またね! Mata ne!

the SJMC Japan team takes a selfie at the Tokyo International Airport

The SJMC Japan Team spent an extra-long, sentimental Saturday saying “See you later” to Japan, as well as to each other. Most were not ready to leave, although some were excited to get home. A few extended their stays by a few days.

A final lunch, some last minute souvenir shopping and a trip to the airport were the cherries on top of a delicious treat of a trip.

Last, nostalgic day in Tokyo

hama-sushi, a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant in tokyo, japan
Conveyor-belt sushi restaurants allow you to order from a tablet at your table before receiving your food via a conveyor belt that zips through the restaurant.

The team met our Asia Institute guide, Jennifer Norris, bright and early in the hotel lobby on Saturday morning for an itinerary meeting. We then checked out (after doing a thorough check of our rooms for forgotten items – cough, Aspen, cough), and split into groups to grab one last lunch and do some last-minute souvenir shopping.

The young men headed out to grab a bite at Hama-Sushi, a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. They returned to the hotel around 1:30, after demolishing about 25 plates of sushi (all for about $10 USD each, or about 1,400 JPY).

book cafe, a coffee shop that provides hundreds of free books and manga to browse as you eat
Book Cafe provides hundreds of free books and manga to browse while you eat.

Meanwhile, the young women headed to Book Cafe Uzuki, where we enjoyed coffees, teas, baked goodies and sandwiches while surrounded on all sides by hundreds of colorful Japanese books and manga. The cafe had several handmade items made from tatami mats, and many of us purchased coin purses, glasses cases and zip pouches to take home.

As noon approached, we said goodbye to Sofia Psolka, who left on an early-afternoon flight and had to head to the Tokyo International Airport before the rest of us. We began to feel the finality of the trip creeping up on us as the group began to dwindle: we had already said goodbye to Alaila Coleman in the wee hours of the morning as she headed for an early flight, as well as Dr. Gilbert D. Martinez, who left to join his family in Okinawa. The day before, we had seen off Reese Zeigler, who was extending her trip by a week.

“For my extension of the trip, I’m going to teamLab Planets in Tokyo, as well as the Tsukiji market,” Reese said. “In Kyoto, I’m going to an onsen.” An onsen is a Japanese bath house.

In an effort to stave off the heartache of leaving Japan (and to spend as much of our yen as possible), we also stopped at a Lawson’s – one of the many convenience super-stores Japan has to offer. We stocked up not only on snacks and drinks, but also stationery, trinkets and even beauty products.

With ice cream cones, frozen mango balls and popsicles in-hand, we made our way back to the hotel to await our bus to the airport. We said goodbye to Maya Hicks, who, like Reese, was extending her stay and needed to go check into her new hotel.


Jon Zmikly led our considerably smaller group to the airport, where he bid us farewell before heading back to Kyoto for a couple of days (oh hey, did you know Jon was going to stay a few more days? And that he had to take the shinkansen to get there?)

Jen stayed with us until the bittersweet end. As we checked our bags and headed to a long security line, she waved as the last of us headed through to the metal detectors. We made our way through, then grabbed a quick bite (udon, gyoza and ramen were among the choices for the final Japanese meal) before heading to our respective gates: Jamie Gonzalez and Allison Binkley boarded a flight to Seattle, while Felicity Guajardo, Bre Citizen, Maurice Epps, Aspen Plummer, Brianna Archer, Gabby Fiorenza, Zoe Simonovic and Oli De Los Santos headed to Los Angeles.

a nap at the tokyo international airport
Zoe catches a nap at the Tokyo International Airport before her flight to Los Angeles
the SJMC Japan team takes a selfie at the Tokyo International Airport
Maurice, Aspen, Oli and Felicity waiting for their flight
Brianna checks into her flight.
three girls sit on a suitcase to try to close it
Gabby and Zoe help Brianna shut her suitcase

Of course, having made the long flight once already, we were more prepared this time around. However, a few students still expressed weariness at the thought of being cooped up for so long (especially having spent the last 10 days walking six-plus miles per day!).

“We did it once, doing it again won’t be too bad,” Maurice said. “I just want leg room. Please, God, let there be leg room!” Others planned out their trip so they could maximize the time.

“I’ve been downloading more shows to watch on the flight home, and I plan to write a bit of my feature stories on the flight,” Felicity said.

Similarly, Sofia had plenty of in-flight entertainment, as she mused about the meals onboard.

“I like to ignore time and absorb myself in a book or movie,” she said. “I am curious about the in-flight meals. I wonder what we’ll get this time.”

Most of the gang spent the flights home playing catch-up on sleep, exhausted, nostalgic and excited to get home to family and pets awaiting us at the Austin and Houston airports. By 11 p.m. Saturday CST (and a solid 30 hours after we had woken up on Saturday in Tokyo – talk about a long day!), all the travelers had made it back to Texas. Cats and dogs rejoiced at our homecoming, and many of us stopped for a quick taste of home at Whataburger.

Sofia’s brother Lazlo meets her at the airport
Gabby’s cat, Kitty, rolls over with excitement to see her.
Jamie’s late-night snack of chicken tenders dunked in tons of gravy.
Jamie’s dog Buttercup is overjoyed to see her.
Brianna’s cat, Gizmo, gives her a hug and a cuddle.
Aspen snagged a snack at Whataburger. “Look at all that grease!”
Aspen’s pup celebrates his homecoming.
Allison’s cat, Ellie, has been stuck to her side since she returned to Texas.
Oli and Maurice also headed for the big orange W upon landing in Texas.

The experiences shared, the bonds formed and the memories created have woven a tapestry of joy and nostalgia for the group, and the departure was a bittersweet moment.

“I’m bummed to leave Japan and go our separate ways,” Felicity said. “A lot of memories have been made and I hope I can come back soon.”

However, we are taking solace in the fact that we didn’t have to say a final goodbye just yet. The group will convene once more at the end of June for a final presentation for family and friends. We’ll share our experiences, our memories and, surely, some laughs as we recall our adventures and mishaps. Until then, mata ne!

Additional reporting by Bre Citizen

Jamie Gonzalez

Jamie Gonzalez is a graduate student at Texas State University. She obtained her undergraduate degree in English/Journalism from Texas State in 2010. Jamie has more than a decade's worth of professional writing, editing, and content management experience.

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