The Journey of One Thousand Miles . . .
Begins with the loss of Nutella. It’s been a week since I’ve made my debut in Tokyo, and I regret to tell everyone that my jar of hazelnut, chocolatey goodness didn’t make it onto the plane; my luggage was 8lbs over and the Nutella weighed a whopping 2.4lbs．
Utter tragedy, but no time to spill tears because boy, was I busy. Because of a typhoon, my already lengthy 13 hour flight was delayed for another 5 hours. Ultimately I slept for most of it and ended my journey across the seas with my own rendition of The Doom Song.
A lot happened over the span of my orientation: mourned the loss of my nutella, met some pretty cool folks from the CIEE program, registered as a Sophia University student (Jōchi Daigaku as it’s called in Japan), woke up at 2:00 a.m. to earthquake tremors, met a whole lot of international students also attending Sophia University, endured a simulation of the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake at a disaster training center, really the lists goes on.
Suffice to say, I’m glad to finally be getting settled. And where I’ve settled is pretty interesting.
I’m staying in Tokorozawa, a city located in Saitama prefecture. Tokorozawa itself is considered a part of the greater Tokyo area hence my homestay here. To get to school I take three different trains: Seibu-Shinjuku to Takadanobaba, JR Yamanote to Shinjuku, JR Chuuo to Yotsuya. The commute is a little over an hour one way, no different than my commute from the Bronx to Manhattan. It’s like I never left New York! It’s a bonus having Shinjuku within my route because I can get off the train and visit this hub of department stores for free.
Though it’s not part of the city everyone thinks of when they hear Tokyo, Tokorozawa is pretty steeped in cultural significance. It was the site of Japan’s first air base, and the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum sits on top of the airfield’s old site. Tokorozawa also hosts Seibu Dome, home of the professional baseball team the Saitama Seibu Lions. The inspired setting of Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro is Hachikokuyama (八国山), a nature park where one can view the eight regions surrounding the park.
New Host Family
I’m one of those happy folks that subscribed to the do-a-home-stay-for-a-glimpse-into-the-daily-life-of-another-country party. I mean, if Japanese daily life involves watching dubbed episodes of Law & Order: SVU every night, I’m all for it. My host parents are veterans in hosting international students. My host dad, Taku, loves golf and American police procedural dramas. His favorite character from NCIS is Ziva. Mine is Gibbs so we have a happy medium sorta-kinda-maybe. Kyoko, my host mother, loves swimming and knows a good deal about the temples and shrines in our area, so I look forward to visiting them with her. Taku and Kyoko have two daughters, four grandsons, and one granddaughter. I’m excited to meet everyone.
My sleeping quarters comes complete with the foreigner’s preconceived notions of the Japan home package: shouji doors, tatami mat flooring, futon bedding. Basically a 9ft x 12 ft Japanese traditional fire hazard. It’s interesting to stay in this room, though I have to refrain from shouting expletives at my computer screen. The walls are paper thin – pun entirely intended – and beyond that, it would be bad manners to play video games without inviting Taku and Kyoko to play as my support and carry characters respectively.
It’s been said, it continues to be said, and I’m going to say it – more like type it – because it’s one of those things that still needs saying; if you want to improve in another language, do a homestay. Let’s use Stockholm Syndrome as an analogy here. You have no choice but to comply with your captor’s demands in a hostage situation. To increase your chances of survival, you adapt to your captor’s environment. While I’m not exactly being held against my will here (OMG! SOMEONE SAVE ME! THIS SWEET JAPANESE COUPLE IS FEEDING ME AND SHELTERING ME AND TAKING ME OUT TO HAVE THE TIME OF MY LIFE), the same rules apply . . . sort of. In order to survive, you speak in Japanese, you read in Japanese, your Japanese writing will look like the scribbling of a two year old doped up on Pixy Stix, but nevertheless you’ll be doing it.
Before you know it, if Japanese is your area of study like mine, you’ll be going back to your home country and glaring at all of your friends who track their muddy feet into your home. Attachment theory will become attachment reality, and that oh-so-horrible family that watched foreign dubbed American TV shows with you will irrevocably become a part of your life.
Have you done a homestay in the past? Please tell me about your experience. Curious about my homestay experience? Ask away! Considering doing one? What country and where? Let me know. Leave me a line. I’ll always be watching! （ΦωΦ）