My friend from Nagoya

Natasha Walton (BAsiaPacSt, BIntRlns ‘19)
15 November 2021

I had always wanted to go on a cultural exchange program to Japan. It was one of the reasons I chose to study at ANU. During my Asia Pacific Studies and International Relations double degree, I leapt at the opportunity to do the Year in Asia program. My destination was Japan and I was so excited!

I arrived at Nanzan University in Nagoya in January 2018. One of the first students I met at the dorm orientation had such a bright face and bubbly energy. Something told me I could hit it off with Miku.

We kept bumping into each other at campus events. Soon, we became close friends. Miku has the greatest smile that just draws you in. We loved to explore Nagoya together. One time, there was this huge line outside a shop and Miku said, "Oh that must be good, let's go line up!" As someone from Canberra, I was shocked that anyone would want to join such a long line! I just said, "We're going to be here all day, do you really want to!?" Little did I know that long lines at a shop means it's a reputed one and worth the wait.

Whenever I had my picture taken, someone would say, "Oh my god, your head is so small!" I took that literally - yes, my head is quite small compared to a Japanese person. But it was Miku that taught me I was actually being complimented. In Japan, when someone says your head is small, they actually mean 'you look like a doll, you're very cute!'

Miku was like my personal guide to Japanese culture.

When it was nearly time to come home, I found out that Miku was coming on exchange to ANU. I was so happy we were going to be together again.

It was my turn to be the guide.

When she got to Canberra, I invited her over to meet my family. We made pavlova together; we went around town and had a lot of fun. She loved Australian coffee - "this is so delicious! I'll miss this when I go back home."

In Japan, Miku had shown me the famous fireworks festival. So, I took her to Floriade, where we took a million and one pictures. We would start chatting and realise we had been doing it for five hours!

Every time I pass by Burton and Garran Hall, where Miku stayed when she was here, it brings back memories - how we set up her room, how we walked down to Chifley Library and worked on assignments. She'd make me check her essay to see if it read well. And I'd say: "Sure, you did the same for me in Japan."

Our relationship was a special one - it spanned cultures and continents, it wasn't just one experience, but so many shared together.

Going on exchange to another culture is one of the best experiences you can have. It changes the way you think about the world. It taught me to engage differently with people. It set me on my journey of personal growth. And Miku was an important part of it.

She is still an important part of my journey by the way. We just had a video call last week.

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