Bridget Koan // Spring 2015
“Good friendships are not measured by the frequency of phone calls or letters or visits … the best friendships are recognized by the quality of time and feelings shared.” -Lynne Gerard
A friendship that began with two young women at UMKC has endured over the years and more than 6,200 miles. The quote above is found in a special booklet Yasuko Hosoda Tomita prepared for her friend of 50 years, Carole Meakin Owsley (B.A. ’67).
Their college friendship began as many do, studying together and living the university life. After each class, Tomita said Owsley took her home to study, which often included a home-cooked meal.
Soon Owsley’s graduation and Tomita’s return to Japan separated them. Owsley now lives in Lee’s Summit, Mo., and Tomita lives in Tokyo, Japan. But that college friendship from 1965 continued into a forever friendship.
“She (Carole) helped me with my assignments,” Tomita says. “She also explained the whole lecture we had that day. Her help meant so much that I couldn’t forget her kindness.”
Through marriages, the birth of children and lives in different countries, Owsley and Tomita stayed true to their commitment to keep in touch. Their friendship never faltered.
“Sometimes the number of family members increases and sometimes decreases,” Tomita said. “That’s common for all of us. We have more common things than we think even though we belong to such different countries. Feelings toward families and friends are the same, and I learned this through Carole. We just get along so well.”
Tomita’s feelings are shared by Owsley. “For whatever reason I think we were destined to become friends,” she said.
Tomita, from Saitama, Japan, graduated from a Japanese Junior College in March 1964 and came to Kansas City that September to attend UMKC. Owsley was from Kansas City, Missouri, and graduated from Kansas City Junior College in June 1964, now known as Metropolitan Community College.
After graduation in the early years, it could be months before Owsley and Tomita would talk to each other. But they always sent each other birthday and Christmas greetings and shipped packages by surface mail, which could sometime take up to six weeks for delivery.
As technology got better, emails replaced letters sent by U.S. mail and calls to each other on birthdays. Owsley made a point of sending pictures to Tomita with captions on the back. This regular communication helped them get to know each other’s families and friends.
“Through her letters, I learned about the life in the States, and it was so much fun to share how our children grew,” Tomita says. “Without a doubt, she has been making my life much more interesting, and I hope she feels that way too. We still enjoy letting each other know what is going on.”
“I didn’t go to Japan to visit until 20 years after graduation,” Owsley says. At that time they agreed to see each other every five years alternating homes.
“We made a pact to try to see each other every five years.”
“We made this treaty in 1986, and it has never been broken,” Tomita says.
The next time they got together was 24 years after Tomita returned to Japan. She came to Kansas City in 1990.
“Carole arranged the whole schedule beforehand so that I was able to see or visit all the people and the places I wanted to in such a short period of time. She surely made my dream come true,” Tomita says.
In 2005, Owsley traveled to Japan to celebrate their 40 years of friendship.
“Yasuko is such a great hostess when I go to visit,” Owsley says. “She is always thinking of nice things to do for me. On one of my visits I was on the Shinkansen (high speed train) with the group with whom I was traveling. She called me on the phone so I could have the experience of receiving a phone call on the high speed train. In 2012 she planned a Kaiseiki Ryori which is a banquet for a special occasion. She planned it for our special birthdays of 70. She has done many special things over the years for my trips there.”
Years later, Tomita made a booklet of the photos and captions that Owsley sent over the years. The book, “Let’s Make A Toast to Our Friendship: Carole and Yasuko since 1965” was in English and Japanese.
In a special note to Owsley contained in the booklet, Tomita wrote, “Do you know that the 70th birthday is one of the very important ones for us Japanese? Even we have a special name for it. We celebrate it as Koki. Ko means ancient and Ki means rare in Japanese. You’ll never know how much I appreciated all the efforts you made to share your life with me over the years.”
The photos and captions contain special significance and so does the cover. Cherry Blossoms and Dogwood blooms adorn the front.
“All of Japan is covered with cherry trees so the whole country is abloom for a few weeks in Japan,” Owsley says. “Missouri’s state tree is the Dogwood and they, too, bloom in the spring.”
These two college classmates blossomed as individuals because of their friendship, as do the Cherry Blossoms and Dogwood blooms.
“Although we were born in different countries of different heritages we are very much like sisters,” Owsley says. “We referred to each other’s mother as my Japanese Mother and her American Mother. They have both passed away. We love our children and grandchildren and mourn our loved ones when they die. We laugh heartily about funny things, feel sad about things that happen in our home countries, and cherish our long friendship. We consider ourselves very lucky.”
“It was rather a short period of time that I spent as a student of UMKC,” Tomita says. “In spite of this, it had one of the greatest impacts on my life. It might sound cliché, but I realized that people are basically the same and if you open your heart and accept the differences you can be friends. A good friend makes your life more enjoyable and more meaningful. I am thankful that I was able to meet Carole in a small classroom at UMKC.”