Sunday, 23 June 2013

Japan: Week 14

14 - Homestay

With time ticking horrifically fast now I spend a lot of time working. However I'm glad to be able to say I'm still doing at least one interesting thing a week. This week's occurred on Saturday, when I had a day out with a Japanese family.

It seems typical that I start to find yet more interesting people who I should have spent time talking to with less than a month left to me, and this is certainly true of the girl who joined me on the visit. Patricia, you're wonderful, and I'm so glad I got to spend the day with you.

We were met by three quarters of the family - Mother, Father, and youngest daughter, aged 8 - at I-House, and headed for the next-door prefecture of Gifu. My host-mother had an amazing talent for making you feel incredibly interesting just by telling her about your normal life on your own continent. She asked us about our families, our hobbies, our schools, pretty much everything about our everyday lives. She was also happy to answer questions about their home life as well, and I'm still learning about how Japan works as a society, so it was an educational ride for all of us.

We arrived in a small town called Gujo, famous for the purity of its water. The river water only has to go through a brief cleaning process before it is clean enough to be used in homes, and there was a theme of water apparent throughout the town, as well as the fish abundant in the sparkling river.

The town is clearly old, and beautiful for it, but in a different way from Kyoto. The cobbles were different, and the street lay-out... It was just interesting being in yet another place that had a feeling I've not yet experienced. The rain helped, too. The same smell as that of early Spring showers in England, I felt quite nostalgic as the water soaked through my shoes and the drops made their fantastically unique sound, falling amongst the leaves.

We ate soba for lunch, and the meaning of the trip to this town was made known to us. Gujo is famous for making sample food, a concept unheard of in the West, but an ingenious, albeit simple, one. In the windows of restaurants are plastic versions of the menu - yes, just like the food you used to play with as a child - so that hungry customers can see at a glance if that restaurant is the one for them that night. There are many grades of pricing restaurants can pay for sample food, and in the most expensive places you'd think you were looking at a bowl of tempura. So, in the town of Gujo, it is possible to make your own sample food!

It was a new experience to say the least. Unskilled at any type of art, I was unsurprisingly very poor at moulding wax around my plastic prawn to make it look battered, but it was enjoyable and interesting, and my host sister was brilliant at it.

After another walk round we headed back to Nisshin to my host family's house. It was in a nice neighbourhood, the sort of place you'd create with your bare hands to raise your children, and the house was lovely. Bigger than if you lived anywhere near a big city, and more recognisable as a family home than Westerners might imagine, complete with piano and family pictures.

I met the older of the two sisters, aged 11, who promptly demonstrated for us how to prepare for Kendo, and then how to fight! An interesting experience, being instructed by an 11-year-old who's house you're visiting to hit her over the head with a giant bamboo sword, but when the parents are encouraging you to try it harder, what exactly do you do?

Kendo practice finished, the girls demonstrated that they've been making full use of the piano, and it was time for dinner. The meal was temakizushi, or roll-your-own sushi! Fish and other fillings are laid out buffet-style, with a pile of nori (seaweed) squares and bowls of rice, and that's it, dig in. Cleverly orchestrated for a home-stay, I'd imagine, as there's less chance of a heart-stopping moment when the visitor doesn't eat the main part of the meal. It was delicious, of course, and fun.

After dinner we played card games, and this was clearly a normal occurrence. It was pleasant to see that neither of the girls glanced longingly at the giant TV even once, they really wanted to spend time and play games with us.

The day had to come to an end however, and after signing my host-mother's visiting book, we had to say goodbye, taking our home-made sample food with us as a pretty cool souvenir. It was sad that we only had one day to share in each other's culture, but as we left to countless invitations to return and see them all again, and as I've already had an email from the oldest daughter who adores to practice her English, maybe I'll see them again.

Discovering the similarities, not the differences, between our ways of living was the best part of that day. We're all human, and we interact in certain ways because that's how we're comfortable living. It seems wonderful that I can go half-way across the world and still find a place that's entirely recognisable as a home. This was definitely an experience I won't be sorry I spent the time on in Japan.

Yours, Abby

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