Day 23: Reflections on Kyushu

My 21 full days and 2 partial days in Japan represent the longest I’ve been outside of NYC since I moved there over 11 years ago and the longest I’ve been outside of the US in my lifetime. For the first time in my life I’d been able to get my mind far enough outside the US to gain some perspective. And for the first time in over a decade I’d been able to detach myself from the frenetic all-consuming chase that is life in NYC.

At the departure gate from Fukuoka I met one of the waitresses from Iroha izakaya near Times Square. She was so far removed from where I expected to see her that I had no idea who she was or how I knew her, but it was nice to see a friendly face on this return to my reality. We had breakfast at Sushi Den in Narita Airport during which I learned she also worked at Ootoya during the day and was married and lived in Queens. Things I might never had known about her had I not taken the time to have a conversation.

sushi breakfast

Despite the heavy rains from the typhoon that had turned away from Kyushu, the flight to JFK was on time.


Knowing that JAL economy class does not serve shochu I’d picked up some Isanishiki one-cup shochu that were recently released. Having met the president of the  distillery at the Shochu Project meeting, I was curious to try his new innovations. We only have Kuro Isanishiki in the US so I was excited to try Isanishiki and Kame Isanishiki. Turns out Kame Isanishiki has strong raisin notes – something I haven’t previously found in shochu. Quite surprising.


After watching a couple movies and finishing my one cup shochu I wandered back to the galley to stretch my legs and wash up before going to sleep. I began speaking to the stewardesses, showing them the newspaper clipping from the day before, and talking about my internship at Yamato Zakura. They got excited and one of them ran to business class to bring me a treat.

JAL Galley

Tired and happy I passed out for most of the rest of the flight. I had a long day ahead of me after the 14 hour transit.

JAL wing

Arriving in NYC I managed to catch a taxi home surprisingly easily. No waiting. For those of you who have flown into JFK, you know that’s not often the case.


Seeing the city laid out before me through the taxi window I realized it didn’t mean as much to me as it did a month ago. Spending time with the shochu makers and other rural Kyushu people I realized there was more to life than the chase that NYC demands of its inhabitants. In a flash I realized I wanted to spend more time outside NYC to maintain this balance in my perspective.

Fortunately, I wasn’t actually stuck in NYC immediately. I’d come back to attend a friend’s wedding so after a shower and repacking my luggage, I was on a train upstate to a farm (yes, below is an actual photo from my iphone). The perfect transition back to life in NYC. A calm before the storm.


I was picked up at the train station by friends of the bride. As they chattered away about the first-world-problems of their American existence I found myself assaulted with inanities. A month ago I might have sympathized with their complaints, but today they just sounded petty. Of course, I kept my opinions to myself and I now have a much more charitable opinion of those people. After 24 hours of transit it was difficult to do so in the moment.

I calmed myself by taking a walk around the property upon arrival. The escape from NYC was well needed and the step away from the impending nuptial festivities was also needed to clear my mind and return to normality. Tekkan-san had been kind enough to give two ishobin of his shochu to the bride and groom for their wedding. It would not last the weekend.

rural YZ

Thinking back now I realize this trip was transformative for me. I can no longer continue my existence as it had been, but must now strive for a life more meaningful, more substantial, more diverse. The puzzle now is to figure out how to get there. A return to Kyushu will be the first step.




One Response to “Day 23: Reflections on Kyushu”
  1. Jackie Hanselman says:

    Now you might understand why 9 months in Haiti and 3 weeks in Siberia were so transformative for my life. I have to have a meaningful existence that is not about my needs and petty wants but touches other lives outside the frenzy of the American culture. That is why i choose the desert and now the mountains. I am finding my way as I reach out to the simple mountain people with love and grace.

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