SUNDAY. SEPTEMBER FOURTH.
On this day I met my host family. It was this day I was scheduled to meet them (and then, go to their home with them…that is not ever explicitly stated during orientation week, by the way―SURPRISE!! ) Anyways…that morning I had to move out of my temporary dorm, set all my luggage downstairs in the lobby, and then walk over to the CIE (the Center for International Education a.k.a. gaijin building) to wait FOREVER and in so much anxious anticipation for this Japanese family who was willing to let a foreign stranger live in their home with their children.
While I was waiting, I looked over my paper that told me information about the family. There was a mom, a dad, a niece who was my age, and two small children (a girl of about 3 and a 1 year-old boy). I was very excited because there would be adorable children and someone my age who can teach me how people of this generation actually speak! Yes! Luckily, some friends from my university waited with me in the waiting room (nothing fancy, just a small classroom next to other classrooms we would meet our future host families in). I started to get the jitters while waiting, and I think it’s because a certain realization was dawning on me.
Eventually, I was called to meet my family. One of the CIE staff greeted me and asked me what I liked to be called. I heard other staff ask other students the same question because some people had names that would be hard for Japanese people to pronounce. LoL, my boyfriend, Andrew, was asked if his family could call him “Andy,” and he said no. Andrew does not like that nickname at all. In my case, I pronounced my name as “Sandara” and also said that “Dara” would be fine (how funny that that name would become a very much used nickname during my time here in Japan). Then we went to go see the family in the next classroom over.
We met the family in the hallway as we looked for the classroom. I was a bit unsettled because there was a mom, a dad, two small children, and another girl? She looked to be in grade school and definitely not my age. I wondered if she was another daughter or someone else who lived in the house, and I wondered what the niece was like then. I also wondered if we’d all fit in their car with all my humungous luggage. The staff member who was to play the intermediary role and interpreter for us seemed to also be concerned, and once we had settled down at a table, he asked about the other child. The mom replied that she was a neighbor friend who often visited so she had accompanied them to this meeting.
The meeting then commenced, and we went over the contract that the family filled out with preferences and house rules. As we did this, the baby peed on himself and on the floor, one of the children knocked over the tea served to the family, and the interpreter and other staff tried to help clean up, all the while being very embarrassed. (I should have known craziness would ensue once I live with this family. Jay kay. Jay kay. I really did think it was funny and cute. I mean, they’re kids. What are you going to do? Press the pause button on them?)
As far as the meeting itself, a lot of the rules about there being an order to who showers and goes into the bath at night, dinnertime, curfew, etc. were all written out quite strictly on the contract itself, but then as each rule was brought up for clarification and discussion, the mother would actually contradict her own writing and say things like, “oh no there’s not really an order” and “dinnertime is between these two hours but we can save you the food if you come home late” and “there’s not really a curfew; just please let us know when you’ll be home” and so on. Some things that were required were that I clean my own room at least once a week, I hang and pick up and fold my own laundry after the mom washes it, and that I help clean the dishes up at night. The mom said she’d show me everything when we got to their house. That dawning realization became stronger as I realized I was really going home with them and going to sleep in their house.
The meeting went pretty smoothly overall, and things looked good. There was only one thing that irked me though. At one point we went over my allergies and foods I disliked. I’m allergic to apples, and I really don’t like onions. I really don’t like onions (especially raw or big cooked slices of mleh). HOWEVER, I will tolerate it if I have to. Anyhoo, when we got to this part, the translator asked me if I was for reals (not in those words, but yeah), and I said, yeah, but that I’ll eat it if it’s not in big chunks or raw. I said that it just was at the bottom of my eatables. She then turns to the host mom and says something along the lines of, “how childlike” (in Japanese kodomoppoi [子供っぽい]). This upset me. Disliking ONE vegetable does not make me childlike. Urrrrgggghhh!! Anyways, later on I cleared it up with my host mom about my onion situation and ate miso soup almost every night at my homestay with onions all up in it!! Take that!
After the meeting, we got into a minivan, and my new host mom chatted me up on the way to the parking lot. She seemed really nice and chillax. The minivan belonged to her mom since they could not all fit in their normal car, much less with me and my suitcases. This was my biggest worry coming up. Can my suitcases fit?
I got into the car, and I kind of just sat quietly the whole time unless they asked me questions. I was really nervous. When we got to the seminar house, I saw Andrew just packing up and about to leave with his host family. That made me feel better. I smiled at him as I nervously helped my host parents get my suitcases. OMG, my poor host dad. They were so heavy. I saw the pain lol. Back in the car, the same continued of just being asked questions and me trying not to be too nervous. By the way, kids do NOT buckle up in Japan and jump around and all about the inside of the vehicle. The mom also sat carrying her BABY in the FRONT SEAT. This madness….I don’t even know what to say. I talked about this with my other homestay friends, and they noticed the same thing and were just as appalled as I was. The thing is, as much as we want to say something, it’s definitely not our place. :/
The house was about 20 to 30 minutes away by car. When we arrived, I was a little disappointed that the house wasn’t more traditional-looking, but who am I to judge? The house was very cute and narrow, regardless, and it was what I expected to see. When we entered (omg, my poor host dad, again), he brought in my suitcases and lugged them upstairs—UPSTAIRS—to my new room. I kept saying sorry for how heavy my suitcases were, and the parents kept saying that it was ok. My room was super cute, and I noticed a lot of IKEA décor and furniture pieces. My bed was a futon on the floor, and I also had a desk and shelving unit. There’s not too much to describe about my room, but if you watch my video tour, you’ll get to see what it looked like. My parents then left me to unpack and relax.
As I unpacked and put my things in their new place, I noticed that there was quite a bit of dust on…well, everything. I think my host family cleaned my room at one point, but not recently enough because then I became really uncomfortable and had the urge to clean everything. There were some hairs and dust balls in the drawers of things and on the floor and on the bed and on the pillow and yeah… I’m not a neat freak, but I really don’t like letting dust build up or particles in bed, which there also were. BUT, everything else was really nice regardless. (I cleaned up that room really well the following weekend since school started the next day.)
They called me down for dinner, and I ate with the children. The host mom and dad don’t really eat dinner, they told me. They’re both on diets? The host niece wasn’t there that day. I would meet her later. I helped clean up and wash dishes, and then we talked some more and got to know each other a little better. We went over my schedule and how to use the bath. I took my first night shower in Japan, but I didn’t use the Japanese bath, or o-furo. I wasn’t ready to do that yet. I said good night and went to my room. I got ready for my first day of classes, cleaned up the bed as best as I could, turned on the fan, turned off the lights, and laid myself to sleep. Then, at that very moment, it hit me. It really hit me at last. I’m in Japan.