As a college student studying abroad, I (Hirono) remember how much I cherished those opportunities to return to my native country, Japan. Opportunities to travel home seemed to come relatively frequently, giving me ample time to visit with family and friends, as well as being able to indulge in wonderful meals I couldn't find anywhere else. Anyone who has lived in a foreign country can understand the feeling of returning "home" after a prolonged stay abroad, there are so many details you pick up on, whether cultural quirks, conveniences, or customs. Being able to have a conversation with a friend in Japanese was always a treat, something I greatly missed outside of Japan. Now, after having lived in the United States for close to six years, getting married, and having a family, these visits are understandably less frequent. Perhaps, at the same time, as they happen less often, they become more meaningful as I have the treat of creating special memories with my children and husband.

Last November, we visited Japan for two weeks-- this was the first time in four years that Philip joined me on the trip, and the first time for our youngest son, Joseph. As with all things we do, we manage to make time for concertizing, while for being sure to reserve ample time together as a family, and visit all of my relatives along the way. It is truly special to be able to tour professionally and enjoy exploring the world with family at the same time. Of course there are challenges managing both, but so far we have had great experiences, the luxuries certainly outweighs the inconveniences.

We scheduled all of our performances within the first six days of our trip, with the first concert only three days after arriving in Izunokunishi in Shizuoka. Here, we collaborated with pianist Kyoko Kaise in a similar program to what we present at Luther College last September. As you can see by the photos, we performed for a large and generous audience.

As for our "family time", the area of Izunokunishi is famous for their Onsens (natural hot springs). We chose to take advantage of this world-class amenity and booked a stay at a hotel resort with a private onsen tub, in a private garden. It was a very luxurious experience, a uniquely Japanese atmosphere.

Our children also had fun watching Sumo wrestling in the tatami mat room. Inspired, all the boys (Philip included) couldn't resist putting on a few wrestling matches as I played referee.

Back to business: our second performance was a collaboration with my father (who is a bassist) and my former teacher, Keiko Izumi. This concert was held in Yokohama, in the neighborhood where I grew up. My father has organized annual concerts in the community for almost 20 years and I frequently had opportunities to attend as a soloist when I was a teenager. It was nice to return and share music with my old neighborhood, and there was certainly the atmosphere of a "homecoming" which made me feel very fortunate and comfortable.

Our third, and final, performance was again a collaboration with Kyoko, but in Tokyo, at an innovative concert space in Azabujuban called "Coincidence Theater". An unusually diverse and family-friendly space, despite it being so intimate. We were joined by people causually walking by (hence its name "Coincidence") which resulted in very unique atmosphere. As one would expect in Japan, it had remarkable technology. We were thrilled to see such a young audience, parents brought their children and were able to sit right in front of us as we performed-- a highly unusual format for a concert in Japan.

Despite the challenges of dealing with jet-lag and performing three concerts in such a short period, we were so glad to be able to spend the last week visiting family and friends. One of the most special moments was a visit to Asakusa, Tokyo. My mother's family has managed a temple for generations in Asakusa and a visit to the enclosed garden always brings back childhood memories. To see our sons playing in the same space that I grew up, and reliving memories of playing with my own brother, was a special time. Fall is a very contemplative season in Japan, the golden and red maple leaves serve as a beautiful backdrop.

Right now, it is hard to say when we will have another chance to return, but I can't imagine ever returning without my family!

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