Most of the day today was spent on shinkansens and local trains as we made the lengthy trek from Hiroshima to the westernmost train station in Japan, which is just outside the fishing community of Hirado.
On the way, Brian managed to lose his JR pass (hint hint: don’t keep important things in your non-zippable pockets), but thankfully, the incessant Japanese tendency to be helpful when possible ensured that someone turned the thing in to lost and found at the station as soon as another passenger a few trains later noticed it.
Once we got off the train and stepped out in front of the station, we were greeted by a cheerful group of men ready to load our luggage into a flat-bed truck and haul it the rest of the way to rural Hirado. I shifted my feet nervously as I sat in the back of the car that was taking me to what very well could be three days of my Japanese doom: my first homestay. Thankfully, Taylor was there to stick it out with me. No English. Three days. I’m always up for a challenge, but this was one of my most difficult hurtles yet. It’s not my language skills that concerned me. It was that I didn’t really want to be in a stranger’s home for three days.
I sighed and hoped that it would be over with quickly, reminding myself of the nice ryokan we’d be staying in next. As the small town of Hirado finally came into view, it was all becoming real.
I actually have to do this.
The cars parked in a lot right on the shore of the Hirado Strait, but I didn’t see anyone nearby. Good. The longer my host family chose to wait, the better. However, we were soon informed that we’d be having a welcome party, and no sooner had the words left our coordinator’s mouth than a horde of tables and food came surging out from within a nearby building.
Soon enough, families began to arrive, and I was introduced to my first-ever host family. Or rather, the mother and the daughter, Urumu. I tried to make small talk with them, but they seemed so inordinately interested in me that I had no idea what to say and instead prompted them to join the larger conversation with my peers. I at least tried to rope Taylor into helping me out, as she’s always the rambunctious, bubbly extrovert that it seemed my host family was hoping for. Me? I’m more of a quiet type. Not shy, but not talkative unless I have something specific to talk about.
The food was delicious (and far too plentiful for our small group), and we were pleasantly surprised by the locals coming in to perform traditional Japanese flute and vocal music for us as we ate. Check them out here:
We had a short time where we had to introduce ourselves to the group via microphone, but that didn’t bother me. As I said before, my Japanese language skills were not so much my concern, so I introduced myself like so:
はじめまして。キャリーです。二十歳です。カルビン大学の三年生です。でも、日本語の一年生です。私のせんこうは言語学と日本語です。どうぞよろしくおねがいします。[Nice to meet you. My name is Carrie. I am 20 years old, and I am a junior (third-year) at Calvin College. However, I am only a freshman (first-year) in studying Japanese. My majors at college are linguistics and Japanese. Thank you very much].
Much bowing and smiling were done, and some stumbled more than others over their Japanese, but all were warmly welcomed and applauded. As the night ended, a smiling Japanese man handed me a giant bottle of Coca-Cola and then shepherded Taylor and me into our host mother’s car.
Well, it’s now or never.
I took in my last few moments of “freedom” before my homestay, enjoying the cool breeze wafting off of the channel and the briny smell of salt water. Then, I climbed into the car to await my fate.
When we pulled into the spot next to a house on the shore and the car shut down, I knew the time had come. I met my host father once inside – he was an extremely tan, thin man taller than I’d expected. It was obvious that he must work outside in the sun. Urumu and host mama also introduced me to host grandma, who was very kind and inquisitive (though very slightly confused and hard of hearing). We sat on the tatami and watched TV for just a short while before Taylor and I both admitted that we were exhausted. A quick tour of how to use the house (especially the bathroom) and some smiles and bows later, Taylor and I finally settled onto our futons and gave up trying to stay awake.
We can get to know our host families better tomorrow.