Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Life in a Japanese Family

This trip to Japan was really quite unplanned. I always wanted to visit so I perused some plane ticket prices and just sort of went. So a lot of it's been happening on the fly. Hey, sometimes that's the best way!

I didn't want to spend all my time in Tokyo so I stuck a pin in a map and caught the budget bus to Ogaki in the Gifu prefecture, close to Nagoya which is the fourth largest city in Japan.

Thanks to, a friendly young man names Hiroki met me at the station and took me to his family home as a guest. Hiroki himself had experience of studying in the UK so we could communicate easily but he told me that his parents were nervous because they didn't speak English and of course my Japanese is still restricted to "hello", "yes" and "beer please".

Arriving at the House

I arrived and said "good evening" to the parents, who welcomed me in and offered me the guest slippers. The Japanese traditionally never wear shoes in the house - the entrance is recessed with a shoe cupboard to one side, so you can store your shoes and pop on some house slippers. You are expected to wear socks with your slippers and to take them off before walking on any mats in the bedroom. There's also a separate pair of 'bathroom slippers', usually made from a washable vinyl or similar, to change into when you use the toilet.
I was served a cup of tea and a range of snacks and we chatted (via Hiroki!). I was offered a Japanese bath, which is like a one-man hot tub that you take to relax after showering, but I was just happy to wash my hair in the shower and climb into bed. The mother brought me a glass of ice water for the night.

It was a bit weird for me, being treated as a priority and being given such special treatment by people I'd never met before. But I understand that it's all part of Japanese culture - they very rarely entertain at home so it's a great honour to be invited in. Rather than saying "make yourself at home", the hosts rush around doing everything for you so that you can relax. So I tried my best to roll with it and show my gratitude.
I was also introduced to three King Charles spaniels wearing tracksuits:

This one kept staring at me

Day One

We were up and about by 8am and the mother made us breakfast, serving me first. I had rice, tofu, vegetable stew and plain yoghurt, and then Hiroki gave me a lift to Nagoya where he was working that day.
I picked up an all-day sightseeing bus ticket to check out the usual destinations - Nagoya Castle, which dates from 1610 but was almost entirely destroyed in the 2nd world war and then rebuilt as a museum; the science museum, which houses the world's largest planetarium and therefore charges a fortune on the door; and the electricity museum which was free and turned out to be fantastic fun!

Now, Hiroki wasn't going back home that night, so I caught a train to his town and he arranged for his parents to collect me. The mother met me at 10pm, her usual sweet and friendly self, and we tried to make snippets of conversation in the car. When we got in, I headed straight for the shower and bed.

Day Two

I was seriously nervous about socialising with the parents so I laid in until 9am when I started to hear noises in the kitchen. I was served breakfast again - scrambled egg, green beans, side salad, bread and plain yoghurt. I later discovered that this is known as 'a Western style breakfast'.
I packed my things and gave them a small gift, using rehearesed Japanese to try and express my appreciation of their astonishing hospitality, and walked to the bus stop. I'd had an amazing insight into family life and met the most wonderfully generous people... but it was time to regain my independence.

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