Japan 2010: Day 12 (Okazaki Homestay 1)

Sorry for the delay, but I now present the first part of the final Okazaki chapter of this year's trip to Japan: the Okazaki Homestay chapter. This was going to be a report on Day 13 as well, but, as you'll see, this has gotten too long as it is.

Upon arriving from Kanazawa on Day 11, I was dropped off pretty late in the evening at my friend Y-san's house. Y-san is married with one seven-year-old son and they, along with the Y-san's husband's mother, live way up on the north side of Okazaki, up in the mountains in a very nice house. I did two nights with them before returning to Tokyo. This was my first time staying the night at a Japanese family's house, so I was pretty curious about how it would be.

After I arrived and chatted with Y-san and her husband for a while, I decided to take a shower. Which means that I was to enter the ofuro (お風呂) for the first time ever. I've been around enough to know the basic way to do it, but I still verified with Y-san, just to be sure. There's a shower on the left side of the room, and then you soak on the right side, just like many of us have seen on TV or in manga.

Let me tell you, that soak felt great. I think I was in there for about 10 minutes and I came out feeling fantastic. In my experience, Japanese bathtubs are shorter than American ones, but they are deeper, which is an exchange I can totally get behind. I love the deep tubs there. (Even the one in my business hotel was short and deep, though I didn't take a bath there. Also, the water there got very hot, much warmer than what I have here at my parent's place.)

After that, I was off to sleep because I had just gotten back from a day of hanging around Kanazawa and was tired. I did, though, promise to wake up early to walk Y-san's son, T-kun, to school the next day since I hadn't seen him yet. I hopped on my futon and slept like a dead man. The windows were open and the neighborhood was completely quiet--a perfect combination.

The next morning, which was Day 12, I awoke to find the entire family congregated around the coffee table in the living room for breakfast. Here's what I ate:

It was delicious, of course.

T-kun was still half asleep and didn't feel very much like talking to me. I also figured that, after two years, he likely didn't really remember me anyway.

Once breakfast was complete, we headed out to get T-kun to school. He donned his cute little yellow hat and we walked--or rather, jogged, since we were running slightly late--to the neighborhood park at which all of the kids in the area meet. A veritable sea of little yellow hats. And kids watching us run past.

When the time came, we began the trek to the elementary school. I didn't realize it at the time, but it's almost a 30-minute walk and, let me tell you, after traipsing around Kanazawa and various other places around the country, I didn't feel like taking a hike. But we were hiking through the mountains of Okazaki and ... well, it was beautiful.

About halfway through our trek, we found the school's principal guiding the kids along on a small street (all of them were small, I suppose). He was thrilled to see me and (why didn't I see this coming?) asked me to go to the school to speak some English with the kids.

Internally, my gut reaction was, "I've been traveling nonstop for a week and a half. I'm tired and today is my rest day." But you know what? I wanted to do it. I mean, yeah, I was pooped and didn't like how vague the proposition sounded at first (e.g., how long did he want me there?), but these sorts of opportunities don't come along often. I wanted a full trip, to make the most of my time back in Okazaki. Which dictated that I do it.

So, Y-san and I walked all the way to the school. (We were going to go halfway.) The principal called us into his office to chat for a while, which Y-san was kind of jazzed about, since you can't normally go in there. ("See what happens when you hang around me?" I quipped to her.) As we drank tea, he spoke some about the school, its history, and its students.

We then were invited to head outside and watch the kids do their once-a-month physical activities. The activity was one in which a line of kids holds hands and they must move a hoop from the first student down to the last one.

Due to this once-a-month activity falling on today, of all days, the only time there was to talk with the kids until later on was immediately after this activity. Many of the kids swarmed me, shook my hand, and yelled out various things in English. Their English, of course, was simple, but generally pretty good. A few kids were especially sharp and would translate for other kids. I walked back to the school building holding hands with a couple of young girls that had taken to me.

After this, I was basically done for a couple of hours, so the principal showed us around the school grounds and vicinity as well.

We got to go behind these barriers.
Benefits of hanging out with the 校長先生, baby!

Then we got a better look at the interior of the school!

They teach cooking here. Why don't US schools do this?
Or do they now? I sure wished I'd taken something like this.

After this, the principal drove us home and I promised to return in a couple of hours to chat with the six-graders.

After resting for a bit, Y-san drove me back to the school to meet with the six graders. The kids were apparently supposed to ask me questions in English, but they were all in Japanese which, fortunately, wasn't an issue for me.

The first question: "Do you have a girlfriend?" Niiiice, kid. The class's sensei struck that down, though, so I didn't have to answer it. (No, but thanks for rubbing it in, though, kid!) Other students asked about my favorite color (don't really have one, but decided on yellow), who I'm rooting for in the World Cup (I'm not watching it, but I figured I'd go with Japan, which they liked), and what my hobbies are.

After this, Y-san and I took a couple of photos with the principal and (who I assume to be) the vice principal, and we left the school. It was fun.

But there was more to be done. Y-san and I were scheduled to have lunch with S-chan, another friend of ours. She was kind enough to meet us for lunch at a yakiniku restaurant.

It was delicious, of course. S-chan was short on time, so we all promised to meet later in the afternoon at her place. Until then, I could rest. And sleep I did.

When I awoke, it was time to visit S-chan's house, so Y-san and I headed out. It was great seeing those northern parts of Okazaki again. On the way, we stopped at Pepper's, the restaurant at which Yamamoto's Binary Parties were held back in the good ol' days, and said hi to the owners. Boy, were they shocked. Got some milk, too. The place and the people were the same as ever.

We arrived at S-chan's house to find her two kids, whom I've met before, there and in a playing mood. I don't think they remembered me, but they warmed right back up to me and we were joking around in no time. It was tough trying to speak with the adults and talk with the kids at the same time, though!

After hanging at S-chan's place for a while, I had to hop a train to Hamamatsu to meet "Taki"-sensei, one of the later sensei at Yamasa with whom I was pretty cool with. The time at S-chan's house just flew by and, before we knew it, it was time to head to Okazaki Station. S-chan drove us all out there, but traffic was thick and I wasn't sure that I'd make it in time. Y-san ran up to the ticket counter with me, obtained some ticket with which I could board immediately and pay in Hamamatsu, and sent me on my way ("Run!!"). I boarded that train with a minute or so to spare.

When I arrived in Hamamatsu, I found that Taki-sensei and her fiance were not there to meet me as planned. I waited around for a while until I started, for various reasons, wondering if I was actually supposed to meet them at Toyohashi Station (in another city) instead. The answer lay in my e-mail and I didn't even have Taki-sensei's phone number on me. Fool that I am!

I was borrowing Yamamoto's extra cell phone, so I tried logging into my e-mail account only to find that I couldn't remember the password. My password is very long and complicated and I largely remember it by memorized finger movements, though I'm sure my increasing panic wasn't helping. I got the password (which was a pain to type in on a phone) wrong enough times for Gmail to start demanding that I enter my ID, password, and a CAPCHA code, which only made things worse. (Sorry about those charges, Yamamoto!)

Eventually, I got in, got Taki-sensei's number, and called her to find out that was I exactly where I needed to be. She was just running late. (Cue that "I'm so relieved but I just lost some sanity" laugh.)

She arrives and, after greeting each other (and me telling her that I didn't care that she was late because I was just so dang happy that I was in the right place), we headed to a restaurant in the station named Tororoya.

Her fiance joined us there before too long. As soon as he sat down and starting talking, I liked the guy. A lot. Taki-sensei has a quirky personality and he's a perfect match for her. The three of us enjoyed a great dinner together. We all got along very well. (My Japanese was surprisingly sharper for some reason, but more on my Japanese in a few days.)

After we ate, we walked around outside the station for a while, just looking at the evening views and taking a few photos of Hamamatsu at night.

Once it came time for my train back to Okazaki to arrive, we said our goodbyes and I hopped the train.

Y-san came to pick me up and I returned to her place to conk out. The next day would be my last in Okazaki.


Brian said...

Wow, you have become quite the writer haven't you? The writing and the pictures make it almost feel like one is there with you.

Jonathan said...

Thanks. It's nice be able be write on this blog in its original capacity as a Japan journal again. Just a couple more days to go ...

David said...

I still can't get over the fact that lots of Japanese eat salad for breakfast. It just weirds me out.

Jonathan said...

You know, I didn't even consciously think "I'm eating salad for breakfast." I just ate it without realizing. Huh.