When it comes time to put a bow on an exchange, I try to think back on the significant moments of the trip.  There were many–Kyoto, the Peace Peak, the Umeda Station Crush at rush hour, getting nipped by the mynah bird at the pre-school, the lines of school children in uniforms and white floppy hats straight out of Pokeman and Sailor Moon, sushi on a conveyor belt, butt-nipping sacred deer….

But for me, the most significant moment of this trip was the coming together of 23 different people, forming bonds of friendship that will last past the return trip to the states and the hubbub of daily life.  When you spend two weeks in tight quarters, there are very few topics–or body functions–that aren’t discussed. Because, you know, what happens in Japan, stays in Japan.

Some last photos.

Elementary school teachers. They didn’t look this dangerous in real life.

What you can’t see is all of the irked Japanese commuters skirting this crew.  They have nice teeth, don’t you think.

Another group shot in front of the ATM.  A popular hangout.

Notice the white shirts and water bottles–Japanese air conditioning.

Night at the Garden in the Sky–43 stories up with nothing but the skyline of Osaka beyond you–for 30 freaking miles.

Taka-san (left) was a terrific interpretor (Taka, did you ask Mirika out yet?)

The infamous slippery slippers, the cause of many lobotomies and bruised tailbones.  Warning: do not dance in these without a helmet.

Lunch at school.  The mask is for germs.  I thought it was for filtering onions out of the soup.

Chinese circus for Japanese children photographed by an America.  The nice thing about pictures is nothing gets lost in translation.

Peace, baby.