This post is the second in a two-part series.
We arrived at the airport four hours before our scheduled departure to find the same massive lineups, scattered groups of people camped out on blankets, and endless notices of cancelled flights...we prepared ourselves for the worst. And as if he had a warning bell for when his kitties needed him most, our hero, once again, swooped in to save the day. Yoshiki not only pulled unimaginable strings to get us on that flight that night but he actually came to the airport to personally ensure that we took off safe and sound. Our eyes lit up and our anxiety subsided as soon as we saw him walking towards us. He truly was our angel. Another major aftershock struck while we waited to board but this time, Nikki and I just locked eyes and continued our conversation. It felt as though, in that moment, we'd finally started to adapt the Japanese demeanor we so appreciated and admired.
The time finally came to head to our gate and say goodbye to Yoshiki and once again, it was extremely difficult to do. We told him we didn't know how to begin to thank him, we loved him from the bottom of our hearts, and we were now family. We also told him we wanted him to join us in LA as soon as possible as we were worried about his safety here in Japan. We gave him a big, long hug. And then, we left.
Still in a daze, we anxiously waited to board the plane with Yaz. We were all too exhausted to speak and honestly, I think too afraid to say anything that could jinx us from taking off on this flight. Half an hour past our boarding time, they finally made an announcement. We held our breath while the attendant spoke in Japanese. Yaz told us to grab our things and line up because boarding was about to begin. I could finally let out a huge sigh of relief. This was it. We were actually leaving! As I walked down the runway and climbed the stairs to the plane, I expected to feel a happy wave of relief but a much different feeling struck me. All I could think was that while I was excited to be leaving, there were millions of people who live in this country still suffering and at risk. As I buckled my seatbelt, I was overwhelmed with the sense that I was leaving family behind. Instead of happiness, I felt my heart breaking as I looked out that tiny airplane window and watched the ground grow further away.
Right then, I could finally look back and see what I had taken from this shocking experience through opened eyes. Obviously the magnitude of the situation and extent of disastrous consequences of the earthquake was unlike anything the world has seen in this lifetime. And obviously, it was surreal to be in the midst of it happening on my first trip to Tokyo. But what I found most stunning, was the remarkable demeanor of the Japanese culture. I couldn't stop thinking of the calm, brave faces of the Japanese people that took care of us like their own for the past two days; these incredible people, whose families and loved ones were scattered throughout this devastated country, who have no flight out to catch because this beautiful country in turmoil is their home. Amidst the chaos of the past 46 hours, I had been so dependent on their strength to muster any of my own that I'd actually let myself believe that they weren't worried. I needed to believe they weren't worried so I could convince myself not to be and to stay calm. But now, I look back and it hurts my heart to think of how much they have been fighting their own feelings and fears just to make us feel better. These people were so unnecessarily selfless and loving towards us, in a way most people in the world aren't even willing to be with their own families. My gratitude and love for them is endless and as will be my efforts for their relief. For them, my new Japanese family and their home-country in need, I will wear my heart on my cheek. Please do the same and spread the love for Japan.