But on Tuesday, that distance was measured by a T-shirt and a steak.
Jack and Evelyn Seals supplied the barbecue; the occasion was the return of a prodigal son, Akio Yamamoto, and his wife, Emiko. Everyone attending received a T-shirt with a red “Yamamoto” on it.
In 1970, Akio stayed with the Seals family as a foreign exchange student.
“It was a weak moment,” Seals quips. “My family thought we were nuts because we already had four boys in the house.”
He pauses and looked over at the Japanese couple. “It’s one of the best things we ever did.”
This was not the first time that Yamamoto had returned to his adopted family in Texas. That first return was seven years ago.
But Tuesday was special: he was celebrating his 60th birthday.
Today, 43 years removed from his time at A.C. Jones High School, he credits his foreign exchange year with opening a hidden door in his personality.
“My starting point is 1970, 1971,” he says. “After my time here, I was not so shy anymore. I could meet people easier, and my scope was more international.”
He used his interest in art to become an architect for the Kajima Corporation — handling assignments from London to Sri Lanka. He earned a master’s degree from Reading University in London.
Such discipline was evident from the start, Seals says.
“One of the first things we did was to take him hunting,” Seals remembers. “He was holding that shotgun, and the mosquitoes were swarming all over him. But he held the gun steady and then fired. With that kind of discipline, we knew he’d go far.”
The incident was a good start in Yamamoto’s overcoming the cultural shock of moving from crowded, metropolitan Tokyo to the rural expanses of South Texas.
“I had two hardships,” he recalls. “The first was the American educational system. It is so different from Japan’s. The second was English. Although I was a senior at A.C. Jones, I also was taking junior classes in English.”
He quickly crafted an arrangement with one of the Seals’ children. “I would help him with spelling,” Yamamoto says and laughs. “And he would help me learn how to speak ‘southern.’”
When arranging to come to America, Yamamoto attended an orientation camp near Mt. Fuji. There he met another foreign exchange student, a girl named Emiko.
They flew on the same plane at the end of their American stay. Both entered separate marriages; both lost their spouses.
Emiko Magoshi kept her professional name. She is a professor of international management at Tokyo’s Oberlin University.
You can guess the rest.
They met again on the group’s 30th anniversary in 2000.
Five years later, they started dating.
Yamamoto brought Emiko to meet the Seals in 2006. They revealed they were worried about what their children would think if they let their relationship deepen.
“Don’t think about the kids,” the Seals told them. “Get married!”
By 2007, they were engaged.
They married a year later — but only after receiving the approval of their respective children. “We started another voyage in our life,” Yamamoto says.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.