“I’ve been making pizza my whole life. Since… I don’t know… six years old?” said Yusuke Kawachi, as he tossed the pizza dough into the air, making it spin and caught it right back like a pro. “Don’t talk to me when I’m making pizza. I’ll just pretend I listen to you when I actually don’t!” he laughed.

A picture of Yusuke making the dough

Yusuke, originally from Nara, was 28 when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). He was living in Australia with a working holiday visa at that time. He went back to Japan immediately, and he suffered the most painful nine hours on that flight. “If I could describe the pain… it’s 10/10.” Yusuke spent the following two years in the hospital going through treatments, chemotherapy, and a transplant. “After chemo, it felt like ten people were above me and hundreds of needles were injected to my body.”

In July 2018, the doctor said Yusuke’s transplant was successful. To celebrate his recovery from leukemia, Yusuke set up a trip where he would travel through Japan’s 47 prefectures, visiting a guest house, a hostel, or someone’s house to bake pizza and share his leukemia journey to people. “I want to show how much you can enjoy life even after a hard time.”

A picture of Yusuke with the guests of the pizza party

One day I received his lovely request in CouchSurfing, a service that allows travelers to crash at someone’s place for free, saying he would love to throw me a pizza party if I would give him a place to stay. How could I say no? I was immensely touched by his story and immediately wrote him back to tell him he would be welcome at my studio apartment in Beppu!

Yusuke believes pizza brings people together. “Music? Everyone is picky. But pizza? Who doesn’t love pizza? Good dough, good sauce, fresh basil, put any topping you want, and it’s done!” Yusuke even brought his own portable stove and a fresh basil plant. Yusuke likes to get creative with his recipes. We were not only served with the classic Margherita, but also ‘funny pizzas’, as he called them. If you’ve never considered putting sushi or yakisoba as your pizza topping, Yusuke did. Funny pizzas, indeed.

A picture of a fish with sushi as topping

A picture of one of Yusuke's funny pizzas with a variety of toppings

Yusuke recalls one of the most memorable encounters he’s had on his travels. It was during his visit to the city of Sendai in the Tohoku region, which was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. “A guy told me he always held his daughter’s hand every morning before he went to work, because one of his friends had lost her husband to the tsunami and the last thing she had said to him was, ‘I hate you.’ I thought I was going to inspire people, but people inspire me more. This trip is very meaningful to me.”

A picture of Yusuke throwing his dough in the air

Yusuke documented his entire leukemia journey on his blog. “In Japan, there are not many articles about leukemia. I just found three or four. The only things available are just statistics of survival rates and information on medications. Maybe it’s tough for Japanese people because they tend to be more private, but I want to speak up and help people to be more aware of it.”

Leukemia was neither a nightmare nor an awful curse for Yusuke. For him, it’s a gift. Leukemia did not make Yusuke less positive of a person. “We all have 24 hours a day. We are all equal. Everyone can be happy if they think they’re happy. If you think something’s beautiful, then it will be beautiful. If you think it’s sad then it will be sad. It all depends on your mindset.”

“What would you do if you only had 24 hours to live?” Yusuke asked. All of a sudden, everyone in the room became silent as the question sank into everybody’s mind. A friend of mine, Disa, had a heartfelt answer. “I would record videos of myself with messages for my loved ones. I would make one for each milestone in their lives. For my sister’s graduation, my best friend’s wedding, my parents’ retirement… I want to still be there with them.” Yusuke immediately pulled out his notebook and wrote it down. “Thank you. I want to remember this.”

A picture of the guests eating Yusuke's pizza

Being a survivor, Yusuke never forgets to express his gratitude. “Every day around 6 a.m. or 6 p.m., I get emotional. It happens mostly when I’m driving. I’m just thankful to be alive today. I’m alive!!!” he screamed happily. Yusuke’s advice for the world is simple. “Don’t worry about the past or the future. Just live in the moment.”

“If my leukemia comes back again, I won’t bother to do transplants anymore. I just want to travel! And I don’t mind if I die while traveling. I’ll just let my friends and family know that I love them!” Yusuke added, with a big smile on his face.

A picture of Yusuke with a guitar

Pizza, good friends, honest conversations, and a jam session – it was undoubtedly a warm night for all of us. After traveling around Japan, Yusuke also traveled around the world to throw pizza parties and has touched many hearts along the way. I’m very grateful I had the chance to meet someone as kind and genuine as Yusuke. In this busy world we often forget to live in the moment. Yusuke reminds us that sometimes happiness is just as simple as being alive.

Read more about Yusuke’s story on http://yusukehuey.blog.fc2.com/

Katia Shiffana

A uni student living in Japan. I breathe travel, fuelled by the outdoors and anything that spells adventure. An onsen enthusiast and a sushi lover. Like a bullet train, Japan had sped to my heart.
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