http://sirius-lighting.jp