We leave Nagaizumi with all of us overwhelmed by the generosity of our hosts.
Present after present has been given to us - often food or trinkets - but occasionally something heavier and more awkward to pack.

I end up with three T-shirts, four fans, postcards, post-it notes, pins, pens, tissues, a hanky, a book about youth football in Nagaizumi written entirely in Japanese. And an umbrella. And two DVDs of sumo-wrestling. Luckily I also received a canvas bag otherwise I wouldn't be able to carry anything at all.

The Japanese culture of giving gifts is ingrained, but it seems bizarrely over the top to us. The real gift we received was genuine warmth from Mayor Ikeda, and his team, and a commitment to try and build on joint tourism, and school visits.

Others in the delegation have had success talking manufacturing, Rotary International, the Pilot Academy and tertiary offerings. Like Whanganui, Nagaizumi seems to be flavour of the month - with a growing population, a sense of buoyancy, proximity to the capital, and a strong art community.


As we leave I feel sure that this sister city thing will work. Two delegations from Japan will be visiting early next year - the schools visits continuing - Chitoku High School arriving next week. I was very proud of the team putting in some hard yards, whether talking business, being inspired to innovate, or dancing in 35 degree heat.

Before I leave I make one small political point. Japan seems like the capital of over-packaging. The single-use plastic bag is everywhere. Things are wrapped sometimes in three layers. Fruit is individually bagged in plastic.

I despair that everything is put in a bag without asking at stores, and that even ballpoint pens are sold sealed in cellophane sheaths. When a gyre of plastic the size of Japan is floating in the North Pacific excessive packaging is not just irresponsible but an appalling derogation of the environment.

So I take the opportunity to mention our plastic-free ambitions to the council, and suggest Nagaizumi should follow suit. I'm not holding my breath.

And then we part - our delegation splintering to all parts of Honshu - some to Tokyo and away, others to Hiroshima. I go to Kyoto with my mum, in order to visit another of our partner schools - Kobe Yamate - a school that has been sending kids to Whanganui for 22 years. Kobe is a beautiful city with, in common with most ports, a real cosmopolitan mix.

There is a mosque and a Greek Orthodox Church, and lots of large wooden villas on narrow streets, more than a little reminiscent of Wellington. I'm clearly thinking of home, and as I walk back to the train station I realise that every step takes me closer to my family. Japan has been fantastic - frenetic, hot, hard work, fun, and at times completely bonkers - and I've only been away a week, but I'm ready to leave. Until next time, Sayonara!

Hamish McDouall is part of a city delegation in Japan to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the sister city relationship with Nagaizumi Cho.