Homestay

This past weekend I did a short homestay. Actually I wanted to do a full-year homestay, but the program in Hiroshima didn’t offer homestays. I suppose with this in mind a program was formed to match foreign students up with families. I of course applied.

At first I was really nervous. I’d heard plenty of stories about foreigners making awful stupid mistakes when they go live with a host family. I also didn’t know whether or not I’d get along with my host family. I didn’t know if we would have anything to talk about, and I wasn’t sure about how strong the language barrier would be.

The town the program was centered in was a very rural area called Kuchiwa, about an hour away from Saijo. If things weren’t rural enough, my host family actually lived up in the mountains in an even smaller town called Shobara. That was another 20 minute drive from Kuchiwa. We didn’t leave Saijo until 3:00, so by the time we got to Kuchiwa and were matched up it was almost 6. It was dark on the way up the mountain, and most of my host family was busy so my host mother came alone to pick me up. At first I wasn’t sure she was pleased to be given this task, but on the way back we talked some. I suppose I’m a bit shy and not confident in my Japanese sometimes, but I’m pleased to report things weren’t too awfully awkward.

Finally we reached our destination. A large and beautiful eastern style house stretched out before me. I slipped my shoes off and went in.

My family consisted of 8 people. There were of course the mother and father, the father’s parents, a 93-year-old who was still as bright as ever (I think she was a great grandmother), and three kids. They had a fourth son, but he was living in Hiroshima city and couldn’t get away due to work. I talked the most with the host father, who I think was the one who applied to the program. He is a carpenter and a very practical person. The mother was nice as well. She was mother-like, but not in a traditional motherly way so much as a more modern and practical way. The grandparents were so cute and kept offering me things and joking around with me – I think I was getting made fun of a bit, but I don’t mind. The grandfather especially insisted I eat and drink everything they had to offer, including a beer right after waking up. I had to decline. The great grandmother was nice too, asking various questions about America. The kids were pleasant but really shy, so I only had a few short exchanges with them.

There was also a cat. A very, very cute cat. My friend insists Japanese cats are cuter. I don’t know if I agree, but this cat was pretty cute.

I just wish the cat could have left me a better souvenir than scratches on my hand.

The first night consisted of dinner and then my host father insisting I drink sake and play Final Fantasy 13. Apparently when I filled out the application I said one of my hobbies was video games. Something you learn really quickly in a host family is that your host parents will offer you things you may so much as have passingly mentioned that you had even vague interest in to excess. This, apparently, includes video games. You can’t really refuse either.

The next day was a full day. After waking up and eating a large breakfast my host father took me for a hike up a nearby mountain where the view was fantastic. There was some fog due to the time of year, but still the atmosphere was clean and the scenery was breathtaking. Apparently that site had once been a samurai castle 500 years ago. It was a bit of a shame that nothing remained of it.

Samurai seemed to be the theme for the day. After returning, forgetting which side of the car Japanese people drive on (I blame the fact that my host father had the exact same car as the guy I used to carpool with), and eating another large meal we went to meet another one of my classmates in downtown Shobara. From here, after meeting with my host father’s friend and having him draw our portrait, we went to an elementary school that had been converted into a community center. Another one of my host father’s friends pulled out two boxes with samurai armor in them. Not the real deal, of course, since we were made to try them on. Shobara was once a samurai’s town, thus the castle, and so there are festivals related to samurai held there. That was why the armor. We were privileged to be allowed to try it on. I also can’t believe they let us hold real katanas. They trusted me with a sword?

That night my family invited my friend and her host mother as well as some of their own friends to dinner. We had a barbecue in the huge garage my host father uses for his carpentry. The amount of food was amazing – five or so boxes of crab, packets and packets of beef and beef tongue, sausages, sushi, vegetables…

Once again I ate until I couldn’t anymore. When we were finished I didn’t think I’d eat for an entire week. I kept getting offered dessert when we went back inside, but there was no way I’d be able to handle it. Drowsy from so much food, I ended up going to sleep rather early.

On the last day my host mother prepared a kimono for me to try on. It was amazingly beautiful, but such a pain to put on! I don’t really understand why anyone would wear something that took that long to put on. I don’t even think it’s possible to put one on yourself, so what did people do in the old days if they lived alone…? I am very grateful to my host mother for taking the time to help me put it on.

The last thing we did in Shobara was go to a Zen Buddhist temple. There we had green tea served in a very traditional way.

We were at this temple with my classmate and her host mother, my host parents, one of their daughters, and two schoolboys from the neighborhood. Apparently those two boys were regulars at the temple. After we finished with the green tea we meditated for a short while. The kids were younger than us but appeared more disciplined. I wouldn’t have mind meditating longer, though I might have fallen asleep and gotten hit by the priest…

When we finished meditating my classmate and I were shown around the temple. She had plenty of questions and I ended up acting as translator. It was one of those times when I really wish my Japanese vocabulary was more expansive.

Side story: when we were sitting around with everyone after the mini-tour, my classmate’s host mother said that the two boys had wanted to meet us but were too shy to say anything. One of them turned away and muttered something in Japanese, which one of the host parents unashamedly repeated: “They’re pretty, I don’t know what to say.” On our way out it was suggested we give them a handshake. My classmate hugged them instead. I don’t think I’d ever seen any Japanese person’s eyes go so wide before.

Finally we headed out, back toward Kuchiwa. There we were reunited with everyone else who had participated and treated to lunch. I had already eaten my fair share by then. I wasn’t very hungry.

Long story short: if you are on a diet, don’t do a homestay.

Well, maybe that’s not my point. I was so nervous at first but in the end I’m glad I went. My host father told me to contact him whenever I wanted to experience some part of Japanese culture that I might not otherwise get to experience. He also invited me to come back when it snowed there, since they’re higher up in the mountains than I am in Saijo. Sooner or later I’ll have to take him up on that offer. It was only a weekend, and even though it was packed full of things, I felt like I wanted to do more.

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~ by megumiwasframed on November 15, 2010.

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