In March of 2003, Kiryu International Exchange Association paid my way to Kiryu, Japan, where I met the people with whom I had been working via e-mail to pull together each summer's program for Columbus State University's English Language Institute. I didn't know it at the time, but the 2003 summer program would be the last one I would direct for the English Language Institute. By the end of the year, my husband had accepted another position within The Nature Conservancy at Ft. Hood, Texas. We moved back to Texas at the end of 2003, having lived out of my home state for ten years, first in Minnesota and then in Georgia.
This trip to Japan was a wonderful experience for me, and I hope that some day I can return to Japan for a longer visit. Years before, I had read several travel narratives of Matsuo Basho, Japan's famous 17th century poet, and I became very interested in Zen Buddhism and in haiku. So this visit to Japan, although short, was a dream come true.
During my visit to Japan, I was privileged to meet the parents and family of a young man who had participated in the previous year's summer language program in Columbus, Georgia. The young man, Hiroaki Takagi, had died a few months previous to my visit to Japan, and I paid homage to "Taka" with his family at his grave site. Meeting the family--grandparents, an uncle, parents, and brother and sister--in their home afterward remains one of my most precious memories.
Barbara Kamiyama, an American who has lived in Japan for over 25 years, helped arrange many of my activities, the highlights of which were: a visit to Hikobe Manor, an old family home of a lord of Kiryu which has remained in the same family for sixteen generations; a tour of Kiryu Washi Workshop, where Masutaro Hoshino, one of Japan's National Treasures and washi artisan, carries on the laborious tradition of paper making; a tour of Toshogu National Shrine in Nikko; and various meetings with former participants of the summer language program.