Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Kuchiwa-chou Homestay

Day 1
Friday, November 18
What a relaxing day I had. A great way to start any experience if you ask me. My Modern Japanese Language class was cancelled, so I was able to take my time waking and packing for the weekend. Our group was told to meet in the front of the Faculty of Education but it seems that nobody knew quite exactly where the "front" was. We always met in a 'usual' spot. Anyway, we were all in the wrong location, but quickly found our way. We boarded the bus and headed out on our way to Kuchiwa-chou in Hiroshima Prefecture. Our coordinator in Kuchiwachou, Mr. Shintaku, gave us all brief introductions about our host families. This was so much fun because you got to see peoples reaction. I'm sure nobody was disappointed with this trip. The introduction to the Nagasato family (my and Garth's host family) was pretty funny. First of all, we learned that Mr. Nagasato loves drinking alcohol (this is not a bad habit in Japan), and then that his two daughters would be coming back from Hiroshima-city. When we found out about the daughters' special return, the news was immediately followed by a series of howls and "Ohhhhhs" From the girls that is, they tried to make us embarassed. From the other guys, "awwwws". Jealous no doubt. Then we found out that the Nagasato Family owned a farm. Everybody thought that was funny because two guys going to spend a weekend with a farming family could be taken as an invitation to hard work in the rice paddy. However, I sometimes enjoy a hard work, and, as we all know, farmers eat well, so this must be a win-win situation.

It's interesting. I didn't realize that my fellow students had become so anxious and nervous about the homestay. Some of them had trouble sleeping last night. Maybe because I have enjoyed a homestay with the Jaeckel family when I was in Germany, but I didn't become nervous in the slightest sense. Just be yourself and let people get to know you.

We arrived in Kuchiwachou after a 2 hour bus ride. We were early so we had to wait a bit. I took the chance to reflect on the societal and social groups formed shortly after people started to mingle. One group was basically Korean, another US Americans, the 3rd a mix of the two. When I started taking snaps of everybody (there was nothing else to do right) two things happened. First, I was bombarded by cameras to take more pictures. Second, everybody started to aggregate into the same group. A nice feeling to think that we are all friends taking pictures together and that the groups we form may well be based solely on language, something more easily overcome than some other problem.

We began the opening ceremony with a speech from Mr. Shintaku and pictures with our host family. Soon afterwards we all departed to our new homes. Much to Garth's and my surprise, our host family's home was so huge! Just the genkan (entrance hall) was like the size of my dorm! I never expected a farming family to have such an amazing traditional style home! We met more family members and learned that the girls would return home during the night because they hadn't left Hiroshima City, yet. Garth, Mr. Nagasato, and I sat under the kotatsu (a table with blanket and heater) introducing ourselves and small talk in Japanese. I'm starting to wonder how I really sound in Japanese. It's very common to hear Japanese people tell foreigners that they have great Japanese ability even when they only know how to say greetings and introduction. But, to hear Japanese people tell me that I have a great pronunciation is a little different. Mr. Nagasato was often directing his questions toward me so that I could explain something in English to Garth or some other translation. (Bri, I know how you felt when your family visited you, translating takes a lot of work!)

A little later Mr. Nagasato, Mrs. Nagasato, Obaasan (grandmother), Garth and I sat down for our dinner. I remember that there is always so much food when company arrives in a Japanese home, but still it's hard to imagine just how much food we actually ate. We had so many delicious things, sashimi, sushi, fried chicken, pickled cucumber, oden (a traditional winter soup). Oh and of course we had alcohol Asahi Super Dry beer and Seishu (a kind of sake), it's Japanese culture. Moreover, I came not only to learn Japanese, more importantly (as is potentially a 30 page thesis) to experience a non-Western culture.

After dinner, we resigned to the kotatsu for more talking and some TV. Garth and I were a little surprised when Mr. Nagasato placed cups of whiskey in front of us. So much alcohol...Anyway, the girls came back around 10pm and we kept up chatting with them after Mr. Nagasato went to bed. I don't quite remember what time we all went to bed. It's interesting how much heat can change from just one room to the next in a Japanese home. One room can be quite comortable, but as soon as you go into the hall it is freezing.

Day 2
Saturday, November 19
We woke up just after 7. We had a nice Japanese style breakfast: rice, japanese pickle, miso soup, green tea, some small leftovers from last nights meal. Apparently Garth is just eating one meal a day at Hirodai so that he told me he was full even from last night.

Our first event was a Shinto ceremony at a local shrine. The Shinto priest said a prayer as we students struggled to sit in traditional style. It gets easier to sit in this way every time you try, but still by the end of the ceremony, all of the students (myself included) sat cross-legged. During the ceremony we offered a tree branch for a good fortune. Then after everybody had finished, we drank a saucer of Omiki (sacred you sense a pattern?) Then afterwards we soon found out that the priests daughter was actually the most popular girl in the shrine. She was very cute in her white and red kimono. I'm sure she was enjoying all of the attention. Everybody took their picture with her before leaving the shrine.

Leaving the shrine we headed towards Mou-Mou Sanbutsukan (I don't know the translation but this building was a farmer's market and coffee shop.) We had a nice cake and coffee. My cake was banana-yogurt :) Then I mingled with the other students. Oh! Actually outside of the building they had a brick pizza oven! Everybody was using it for a heater though because the air still had a bit of a bite to it.

The second event on our schedule was the Shoubouten. Japanese Firemen Training. Well it was not like training, but just a presentation and participation to get to know how firefighters in Japan work. Good Japanese practice. The first part was like military drills, to stand at attention, and how to turn and that kind of thing. Then we did a little run to the end of the street in back with the leader keeping our feet in rhythm. Then we were able to change wear a fireman's uniform and spray the hose across the river next to us. Kim Eun-Young and I were the first team. We are both in the same Japanese level, so it's funny whenever the Sensei calls our name, we both answer. After Team YOUNG successfully extinguished our imaginary fire across the river with superb style and pinash, we just enjoyed watching everybody and taking pictures. It's always picture time when we have a free moment. When the entire bank had been thoroughly drenched we resigned to our homes for lunch. This meal was curry rice, sweet-and-sour shrimp with egg, tuna and cabbage salad, and of course rice and pickle. Then we relaxed a little under the kotatsu, until our next experience.

Mrs. Nagasato came with us this time, for our Kimono and Tea Ceremony event. It was interesting to watch all the girls. You could tell how excited they were to get dressed up in kimono. Nearly salivating at the chance to choose their kimono and obi (belt/sash). We guys only had to choose a belt, our selection from kimono was blue, or dark blue. Garth somehow got a blue and white striped one. I liked my dark-blue one. When the girls finished putting on their kimono, they were instantly turned into models. Blinded by the light of cameras. Then when we guys put our kimonos, we were surrounded by girls! To have our picture together. Then we were surrounded by cameras (but the girls came first). It's kind of the same effect when guys are wearing tuxedos or girls are wearing night gowns in the States. Then while wearing our kimonos, we went to down the hall of the building to a tea ceremony room. It wasn't quite the same experience as the one I had had two years ago with Miho, because they had to serve tea to so many people. It was a bit rushed. We took lots more pictures before that is.

More feasting! And what is a good feast unless you start before with a little beer. We had Sukiyaki. It's just an insane amount of food. You start with a pot of stew, then as soon as you think you've made a dent in it, you learn that it was less than one half of the entire amount of food. You just keep adding more vegetables and meat. When that is gone, you think you've made it. Then they add Udon (buckwheat noodles). We also had a small bit of salad to go with the sukiyaki and also some beef sashimi (kind of). Oh and we had more beer and warm sake. much food. So delicious, but the stomach does have a limit. Afterwards we had a lesson in Japanese board games "Go" and "Shougi." It's hard to explain how to play a game like Go or Shougi in writing, but we could play sometime I guess, except for the face that we really didn't play Shougi, but a completely different game but using the shougi board and pieces(think Jenga). It was funny, Garth really liked playing Go. Mrs. Nagasato likes it too I guess. I'm really curious how modest a Japanese woman can be. I mean, Mrs. Nagasato doesn't lose, but she always says "Oh it's such an easy game!" or "How fast you catch on!" No matter how long a game would last, Garth would just be annhilated every match. I didn't get the chance to play Go against Mrs. Nagasato, but the thought of the terrifying "go-power" of Mrs. Nagasato could give me nightmares. OK, but seriously go is a fun game, but beware of Mrs. Nagasato. Mr Nagasato is also really good at Go, too, but he went to bed early as usual so I'm not as sure of his Go skill. Anyhow, I suspect he has some chore to do on the farm in the mornings, maybe it's that he and Mrs Nagasato have early morning Go sessions...hehe...

Day 3
Sunday, November 20
Woke up around 7:40am on account of staying up late watching TV after games and talking. Breakfast was delicious as always. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day right? So why shouldn't it be the most flavorful?! We had fish, rice, miso soup, a salad from banana, apple, kiwi, and yogurt, grapes. Then just chilling watching TV and chatting like usual. We were watching a kind of Week-in-review type show. They were first talking about political economy, President Bush, and Prime Minister Koizumi. I was surprised at how much I was picking up! I thought I was gonna be understanding like 30% but maybe my auditing of the Political Economics class is starting to pay off! Awesome!!!! Anyway, we did that until around noon when we went to the community center for a group lunch and closing ceremony. You'll never guess what was served for drinks...Asahi beer and Oolong Tea. Hey! At least there was a choice this time. When the bottles started to be empty, they started to pull out boxes from outside the door. I have no idea how much they thought we could drink, but I could only imagine how college students across the US would love to be in my shoes when they see the beer coming in by the box.

Ahh...shuppatsu (departure) came too soon. Garth and I both received too many great memories and far too many gifts from the Nagasato family. What a amazing weekend we had!

please view photos of my weekend homestay here>>


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice blog update. Very interesting. Now the Mother has to say "Watch the beer/sake" Happy Birthday. Mom

7:59 PM  

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