Tag Archives: host-family

Dad in Japan, Part Two – Betwixt and Between

Between the Nagoya Castle post, 12 on the 12th, and the upcoming post featuring Kyoto, there are actually quite a few pictures remaining that unfortunately don’t have enough inherent ‘theme’ to get their own individual blog posts. So this one’s a bit long and ranges a bit in it’s material.

Alright, who remembers the glass roof bit from the last 12 on the 12th? The Oasis 21 building?

Anyways, we were eating lunch under it the same day we went to the castle when I looked up and was slightly alarmed to see what appeared all of the day’s rainfall collected on the roof and moving…somewhere. Further investigation proved that the water was being purposefully circulated and that there was in fact an elevator going up to the roof. We headed up there after we finished eating and Dad snapped this shot of the restaurant section of Nagoya Tower.

On Sunday, the day after we went to the castle, we headed out to Okazaki, a city to the southeast of Nagoya to meet up with the host family that I had stayed with for a few weeks in high school. I was rather excited to be travelling on a train that stayed aboveground, after having taken the subway for 40 minutes a day, 5 days a week for the past two months.

Alright, from right to left, Me (obviously), Keiko (my previous host mother), Rino (my older host sister, a 6th grader), and the boy who couldn’t seem to stop making what I think of as Sailor Moon’s trademark move whenever a camera came out. If I remember correctly, he was Rino’s “boyfriend” Ren’s younger brother. There’s also Maho, Rino’s younger sister and a 4th grader.

We met up with them at the station and they took us to where we could get lunch and talk. They were shocked by how much 2 years of college courses had improved my Japanese, which was encouraging. They seem to be going up in the world – when I was last there, Host dad was a company worker, but one of his cows won some big Shizuoka (a prefecture to the east of Aichi, where Nagoya is) cow contest and now he’s on the farm-animal-raising fast track. Go figure.

It was heartening to be reminded that I could get along with Japanese people that I had lived with.

The next weekend, on Saturday, we headed out to Inuyama, where I had spent my orientation with IES. It was cold and rainy, but the ramen from that same shop was as excellent as ever. The owners even recognized me, which was especially nice.

I have a peculiar fondness for face-on photos of myself that are a bit odd – photos where I didn’t smile or didn’t realize that my picture was being taken.

Anyways! That was taken in the courtyard of Inuyama Castle, which is definitely more ‘open’ in terms of what you can see and do, compared to the one in Nagoya. You can risk getting yourself killed on the same narrow, slippery wooden steps as the daimyo and his samurai did 400 years ago.*

Better – you can look out the same windows they did onto all the little people. We happened to be at the castle on Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3), a holiday for children at those ages. Kind of a ‘yay! you didn’t die!’ kind of celebration and one of the things that I can trace back to elementary school as peaking my interest in Japan. I didn’t see any overt festival thing going on, though there was an unusual preponderance of small-ish children wearing very good clothes wandering around.

Finally, two shots from Birthday/Dorm-Move-In-Day…

First, my birthday picture. Every year since I was born, my dad and I have taken a picture together and this marks the 22nd photo oppurtunity.

Hmm…the next picture I was planning on posting was of me in front of the sign for the dorm I’m staying in now, but I just realized that it has the address printed on it. Never mind then.

Next up – Kyoto!

*Though I didn’t manage to fall down those particular steps, it was a falling down sort of day – we were walking up to the castle when I noticed a particularly slick looking, sloped bit of sidewalk. I thought ‘that looks slippery, I should be careful,’ took a careful step…and fell flat on my bum, almost taking my dad with me.

Later that same day, I was rushing to catch a train in exactly the manner that about fifty different signs in the station were telling me not to use (in Japanese and English), tripped, and awkwardly slid down a few steps. Cripes.



Filed under japan

Bug-outs, Birthdays, and Burnt Popcorn

I know I’ve been a little scarce over the past week, but don’t feel bad, since all of my journals have suffered due to lack of attention recently. My LiveJournal hadn’t had any attention in almost two weeks and my paper journal is only caught up to this past Saturday, with the last three entries contained within being pretty sorry ones.

The main reason for all of this neglect was due to the fact that my Dad arrived in Nagoya on the 7th and I couldn’t very well tell him to sit still for the hour and a half it takes me on the days that I post/write in all three journals. In fact, internet activity in general was suspended as I was forced to participate in such mundane activites as ‘traveling around the region’ and ‘eating delicious food.’ Oh well. I’ll try hard to get caught up this week, which may be difficult, as all that traveling produced quite a few blog worthy photos.

Unfortunately, all of that was compounded by a much less pleasant subject – I moved out of my host family’s apartment and into the school dorms. About two weeks ago, the weather turned cooler and I started having problems with my left knee (which was injured in high school) on my commute to school, which, since the theft of the bicycle they were loaning me, had mutated into a half an hour of walking plus a twenty-minute subway ride.

On Monday, I told the program here that I would like to move into the dorm if possible. On Wednesday, I told my host family. On Thursday, my host mother called the program with the hope that I would be moving ASAP. This is where things got weird.

She asked to be compensated for the bike that had been stolen from me. The program worked out a deal to get a new bike and called her back with their idea. Probably encouraged by how easily that had gone, they said that they would forget about the bike issue…if I returned the camera that they had bought to replace the one that their kid had destroyed.

I’m fairly sure I marked that as the point that I decided that I never wanted to speak them again. The program ran interference while I packed my stuff and warp speed and shifted base to an extremely posh hotel (my dorm room wasn’t ready yet) Thursday night.


Friday, on my 21st birthday, I finally got set up in what appears to be an extremely adequate single dorm room. My fellow residents seem nice, if not entirely sane, and I think I’ll be fine for the remaining 32 days in Japan.

Speaking of my birthday, it was quite nice, considering the circumstances and the setting. I had a brief moment of ‘butbutbut, no CATS, no Charlie, no Tasha, this birthday thing REEKS,’ but I’m over it. I chickened out on my first taste of alcohol because I didn’t want to spend money on something that I already knew smelled awful and probably tastes worst. Oh well. Lisa says she’s going to take me out for something that my taste buds might be able to stand.

Burned popcorn, you ask? I needed a third ‘b’ phrase and I’m eating it right now.


Filed under japan

Nanzan University Festival

My first impression of Nanzan University’s Cultural Festival, which ran from October 31 through November 3, was of food. Lots and lots of Japanese-style snack food.

The second impression was of Japanese university students walking that fine, fine line between ‘I’m Japanese’ and ‘I really, really want you to buy my food’. It was almost a high pressure sales environment, but not entirely.

My first glimpse of the festival was on Friday, when I met with my friends to go to the zoo. We managed to drag ourselves away, but not before several snacks were purchased and consumed.

The food booths that were set up were pretty elaborate. Most of the booths had actual, professional quality food-making equipment, including large flat grills and the forms needed to make takoyaki. You can see the forms for making taiyaki at the booth in the above picture.

A lot of the booths (mostly run by culture clubs and sports teams) were pretty creative about advertising. There were elaborate signs, people wandering around with signs (or actual portable wares from their booth), people calling from the booth and a lot, a lot of cross-dressers. I’m told that this is traditional. I was too chicken to try and get a picture.

On Saturday, I returned, this time with host family in tow. Mini Monster spent the whole time either eating, being carried around by me (he’s too big for his parents), or hiding from 90% of the female population of the festival, who thought he was the most adorable thing there.

The festival on Saturday.

I’m told Nanzan’s festival is pretty small and comparatively boring, if you take into account nearby Nagoya and Chuo Universities. Things only had about an hour to go when we arrived and Mini Monster was already protesting at the non-kid-friendly activities. We ended up wandering around, eating everything that took our fancy and listening to the performers on the sub stage.

This sax quartet made themselves popular, both with Mini Monster and the crowd, when they revealed that their first number would be the theme from Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, the new Miyazaki movie that came out this summer. Seriously, everyone in Japan can at least hum this song. Very cute movie too.

We ended the day by heading to a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, where the sushi circulates the room on a track and diners can make their selection. This particulare place had a twist I hadn’t seen before – you could order specific items that you wanted from a screen at the table (helpful if the people ahead of you kept taking all of the shrimp) and it would be sent to your table…

…by shinkansen train.

Luckily, my dad is currently winging his way to Japan, so I can tell you that I’m planning on dragging him here and trying some sushi.


Filed under japan

On the Beach

But never mind the bad literary references. This past Sunday, I took a drive with Lisa and her host family to the ‘beach’. I use quotes because there was no sand involved, just rocks and freezing cold water.

First, lunch. After we finished drivng to the ocean, the first place that we stopped was at a seafood place to eat. From the moment we walked in, we knew those fish were doomed.

At least it died artistically. Well, I say ‘died’ but in reality the fish was still gasping and flipping around when it got to our table. I’m not talking about some kind of measly twitching motion, this thing was giving its all at the whole ‘breathing out of water’ thing. I’ve regretted few things since coming to Japan, but not getting film footage of that fish is one of them. They had to take the poor thing away and divide the sashimi up onto separate plates for us.

Yeah. This one kind of speaks for itself.

After lunch, we went walking around the area. As you can see, lots of rocks, not so much sand.

I think the Japanese people are a little more concerned with the sea washing them away than with enjoying it.

It was a little chilly, so we mostly hung around on the rocks and messed with whatever we could find in the tide pools.

Now, the only living things I’ve ever encountered on beaches have been seagulls, hermit crabs and jelly fish, so it was fun to poke these little guys and see them close up, attempting to nibble my fingers.

Finally, a bonus picture of the other little dude around here, eating his car shaped bento, which I thought was really fun.


Filed under japan

Mini Monster Turns 3

Once again, I can do this because it is October 22…somewhere. This is the creature himself, wearing the cowboy shirt my mom picked up for him in Texas. He seemed pretty happy with it and I got in a few ‘modeling’ shots before he lost patience.

We managed to get about three hours of good behavior out of him by saying things like ‘would a grown-up three-year-old throw food on the floor?’ or ‘would a big boy scream when we have to turn the TV off for dinner?’ It only lasted until he started declaring that he wanted to be two forever.

They’ve been spreading the birthday stuff out over a week so that he doesn’t explode with kid crazies. They went out to dinner with a another family with toddlers on Sunday, he got a cute card from his preschool on Tuesday (complete with a current picture of him and a handprint), and ‘yesterday’ he and his mom went to Tokyo to meet his dad, who was trapped on a business trip.

In other news, I have obtained my first Japanese-style cold. No, I haven’t yet given in to the urge to wear a mask like everybody else.


Filed under japan

Preschool Sports Festival

A sports festival  is an event that takes place at many Japanese schools, typically during October according to my host family, though during my previous homestay I definitely participated in an elementary/junior high school festival that took place in June. It was rather brutal, heat-wise, so I was glad to hear that they were holding this one in cooler weather.

Mini Monster attends a daycare and they apparently had their Sports Day this past Friday, but on Saturday, my host mom asked if I wanted to go with them to see the Montessori School sports festival. It seems that they were going to have a small event for prospective students (which Mini Monster is) and younger siblings of students.

Heck, why not?

The whole school was festooned with international flags and many, many parents and grandparents had gathered to see their kids compete.

I use the term ‘compete’ loosely of course. In the case of the races, a parent had to accompany each child to make sure that they ran in the right direction, didn’t stop in the middle to dig in the grass, or start crying and refuse to continue.

They still did better than I would have expected out of a group of three, four, and five-year-olds. My host father asked if they had sports festivals in the US and I replied that I remembered doing similar things starting in elementary school. He asked about prsechool.

I spent the next ten minutes controlling my laughter and explaining the phrase ‘like herding cats.’

This was the first event that started after we arrived at the school. Each team had to push a large ball down to the end of the field, around a cone and back. The first team to cycle through all of its memebers won. This was probably the biggest venue for confused crying and being tugged along.

Tug of War they could handle on their own, though there were a few mishaps. Check out the first dude on the green team.

They were really happy when they won. No prizes though.

One of the more amusing events was the mom’s “egg” toss. Whoever got more beanbags into the basket won, with the moms of each class competing.

Mini Monster could have cared less. He was more interested in listening to his dad’s mp3 player and trying to get through the gate you can see behind his mom’s head. That, or stealing other kids’ toys.

The prospective students and younger siblings event turned out to be a race across the field toward a student who was holding out a bag of veggie chips. Everybody “won” of course and Mini Monster got into it. His dad had been really afraid that he would be the only kid to not run, but he took off sprinting when he saw the incentive.

A bonus picture of everyone’s stuff. This was on school grounds, but at least 100 meters and out of sight from the main area. Everybody just left their picnic lunch and ther stuff there, knowing that it would left alone. Amazing.

I tried to find some info on the web about Sports Festival, since most of what I know comes from manga and J-dramas. Kids Web Japan, an excellent site, didn’t have a concrete definition, but you should check it and the adult version, Web Japan, out anyway. Wikipedia had a small blurb at the bottom of their article on Sports days.


Filed under japan

Candid Camera

I don’t really mean actual Candid Camera type antics, though my host family did express some surprise when I started taking pictures of them doing things like eating dinner and watching TV.

Of course, they immediately retaliated by taking pictures of me, so I guess they’re okay with it. I’m eating black sesame seed ice cream here. Pretty tasty.

Like I said, though, still a bit confused. This is my host “mom” and the Mini Monster.

Mini Monster’s main occupation, besides going to preschool, is dancing and singing along to the same boy band music video over and over. They’re called Arashi and if I don’t have that song memorized by the end of December, I’ll be almost disappointed. Almost.

He also has a lifetime goal to see how many times he can sneak into my room. So far, Mini Monster – 3, Me – 25. I’m also experimenting here with Angella Dykstra’s How To Take Great Pictures Of Your Kids, mostly the idea of putting the kid in the corner of the shot.

This shot is from yesterday. He was wearing khakis, a button-down shirt, a vest, a bowtie and suspenders when I got home, apparently because he had just finished his Montessori School interview. That’s right, they interview three-year-olds at these fancier daycares. Oy.

Anyway, I didn’t want to ask how it went, but as he was coming in the door he asked “Are you still mad?” and his mom replied “Not anymore.” Ruh roh.

I got these two pictures before he decided that he was done. Took him about ten minutes, but he got it all off.

Lest you think this post was about the kid (so much easier to take kid candids than adult candids), I’ll throw in some grown-ups. These are a few fellow IES peeps hanging out before going to Mama Mia! (in Japanese). The camera was behaving especially well that day.


Filed under japan