Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Atypical Homestay Family (and Some Long-Awaited Photos)

[Written on June 12]

(The pictures are from the last few days and were arranged in no particular logic.)

View of Shinagawa Eki from my hotel window ...

... and Hakodate.

I am simply floored by my homestay family; they are super nice, but they couldn’t have been any more different than the traditional Japanese family I was expecting. First of all, Otou-san is a potter while both he and Okaa-san run a variety store where they sell Otou-san’s work in addition to things like postcards, soaps, bowls, etc. As a result, their house is brimming with ART – everywhere you go, sculptures and pottery displayed on the shelves, the wooden floors and walls painted in bright turquoise, yellow, green, and pink – even the toilet roll is perched on an attractive holder shaped like a tree branch. Otou-san has his pottery workshop downstairs (next to my room) as well as a separate woodshop that used to be a garage. Yet the house still manages to have a really cozy feel to it.

Hakodate is definitely かわいい!

Otou-san is also really different from the stereotypical “salaryman”. Some of the other HIF students had read on their homestay sheets that the father worked late or only came home on the weekends, but it was Otou-san and Riko-san who picked me up from the opening ceremony and drove us up Hakodateyama to eat a scenic lunch at the top. Since he and Okaa-san split shifts at the shop, he has dinner ready for the entire family whenever it’s Okaa-san’s turn to work. He also took me along on his daily trip to the supermarket (daily because they only buy food for the next few meals), and tried to explain the various foods there, although he kept reverting to English because my Japanese was so poor. (I guess I’ll need to start using more advanced patterns than “~ がありますか?before he feels comfortable speaking only in Japanese to me.) With his soft voice, small build, and the fact that he was probably the only male in the supermarket (although I admit it was a bit small), I guess Otou-san isn’t your average Japanese man. (He learned English, by the way, from studying pottery for a year in New Zealand when he was twenty-three.)

A little taste of home?

I met Okaa-san shortly before dinner – once again, extremely nice and always smiling. Dinner was a lot of laughing at the pronunciation of Japanese borrowed words written in katakana. (I got a lot of confused stares from describing my dad’s church as “Protestant” before they burst out laughing when they realized I meant “プロテスタント”.) Then we sat down to watch the Korea vs. Greece game in the World Cup, and I presented my omiyage with the appropriate JSL line: “つまらないものですくが…” and likewise, they all oohed and aahed appropriately at each gift: a Kentucky Derby mug, a jar of Kentucky-made chocolate fudge, and a box of Cracker Jack since I had heard that popcorn was scarce in Japan. (Otou-san and Riko-san had some fun seeing who could read the cheesy slogans on the Cracker Jack box with the best English pronunciation.)

Hakodateyama, often shrouded in mist

I also tried out the Japanese-style bath that night. (Another discrepancy from the traditional Japanese family – I asked Otou-san if he always went first, but he shook his head no and said it was whoever had the time to take a bath at that moment.) For those who aren’t familiar with a Japanese bath, you wash your body and hair while sitting on a stool in a separate area first and rinse everything off before you relax in a tub filled with hot water. You don't drain the bath water when you're done, however, because everyone else in the family uses the same water (probably the reason why the head of the family usually goes first). I had also gotten a lot of warnings from other students that the bath water would be hot, but actually, it wasn’t too bad – as hot as a Jacuzzi I guess, which felt pretty awesome to me. To be honest, I think I prefer the Japanese style – relaxing in a hot tub at night versus jumping into a quick shower in the morning. (It also helps that I take night showers anyway.)

In the end, I’m getting over a lot of the jitters I had about my host family. I’m still being super polite and using the neutral forms for even Riko-san but maybe by the end of HIF, I’ll learn to be a little less uptight.

Word of the day: すなどけい. I tried pointing out the shape of Hakodate to Otou-san and Riko-san from Hakodateyama, but they had never heard the word “hourglass”. The Japanese word literally translates into “sand watch”, so I guess it was a little confusing. Though apparently, I was the first person to say that it looked like an hourglass, and they found it really amusing when Okaa-san tried to figure out how to say it in English. 

"The Very Very ... Beast?" (Is that what they call Japanese English?)

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Kelly McLaughlin said...

Were they shooting for "best" maybe, or is there really something about a beast? Squid beast? =)

Does sound like a great home stay for sure...

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