As I type these words, I’m on a bullet train going 186 miles per hour from Kyoto to Tokyo. The scenery outside is zooming by, but it’s still beautiful. There are mountains and factories and small towns built in Asian architecture. It’s all fascinating, but it’s getting dark now so I guess I will take this opportunity to write an update.
I know it’s been three days since I’ve posted, which seems like an eternity in Asia time. We have had so much going on. I’m going to split this post in half in order to not drone on forever. Part 1 will be my homestay experience, and Part 2 will be our two nights in Kyoto. I didn’t have internet at my homestay or at our Kyoto hotel, so HELLO technology. Nice to see you again.
My homestay experience was absolutely fantastic. Each of the fellows got “adopted” by a Japanese family for a night, and not to brag or anything, but I think mine was the best. My “parents” picked me up and first took me to a museum about Japanese history. The mom spoke English pretty well (though she kept apologizing for not knowing it better), but the Dad didn’t speak any English at all. He and I would just smile at each other sometimes.
At the museum, we saw a magic show that showcased ancient Japanese magic. I will admit, I was impressed, but maybe people can keep a lot up the sleeves of their kimonos. After the museum, the real fun started. Once I walked in the door to their house, this is what I saw:
The daughters, Chika and Sakura, had decorated the house in honor of my arrival. The girls (13 and 10 years old, respectively) are about the same ages as my students, so we had lots of fun. The social epicenter of the evening was their dog, Rikki. Rikki is a one year old schnauzer who loves to play. If you’ve known me for more than two minutes you know I love dogs, but now I can add one more thing to my list of reasons why: you don’t need a common language to play with a dog. We motioned and gestured and figured out a few different games to play with Rikki. It was a blast.
For dinner, I don’t actually know what we ate. I’ve learned to stop asking. The mom of the family cooked the side dishes, and the dad grilled the meat on a grill on the table. There was also a fryer to make tempura on the table, so we had that as well.
After dinner, the girls had a show prepared for me. They showed me some traditional Japanese dances and played the piano. The dances were cool, but I was positively blown away by their piano skills. They must practice for hours. Daily. Their show reminded me of the shows that my sister and I used to perform as kids, but except for these Japanese girls were way more talented. Ha ha. The mother offered to let me try on a silk kimono that has been passed down for generations, so obviously I said yes. It might be the most beautiful piece of clothing I have ever worn. It was made of heavy silk, and I don’t even want to know how much it was worth. After I tried on that kimono, the mom got out some other kimonos that she made, and the girls and I played dress up with them and took selfies. They reminded me so much of me and my sister (who, if I know her well, is not reading this blog, but someone please tell Cara I say hello). Then, later than night, the mom said, “My older daughter, she always does what I say. She always tries so hard. My younger daughter, she is so spirited. She does what she wants.” And I almost laughed out loud. Because, actually, THEY ARE ME AND CARA.
I got to take a bath than night in a traditional Japanese bath, which should really be an entire post to itself. Basically, you go in a room and take a shower on this small stool, then you get in a super deep bath/hot tub thing. Then you relax. And it’s awesome. The whole family shares the same bathwater, which is a little weird, but guests go first so I was lucky.
I slept on a traditional Japanese bed, which surprisingly was SO COMFORTABLE. It was basically like sleeping up in Max’s loft again in Korea (which, strangely, seems like an eternity ago). The rooms (and houses) are very minimalist here. Small, not decorated lavishly, but elegant in a simple way. I think I like Japanese style.
The next morning, we had egg sandwiches for breakfast. I was extremely excited about this because I recognized every part of that meal. After breakfast we went “hiking” on a mountain. Hiking is in quotation marks for the complete opposite reason of why hiking Bukhansan was in quotation marks (because, if you’re following along, you know that was a death defying rock climbing adventure). This time hiking didn’t count as real hiking because we didn’t hike – we took a chair lift the top of the mountain. Why couldn’t they have had that at Bukhansan?! It was a great chairlift with beautiful views, and at the top of the mountain we saw a Buddhist temple. There was a service (service? Is it called a service?) going on while we were there, so I heard the monks chanting and saw them lighting candles to honor the long-nosed goblin who was in charge of that temple. Or to ward off demons. I think it was possibly both. After the temple we stopped into this place to observe monkeys, and I got some fabulous video of a one month old baby monkey being ridiculous. Now I want a baby monkey. We took a cable car back down the mountain, which was also fun, but also not hiking.
We had lunch at a traditional Japanese restaurant (where I sat on the floor without a problem AND ate shrimp without gagging, so I am making real progress on this trip). Then we went to the dollar store and did some shopping. Unfortunately, all too soon it was time to go back to the hotel. My host mom insists I stay with them next time I come to Japan, and I a little bit hope I can actually do that someday. I told her to come to America and stay with me as well. Except I hope she’s not going to expect Japanese food, because I’m never eating it again after this trip.