What did we end up doing that night? We went to the mall! Just to show me, apparantly, what Japanese malls look like. Funniest thing - the look much like US Malls. I know, you're aghast. I did get to watch them play a taiko video game, though, and that was adorable. And we got some icecream, and I learned that both Yukari and Hiyato (their little boy) loved chocolate. Absolutely loved it.
This was reassuring, since I'd brought them Texas made chocolates as part of my guest gift!
After ice cream I was trying to explain that I'd like to make dinner for them at some point during the weak since they'd never had American food, and that somehow turned into a trip to the grocery store so I could make a salad and not interrupt Yukari's carefully planned Japanese meal for my first night. It was really cute discussing vegitables and trying to figure out what they liked and what they had at home. And I introduced them to the joys of balsamic vinegar.... (thank goodness for watching Food Network - I can now put together an oil and vinegar salad dressing without hesitating).
My host family was slightly different than most of the Japanese people who were part of the hosting program in Mobara. I found out the next day that about 75% of the students had families who were world travelors, lived in big houses, had guest rooms, etc. I kind of got the authentic Japanese experience in that my host family was a young couple who hadn't traveled out of the country, who lived in an apartment. Makoto worked in a family business and Yukari stayed home and took care of the house and Hayato. They have a two bedroom apartment that's smaller than our place in LA. I was going to be staying in thier son's room (he was then moved to their room). When I found that out I was doubly thankful we were only in Mobara 5 days, because it's not really fair to kick little boys out of the room that holds all their toys. My bed was a 1/2 inch thick futon pad that lay on the hardwood floor.
Interestingly enough, for those who don't know this, the Japanese home usually splits up the toilet and the bathing facility. So you enter into the apartment and there's a little genkan - area where you take off your shoes. Then you step up, and there's a hallway with two doors facing eachother - one leads to the toilet, the other to the interior of the house. It was nice never having to feel uncomfortable about flushing the toilet and waking someone up.
The kitchen and living room had no separations, and then the back of the house was occupied by the master bedroom and the guest bedroom (with a bathing room on the left hand side). I found I liked washing my hands as soon as I walked in the door - something we all did after we came in from outside, every single time. I've also discovered I like bathing at night for the most part - lets you feel like you wash off the grime and gook from the day spent in the humidity before you go to bed. The only drawback is going to bed with wet hair.
Anyway, that first night, the food was fantastic, they were super happy I was actually able to use my chopsticks and had decent table manners.
For my homework, that night I wrote a little diary entry in Japanese. Our professors hadn't let us escape the whole week unscathed, so we had to keep a diary, interview our families, ask them probing questions, and draw up a family tree. My first night I was still tired from heading out so early, being nervous and freaked and then being hopeful but on edge with these new people who were nice but also ... maybe a little shy? And I discovered that I couldn't drink the water in their apartments - I was given the option of green tea or black tea to drink). And so this is what I wrote:
Ok, so first off, she likes American Rock. It's awesome. And at the initial introduction when they weren't talking to me because they have no idea what I'm talking about, they are super duper sweet. Yukari speaks English pretty well, and she's teaching Hitori, which is super cute. They gave me his room. I am so glad I brought the Omyage I did, but I feel like I should send more – legos, anything Cars (the movie) related, because the little boy is so cute. So we went shopping, then I stupidly offered to make dinner – and then Yukari said I could make salad – and so we had to go to another store. All day long my feet have swollen, so that kicks ass. I was worried about it every second of the day, seems like. We sat down, went over first questions, I gave them my professor's letter, and they graciously talked with me about stuff. OMG, didn't know how to use the shower. Took a cold one. Electronics are NOT intitive in another country. Yukari also makes clay flowers, they're awesome. I took pictures of Hayato blowing bubbles. We talked about American movies we liked - and I think in that way Yukari's awesome - she loves Quentin Tarintino. And I know I'm now clueless with baseball - this is not exacly a new revelation though. Still hope the leg/foot gets better. Gnight.
Sunday - Family Day
Sunday was the day we spent with our host family without Ensemble Mobara intervention. A free day to learn about them, their lives, what they like to do. Again my family hadn't planned anything per se, so the night before we'd talked about going to a flower garden, and out to the ocean. I think everybody was happy, because Hiyato loves the ocean, and the flowers were beautiful.
When I woke up that morning, though, my leg was still swolen and my rash had pretty much remained unchanged, so over breakfast (with hand ground coffee - dad, if you're reading, remember your hand grinder? they have one of those!) we talked about going to a drug store so I could get some antihistamines. It was with a curious blend of concern and ... disinterest... that my host family took me to the drugstore to talk to a pharmisist. We got some antihistamines, some water, and I took another picture of Hayato's drawings that were hung up in the supermarket.
And then it was off to the Hydrangia Flower Farm. An entire hillside exploding with fantastic colors and bunches of flowers. It was a beautiful sunny day and we walked through almost every path, both me and Makoto were snapping pictures at every bunch. We wandered, pointing out pretty things to eachother and ... simply spending time in the sun with the hillsides covered with flowers. I loved every second. (well, every second that I wasn't looking at my leg hoping it would go down after taking antihistamines).
We hopped back in the car and went to lunch at a family restaurant. Apparantly at the family restaurants they bring you toys for your kids to play with at the table. You also get to ring the bell to get wait service. It was very sweet and very normal.
And then to the beach. The Mobara beach is black sand, but it's still the same cold Pacific Ocean, no matter which side of it you're dipping your toes into. Makoto found me a perfect shell on his walk down the beach with Hayato, and watching a 4 year old frolic in the waves is pretty damn cute. I'm always comforted by the ocean, anyway, and there was something fantastic and lovely about sitting down and just watching the waves roll in. I also found out that the Mobara beaches were fantastic for surfing, and there were half a dozen surfers in the water goofing around. And the strangest para-sailer kind of people flying overhead - they were using parachutes with motors attached to a seat - so they flew along the coastline about 200 feet in the air.
Sunday was the first night I got to experience the family routine in full - sit down to dinner about 6, eat dessert before you leave the table, then Hayato took his bath (with one or the other parent helping - usually his father). Then either Yukari or I would take our baths, we'd watch TV for a bit and talk and I'd do some homework, and then we'd head to bed. After I closed the door to my room, Yukari would fidget around the kitchen preparing breakfast for the next day (sadly since the other side of my sliding door was the wall to the kitchen I heard every click and clack of a utinsil and plate) and then finally it would quiet down so we could all be up at 6:30, eat breakfast around 7, and leave for school by 8.
Monday in Mobara
Monday in Mombara saw us back at the city hall, with a lecture by Everett Kennedy Brown. He's a photojournalist (if you go to the site you'll discover this), but he really came to talk to us about his organic farm that he and his wife maintain outside of Mobara. It's a traditional Japanese farm, and they do things completely organically. They're also into macrobiotics, and have five children, and just a wonderfully interesting life. He talked to us about finding and founding their farm, about the challenges of farming without chemicals (they use ducklings to do the weeding in the spring), about raising mixed children in a culture that has a lot of intolerance towards that, and best of all, about how they run an internist program where people help with their farm in exchange for room and board.
Mom, if you're reading, YOU MUST DO THIS PROGRAM. It's called WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and it has no age restrictions. Everett is going to do it when he retires. It sounds fantastic.
So after that charming and kind of hopeful discussion, we had the Mayor of Mobara and his right hand man give us a talk bout the economic opportunites in Mobara and the change in the economy. So dry I actually felt my fingers shriveling as I listened.
Then there were the dancing ladies - we saw about 5 minutes each of 10 traditional dances, all done by volunteers that weren't a day younger than 70 (and I think our oldest was 87 and still spry and lovely).
Sadly after that we went on an Ensemble Mobara planned tour of the city that included us trying to husle through three temples, a park, a post office, a fish shop, and another place of interest - not to look at them, though, but to simply collect the Ensemble Mobara cards. By that point I was tired, frustrated, and worried even more about walking on my leg. The first temple they brought us to was absolutely fascinating, and even though I was one of four last to leave, we still had in sum total about 5 minutes to walk through it. I started to lose my temper. It was absolutely no way to see anything - it was just a race to get back to city hall. Our second stop was Mobara City park, and since we were so behind we I barely had time to take a picture of the most magnificent lily pond I've ever seen. The entire surface of the water was covered with leaves... and yet, there was enough time to snap on picture and then off we were to go.
By the time we got to the second temple, I'd had it. I was done. And then, as we were walking to the next destiation - the Mobara post office - I looked down at my right arm, that had swelled a little in the preceding day - and realized not only had it swollen from the walk but it was looking red too. The combination of three nights of lack of sleep, of feeling like I was an intruder in someone else's plan, of feeling as if I couldn't control anything - including my own body - I snapped. I asked the IES staff person with us if I could go to a doctor. And then I hit bottom. They took me ahead to the station where we were supposed to do community service (picking up trash for a half an hour) and I got to wait, completely frazzled, tears uncontrollably coming, while they figured out how to get me to a doctor who could figure out what was wrong with me.
Everyone was sweet, really, and every time they tried to comfort me it just made it worse. Far worse. Everytime I got composed someone would give me a hug or pat me on the back and I'd lose it again. Luckily we do have this medical insurance stuff for a reason. We hopped into one of the Ensemble Mobara people's car, drove two blocks to a dermatologist, and my RA and the IES staff member Shinkai-San both ran interference and translated for me. The doctor looked at the antihistamine I'd bought and said it wouldn't really do any good for me, and proscribed a topical ointment and rest for two days. He looked surprised that I'd actually been walking for most of the day. So my pennance and my prescription was to stay at home, with my host mom, for the next day and keep off my leg. And prop them under a pillow at night.
To be honest, at that point, the thought of going back to my host family was slightly nightmarish because I simply didn't want to feel as if I was required to make awkward half english half japanese conversation with someone who seemed to be slightly frustrated at me (and yes, at this point, I was imagining it, but at the time I really felt as if I was somehow a let down to my family for all the reasons why I'd given before). I was well and truly freaked. I had convinced myself that my combo lack of sleep, and uncomfortable feelings about being basically turned back into a child again (having to ask for everything, even when I could shower, when I could eat, etc), was somehow a failing on my part and that my host family was dissatisfied with me because of it all.
And then Yukari and Hiyato showed up in the car to pick me up and I had a breif moment of joy at seeing Hayato grin at me through the window of the car. And I thought everything might just turn out to be ok. We went back to the house, and I said over and over again how embarrassed I was that I'd broken down, that Yukari had to pick me up, that I was going to have to stay home tomorrow. Luckily the IES staff had explained the whole thing to her on the phone before, so she was understanding and basically shoved me towards my room and told me to go rest.
That's what I did for the evening. Hid. Came out for dinner. Showered. Hid some more. And I planned on hiding the next day too. I finally broke down and called Neil and let him know how worried I was about my leg and how homesick I was. I was better after talking to him. Still worked over. But better.
Tuesday in Mobara
Wonder what I did on Tuesday? Read. An English book called Foucault's Pendulum. Hid. Skipped breakfast. Hid. Some more. Yukari came home from dropping off Hayato at kindergarten and invited me, if I felt well enough, to go with her when she picked him up from school in the afternoon. I provisionally accepted the invite. And went back to my book.
It was exactly what I needed.
Yukari called me out for lunch (one thing - if you're sick a Japanese person will try to feed you. And over feed you) and we actually chatted like people of similar age - no rule questions, but instead I found out that they'd had two exchange students before me, and neither of them were as good at Japanese as I. And I got to talk to her about being homesick - about how Neil and I have been together for so long and really haven't taken time apart - especially never time like this, where we're countries away. And I got to talk to her about how she'd feel if she and Makoto had to be apart and I think she knew where I was coming from.
But hiding? Is still fun. At least until I finished the book.
Picking up Hiyato was fantastic though - Yukari made all of her friends at the school (who are mothers of children the same age as Hiyato) use their english with me. They grinned and ducked their heads and all said "Hello, my name is ...." and giggled afterwards. Their kids did too. I got to see a real kindergarten and I'm sure everyone will be surprised to know that Japanese kindergartens look much like American ones, except all of the students have uniforms and their wear different colored hats depending on the grade they're in.
Dinner was adorable - Yukari had created gyoza from scratch and she had me and Hiyato help her fold them up. And then Yukari shooed me back into my room with the suggestion that I could still have free time - I think she'd decided the best way to make me feel comfortable was to make sure I knew I had free time whenever and didn't have to hang out with the family. I did help, immensely.
Wednesday - the last full day
Even though things were more relaxed in my homestay, and even though I'd had a day to recover, I was freakishly pleased that our last full day in the city had finally arrived. I'm not meant for homestay.
So that last day we were trotted over to visit a company and then to another city to make sushi. The company was a small manufacturing firm that allowed us to actually see their machines on the manufacturing floor (although we weren't allowed to take pictures of the cool stamping machines). They also gave us fans with their web adress. It now adorns the frighteningly blank walls of my room for some color.
Unfortunately the sushi kitchen didn't have enough slots for us all, so some people go to make sushi and some got to .... watch. Faced with choices like that half a dozen of us went back to another room and goofed around.
That afternoon was the best - we'd been scheduled to visit an Agricultural and Industrial High School and so got to actually meet a bunch of Japanese students. I'd picked the gardening class, but since it was too hot to be outside taking lessons on how to trim bushes, we retreated to the classroom and the Japanese students asked the American students questions (and vice versa). We found out they only wanted to visit Canada and Australia, that they wanted to know if Disneyland was different in our country, and what we thought of Japan. We got a short kendo lesson, and trotted home.
My last night in Mobara Makoto had a dentist's appointment so Yukari, Hiyato and I had dinner together. And then... it was the best. Yukari and I had been talking about music, and so we went through the stuff I had on my computer to see if she wanted me to leave her with any of it. Makoto and I ended up laying on the floor like college kids with our computers next to eachother, trying to find a way for me to get a couple of albums of japanese ska back to America. We were up until about 11, goofing and laughing and trading songs. They also gave me incredibly sweet goodbye presents, but I don't want to spoil the surprise for some of my readers by talking about them now. Oh, and I have the gyoza recipe so I can finally make it from scratch myself when I get home... once I translate it.
And that... mostly... was my homestay. My family all took me to the bus the next morning, and we shook hands before I hopped on. I wanted to hug, but ... hugging? NOT part of my family's lexicon. But they waved, they grinned, and I really do appreciate everything they did letting me stay with them.