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2020 in review: Staying connected out of sight, but not out of mind

This March 2020 image shows sections of the Berlin Wall at the Berlin Wall Memorial. (The Mainichi/Chinami Takeichi)

In early March this year, I "met" a close friend of mine for the first time since we began talking online, just before my graduation. She lives in a country in Europe -- quite far from Japan -- whose name I had never heard of before our unique encounter. Even the young staff member at the airport east of Tokyo read aloud my destination falteringly before breaking into a big smile as if to admit defeat.

    I met my friend through a hobby sharing platform, and our paths crossed when we were still in our teenage years. Throughout our five-year online relationship, I shared some of my deepest secrets with her, including issues at school and home, which I may have felt more at ease confiding in someone outside my immediate circle of family or friends.

    What first connected us was our interest in similar books and films. This then developed into a valuable relationship that taught me more about myself, and has supported me as we both continue to grow together in our respective locations.

    The 10 days we spent together in the "real" world was a completely different experience from what came before. While we spent five years getting to know each other's innermost thoughts through text-messaging, which tends to call forth more carefully thought-out responses, it was the first time for us to be in the physical presence of one another.

    The trip consisted almost entirely of walking aimlessly around cities in central Europe, including one foreign to the both of us. I felt that the vague impressions of my friend that I had previously held were brought into clearer focus. I saw her run errands and do chores, while also bringing me to all the places I wanted to visit in her hometown, and also take the lead in drawing up our itinerary so we wouldn't get lost in Germany. I also newly learned of one of her pet peeves -- pointing fingers -- which is an ingrained habit of mine.

    My friend, who used to be a close, but third-party confidante, had shown herself in front of me, along with all her human and sometimes mundane mannerisms.

    Before our planned meeting, we had made a list of things to do, but wound up forgetting to do most of them. For me, our time together unfolded in ways I couldn't have imagined, such as visiting the remains of the Berlin Wall past 9 p.m. two days in a row, because we made detours in order to make it in time for free cake and juice at the hotel lounge. We noticed too late that the screening of a dubbed version of a South Korean movie in her native country would still be in a language foreign and unintelligible to me.

    Even though in-person interactions encompass mundane daily interactions, maybe they also enable accidental events that remain as the best memories. And maybe there are things that only happen in the little space between people when they come together.

    Before we knew it, our 10 days were up, and we turned back into pumpkins. Even though on the first day, my friend blurted out, "Why do I have a feeling we're not going to talk anymore after this trip?" -- very much to my dismay -- the two of us parted ways at Berlin Tegel Airport agreeing that "we still have much to say."

    This year, as teleworking has suddenly become the norm amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, we've found different ways to communicate. Of my first nine months at work, I've worked in the same office with a handful of colleagues, and the rest I've met offline maybe only once or twice.

    My favorite artist group had to cancel the latter half of their world tour earlier in the year, which my friend and I would have attended instead of our late-night stroll at the Berlin Wall.

    Even then, my colleagues have all made sure to make me feel welcome, by sending small jokes through text messages, or inviting me to lunch in small gatherings. My artist group has held online concerts, as well as video-call meet and greets, and random live streams to connect with fans. They've also released perhaps a wider array of music.

    And my friend and I are still in touch.

    Various forms of communication allow us to have a more well-rounded picture of the other person, and being there in person definitely helps. But, regardless of the form, maybe what matters most is the attempt.

    I hope that we can use the various options and communication tools presented before us to our advantage, and find our own ways to forge relationships and stay connected in this age.

    (By Chinami Takeichi, The Mainichi Staff Writer)

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