December 2021 Gathering Report (Joint Event for 2020, 2021 Fellows)

I always feel a sense of gratitude from the simple joy of meeting someone again after a long time. A feeling akin to the pure sweetness a child experiences when licking a candy that they unexpectedly happened to receive.

With the accumulated time spent apart, the joy from meeting again bubbles over with no need for pretenses. Eyes meeting for confirmation, and friendship given in return. A feeling like the slight sweetness of a milk mint candy melting on the top of one's tongue.

December 13, 2021. It had been a year since I had seen the Atsumi Foundation staff and my fellow Atsumi scholars. For the first time in a while I got to taste that sweetness again.

Because of the coronavirus, activities and events were limited and restricted for us fellows from 2020. There was indeed a sense of regret over this, and the foundation was kind enough to make the end-of-year party a joint one for the fellows from 2020 and 2021. With the risks posed by the omicron variant the end of the coronavirus is still nowhere in sight, but the venue selected - a restaurant in the Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo - took necessary safety precautions. Thanks to them around 30 of us - including my fellow scholars, the foundation staff (who we are deeply indebted to), and the adorable new 2021 Raccoons - were able to enjoy this end-of-year Christmas party. In my case, the past year had been filled with classes, writing my dissertation, caring for my one-year-old child, preparing for life after graduation.... Everyday had been packed, and this was in fact my first time in a year to go downtown and participate in a gathering. The sense of feeling refreshed and relieved of stress was more obvious from my face than anyone else's, and because of that I was chosen to write this report (just kidding).

I had always wanted to stay in or have a meal at the Hotel Chinzanso, and as soon as I found the gathering spot I was entranced by the gigantic Christmas tree in the center of the hall. Miyake-san as always welcomed us with a gentle smile and said "it's been a while!" (ohisashiburi). Secretly in awe of her, I thought about how perfect she looked against the beautiful Christmas tree background as I joined in a conversation with Funahashi-san.

The meal was an enormous (majestic might be a more appropriate word) year-end dinner buffet. However, in our enthusiasm in catching up with each other my batchmates Yuan Xiaoyu, Liu Yi-chen and I all ended up at the back of the line, and the table that Imanishi-san, Tsunoda-san, Funahashi-san and Miyake-san were sitting at got full and we were unable to join them. Just as I was thinking about what a shame that was, Ishi-san appeared and sat at our table. Thanks to her we had a fun time and interesting conversations about the events for fellows, preparing dishes from different countries in the foundation kitchen and shopping for ingredients.

The meal was of course delicious, and we were also treated to a flame performance for our dessert, and a wonderful evening view from the windows of the garden's "Tokyo Sea of Clouds" and "Northern Lights in the Forest."

I would like to once again offer my heartfelt thanks to the foundation for supporting us scholars, as well as for the incomparable care you have given each and everyone one of us. I am also incredibly grateful for my fellow 2020 scholars and for the student community we have together. We have much in common and much to talk about together, just given that we were all chosen by the foundation. Four of us had already gotten jobs and although it was a shame that these fellows had returned to their home countries, the rest of us were able to participate. Despite her leg injury even Koo Hye-weon came, and the image of her walking with a cane and a smile on her face still remains with me.

Here's to a brighter world and a brighter year in 2022. May it be a year full of happiness for all of the foundation staff and fellows.

Miao Fengke

Translated by Sonja Dale