I can hardly believe it, but I’ve been living in Japan for exactly a month now! My experience so far has been absolutely incredible, and everything that I had hoped for! That said, it has also been much busier and more challenging than I had expected, and somehow I let a whole month go by without writing a post. There is so much to talk about, and so I’d like to focus this post on my incredible host family, who, it turns out, are the most amazing people in the world!
Having only studied Japanese for one year before arriving here, I have to admit that I was very worried about communicating with a host family that didn’t speak any English. The first few days were extremely challenging indeed. In fact, I barely spoke at all. But it is indeed true that when plunging into an immersive environment with little background knowledge, one absorbs language really fast! Additionally, it helps that one of my host moms is a kindergarten teacher, and thus is used at using easy words and simplifying her grammar. I have reached the point where I can comfortably speak about nearly any everyday topic with my host parents, and it is such a great environment to practice all the new vocabulary and grammar outside of the classroom.
My host family consists of two sisters in their late 50s and their energetic shetland sheepdog, Lucky (ラッキー). Lucky and I became quick friends! I quickly got to know all the Japanese commands he knows.
My host parents have introduced me to so many things! My first weekend, we visited the strawberry farm near their house. I was so surprised to see so much farmland right in Hakodate, and the strawberries were the sweetest, brightest ones I had ever encountered.
On my birthday, my family hosted this amazing potluck and invited all their friends to come meet me! It was really fantastic to hear about all their different stories, and also to try all of the amazing food. I was very surprised by how much Japanese food I had never heard of! I thought I knew what Japanese food was, but the vast majority of the foods at the potluck were brand-new to me (and delicious).
One day, we tried the most amazing ice cream shop, which is very famous throughout all of Japan. They sell actual ice cream sandwiches – meaning a scoop of vanilla ice cream on an actual bun! The bun is a special Japanese bread called melon bread, which is a kind of sweetbread. The ice cream goes into the bun right as it comes out of the oven, and the combination is surprisingly incredible. The name of the shop is 「世界で２番めにおいしい焼きたてメロンパンアイス」which translates as “The second most delicious melon bread ice cream in the world”. It’s an odd name indeed, since it’s the only melon bread ice cream in the world, but my host parents explained that the shop was just being humble. What an interesting cultural nuance!
One of my favorite activities was going to the 「運動会」(undoukai – “sports day”) that my host mom’s kindergarten held. An undoukai is a very fun modern Japanese tradition similar to field day in the US, except it’s held on a weekend, takes up the entire day, and all the parents and even grandparents come and participate in field games, relays, and dances. The kids were adorable, and everyone had a blast. What a great community-building tradition!
There’s even more. For my birthday, my host parents insisted on getting me my very own yukatta (summer kimono) which was amazing. One of the other teachers at the kindergarten happens to be a kimono etiquette teacher as well, and came over to teach me how to wear it (it is surprisingly difficult). I think I’ve got it down, although I still cant tie it as well as she can! I can’t wait to wear it at the Hakodate Port Festival in August.
The transition to life in Japan has been a crazy experience, definitely difficult at times, and even more of a different world than I had predicted. I’m amazed at the all the new aspects of everyday culture that I’ve been introduced to, and by how far my language skills have come in just one month. I’m so excited for the second half!