Journals from Kanto Gakuin University
2009-11-10 Home... in Japan
I have two suitcases, one a little bigger than the other. I also have two host sisters, one a little bigger than the other. Unfortunately, I may not be able to sneak them past customs So our backup plan is that when Santa comes from Finland (where he apparently lives, according to Maho) to drop off presents in Japan, the girls can hitch a ride on over to Seattle. First, of course, he'll have a snack at my host family's house; Ayumi says they usually give him cookies, but she was thinking this year maybe he'd like some miso soup.
I fell in love with this little family. They're the perfect balance of goofy (Ayumi, the seven-year-old, and Reiji-san, the host dad) and helpful (Maho, the nine-year-old, and Kaori-san, the host mom). Maho-chan explains the correct way to eat new foods; Ayumi gives an entertaining example of how not to eat them. I have long talks with my host mom about travels and poverty and cultural quirks; I have running jokes with my host dad about baseball and food. We're constantly poking fun at each other, and trying to train the girls to root for opposing baseball teams. Maho will cheer for Yomiuri, and I'll tickle her until she vows to support Nippon Ham, then an inning or two later Reiji-san will tickle her back to the Yomiuri side. My host dad is especially fond of a player he calls "Rami-chan" " I laughed for a long time when I first heard that one. I never thought I'd hear a Venezuelan guy named Ramirez referred to as "Rami-chan."
The girls didn't watch much baseball before I came, but they're getting rather good at it. One day the World Series was on, but I was supposed to go get lunch with some friends, so I told the girls, "Ok, I have to go, so while I'm gone, I need you to root for the Phillies, ok?" They did their job well; when I came back, they promptly reported the result and the score, proudly adding, "We rooted for the Phillies! Can't root for the Yankees, that would be bad, wouldn't it?" Ah yes, an important step in the girls' moral education. (Sadly the Yankees later won the Series, but what can you do?)
Later that week the Japan Series was on, but I had a presentation the next day so I was studying in my room. The girls came up to drop off laundry, and Ayumi gleefully reported, "Ham is winning!" Maho added, "Eight to four!" I asked the inning, mostly just to see if they knew, and Ayumi said, "The eighth!" to which Maho added, "The bottom of the eighth!" They're really getting good I do wish baseball season didn't have to end!
But as the Buddhists have so often pointed out, all things are transitory, including baseball seasons and homestays. The study abroad program here at KGU has us spend the first five weeks at a student residence in Hayama, the middle five weeks with host families, and the last five weeks back at Hayama. My last night at my host family's house was spent watching the last game of the Japan Series. My host dad and I were rooting (as always) for opposing teams, so we watched the game and the rest of the family giggled as they watched the alternately gleeful and jokingly grumpy looks we kept shooting each other after each significant play. The girls presented me with a little bouquet of flowers they had gathered in the neighborhood, and we ate fancy little desserts with "Thank You Lily" written in chocolate on top. Kaori-san kept saying that I should feel free to forget things so that I could come back and get them. Even knowing that I would see them again four days later for dinner on Wednesday, the girls, my host mom and I all cried when they dropped me off at Hayama.
Sunday was so lonely, waking up by myself all the way over in Hayama, missing Ayumi putting her pajama pants on her head as she looked for a pair of jeans and Maho setting out everyone's placemats for breakfast. We texted back and forth all day, both sides a bit sniffly and both sides wistfully looking at pictures. All of this is silly, I know; Im still here for a month, and I'll see them at least two or three times a week anyway. But it's not the same I can understand why the program includes the first five weeks at Hayama, so that we can get adjusted and learn some cultural do's and don'ts before we move in with host families, but I dont see why we must be uprooted again a month before leaving for the U.S. It just draws out the teary goodbyes, instead of getting them all over with on the same day. Overall though, I am glad that I had a host family that made me laugh so much that we all cried at goodbye. They are wonderful, and I miss them already, but I'm glad to have been so lucky.
After that bittersweet story, let's throw in the usual observation tidbits. The other day I heard a song coming from outside, and I poked my head out the window. My host mom explained that garbage trucks play music (nice, calm instrumental music, not ice cream truck music) so that people who forgot to take out to trash can hear the truck coming and hurry to get the trash out before the truck arrives. On another note, last week Ayumi had a fieldtrip to the zoo - and instead of taking a bus, her first-grade class walked an hour and a half each way! According to my host mom, that's short compared to previous generations. We should really do that in the U.S., to get those elementary schoolers some exercise On Friday when I was shopping with my host mom, I saw a jar of jam and said, "Wow, look how big that jar is!" only to realize that in the U.S. it would be perfectly average, maybe half a Costco jar. I really am getting used to miniature Japan Oh, and on Ayumi's birthday, my meals included the following: salted fish, natto (fermented beans?), umeboshi (pickled plum), rice, miso, and tofu for breakfast, cake and ice cream for lunch, and baby fish salad, rice, miso, and fish egg and scallop sashimi for dinner! Whew. My host dad definitely got a kick out of a few of my facial expressions that day I ate it all, and I did my best to look like I was enjoying it, but I think there was still a bit of a discrepancy between my cake-and-ice-cream face and my fish-egg-sashimi face!
Oh, I should tell you about our Halloween party, too! In addition to the Halloween party thrown by KGU, my host mom organized one in our neighborhood. My host family has always celebrated Halloween, but since this is their first Halloween since the move from Osaka, they became pioneers and threw this neighborhood's first-ever Halloween party. The moms all got together and assigned numbers to different houses on the block; participating families put up Halloween decorations and displayed the number so that the kids knew which houses would know what they were talking about it they knocked and said, "Trick or treat." We had a little trick or treat practice session to demonstrate the procedure. The kids all got dressed up, but because it was their first time and no one really knew how costumes worked, no one really was anything. By that I mean that if you asked one of the kids what they were for Halloween, they wouldn't have an answer; they each put on a variety of colorful pieces of clothing and maybe a pointy hat or a wig and called it good. My host sisters were the veterans, so they had actual costumes: Ayumi was a pumpkin, and Maho was a pirate (although beforehand, I honestly thought she was going to be a "pilot," not a "pirate!" They sound the same in Japanese, and her parents have both worked for airlines, so it would make sense).
Total, there were around 25 kids and eight or ten moms, plus one exchange student (me), and we all carved one pumpkin. My host mom and I did the actual carving, and the kids made faces as they plunged their hands in to scoop out seeds and gunk for the first time. "Ewww!" was usually accompanied by a grin! Food for the party included candy, of course, but also an interesting mix of pizza, Japanese curry, and build-your-own-burrito (we had a demonstration session for burritos, too). English, Spanish and Japanese all on one plate, I loved it.
Speaking of English, Spanish, and Japanese, I hear I have a three-way split personality. The other day one of my Japanese friends introduced me to another friend who had spent elementary, middle, and high school in the U.S. At first I stuck mostly to Japanese, but since both of them wanted to hear my English, I eventually switched. Afterwards, they commented that my personality was different in English; I spoke louder, and I was more assertive. It makes sense for me to be more confident in English, since I'm still nowhere near fluent in Japanese, but the fact that without even thinking about it I speak at a different volume in the two languages surprised me. Not only that, the same Japanese friend has also gone out for Peruvian food with me, and has seen me chat in Spanish. He says that from what he can tell, overall I am politest and quietest in Japanese, most confident and noisy in English, and most fun and happy in Spanish. And I guess I would agree, now that I think about it. It was interesting to hear that such language-influenced personality differences are so evident to the people around me.
As usual, I have plenty more I could say, but I don't have enough time to write it all, and (considering how much I've already written) I'm sure that you wouldn't have enough time to read it! I hope everyone is doing well back home, whichever home you are in!