So first off, they told us on Thursday of the week before last what our homestay appointments were goinig to be - and I was the envy of most of the girls as I was placed with a family of two parents and a four year old little boy. Apparantly every woman here wanted little kids to play with. It didn't make that much of a difference to me, on the other hand. What did was that my homestay family was the same exact age as me (I mean the couple - Yukari and Makoto). I was worried and a little scared in seperate turns that they weren't going to want someone as old as me, that they weren't going to be happy with my Japanese speaking ability, something like that.
But Megan (my next door neighbor and best friend here) and I put all those worries away and went back to Yoyogi part the next Friday afternoon to walk around the Imperial Iris Gardens. I cannot explain in words how fantastically beautiful the afternoon was. They have probably a couple of thousand iris growin in this valley in between the huge trees of the park. We were there for a couple of hours, in time to see the sun start to set, and just enchanted by every variation of purple and blue and white, every petal shape and new name.
That night, since our Saturday move to Mobara began at 7:15 am, we got to experience the joys of Japanese laundry. Actually, laundry isn't so bad - but the dryers really don't dry anything. Luckily Megan and I had purchased some lovely laundry line at the 100 yen store, so our rooms finally took on some personality with our clothes hanging around in them.
That was also the first night that I noticed my mysterious rash. My right leg looked like it had a bug bite - but one going quietly septic and making my ankle swell. I was concerned, but not overly so, and Megan had some zyrtec since she's allergic to everything, so I took that and threw myself into a couple of hours of sleep hoping to wake up and have everything be alright for the trip out.
The next morning? Pure and unadultered hell. I woke up muzzy from lack of sleep and the allergy meds, and the check out process was an absolute disaster on wheels. We are issued two sheets and a pillow case by the NYC facility, and those sheets and pillow cases all have to be collected before we leave. The kicker, though? They have to be returned folded in the exact same way they were distributed. It was an orgy of college students still hung over from the night before all trying to turn in their sheets, pick up their rooms, and repack all of their belongings, all at WAY too early in the morning.
And my rash, although looking slightly less swolen, had not abated.
We had the joy of sitting on cramped warm busses, winding our way out of Tokyo. And of course, there was a stop for lunch, on the man made island in Tokyo bay. Impressive work of engineering, singular lack of anything remotely appetizing to eat for lunch. Sadly, that was our lunch stop.
Mobara is a small city on one of the other side of the Tokyo bay. It's about 10 minutes to the beach, and it's a mix of rural and factory. Their one claim to fame temple is beautiful and unfortunately I don't remember how old it is.
Now, to explain - our whole homestay program was actually organized by a volunteer organization in Mobara called "Mobara Ensemble". A group of mostly women who I think take english classes together, they found homestay familes for the 60 or so people in our program (although some houses were two students to a family). They also arranged a week's worth of "cultural" activities, since our profeesors weren't exactly going to move to Mobara for a week to teach class. Every day was jam packed with local flavor, but I'll get to that in a minute.
The city itself looks like any other city - used car lots, fast food restaurants, malls, etc. And then you turn a corner and there are rice fields mixed in with all of this urban space, and little houses sitting on the edge of them all. There apparantly wasn't a whole ton to do IN Mobara itself - our RAs spent their evenings (since they were in the city to help us out, but weren't placed with a family) at Mobara's one club. I'm not sad I missed that fun.
The Introduction Ceremony
The Mobara Ensemble people had set up the community room in the town hall with two gigantic sets of chairs facing eachother. On the left, the students. On the right, the famillies. We got to sit and stare at eachother for almost an hour before we were introduced with eachother. If that's not enough to make anyone nervy, I also committed a lovely Japanese faux pas with my family straight off that set the butterflies right into my stomach.
You see, raather than sit down, a bunch of us were wandering around in the door way in the front of the building. And I'm standing with Andrea, who is also worrying about if her homestay family is going to like her, and I see my family walk up. They look just like their picture, little boy and all. So we decide we'll go over and introduce our selves to them. And we do - except that I introduce myself as Kato Pajie (my short name while I'm in Japan because ... Lippsmeyer? Does not trip off the Japanese tongue, trust me). They smile, and bow, and introduce themselves, and then ... walk away.
And I start the first freak out. It had looked as if there was a flicker of recognition in their eyes, but instead of talking, they just walked away. Was I not what they wanted? Were they already unhappy with having to take me in because I was much older than the normal exchange student? Was my Japanese really that bad and could they already tell? And why was my leg still rashy and scary? I found, in those next few moments, a depth of insecurity and a need for acceptance in myself that I hadn't had to deal with in years.
Then I started to rationalize. First, running up and introducing yourself to someone in Japan? It is NOT done. Not in rural areas, especially. You need to be properly introduced before things can proceed along socially acceptable lines. I'm not kidding about this. So, that was probably one factor in their quick turning away. The other? I'd introduced myself with my short name - but all they'd seen was my long one! So they were expecting Katarin Paji-Lipsumiyara to show up, not Kato Pajie. And even though they had a picture of me, I have a feeling that photocopied likenesses aren't enough to bypass a name you're clinging to. Sadly, these rationalizations only cut my fears and doubts in half. The rest of the ceremony was spent hoping that I was right and that everythign would be ok, and the other half reminding myself it was only five days and I can stand anything for five days. Little did I know.
While all this internal hemmoraging was going on the Mobara Ensemble people did the typical Japanese meeting and introduced every single person in their group, their brothers, their relatives. They also had arranged a Taiko demonstration that rattled the rafters and got the blood moving and was simply fantastic.
And then .... the introductions finally began. Each student stood, each host family stood, and then they were whisked away to get pictures taken by the Mobara Ensemble people, and got to gather at these tables set out with snacks and talk. Nerves are never ever reduced when your name is at the end of the alphabet. This particular moment was no different. But finally, finally, my name was called, and my family's name, and we stood, and they, thankfully, smiled at me.
So they smiled, I smiled, and the first thing they leaned over and asked was just exactly what they should call me. And I introduced myself with my short name the Japanese way, last name first, and so, in my five day stay, became Pajie. They didn't want me to be formal with them, so we started off on a first name basis, and used plain form.
A short note about that - if you're studying japanese right now and you're required in most of your papers and most of your classes to use polite form - practice plain form - don't be like me, and keep forgetting how to correctly conjugate (or unconjugate) into plain form because it's a bitch to do it in your head every time. I discovered that I speak naturally in polite form... all the time.
The best part about these introductions was that I discovered Yukari (my host "mom") was born in March of the same year I was, and that she loves Aerosmith and american heavy metal. We did a little gigggle and hand holding type thing when she discovered I like them too. I may not love them as fanatically as she does, but ... yes, I will admit, I have a spot in my heart for Aerosmith. Besides, it was all in the interests of facilitating cultural exchange!
And since I have to go to a hall meeting now, I'll leave you all with that for an update. The trials and tribulations of the rest of the week will be forthcoming. Just to place you in the time frame - I'm still on Saturday in terms of narrative. Yep. Just you wait till I get to Tuesday.
(oh, and for those who are worried, everything that was wrong is fine now. We're back at NYC, my leg has cleared up - more on that in the next post - and we're back at school.... but that's all another story)