Posted by Amanda
Today was the first day of our homestays. I have to admit to being a bit nervous being on my own in a Japanese house. It is always nice to have someone else to ask what to do before you plow in and offend someone. I seem very lucky in my placement. I am with Tokiko, her five year old twin daughters named Maya and Sakura, and her Indian husband. The fact that she married an Indian man makes me feel like she's forgiving of foreigner faux pas.
Her husband, whom I only met briefly owns an Indian restaurant. She tells me that for the Japanese he must make the dishes less spicy and less oily. Her twin girls are about the cutest things ever. Sakura means cherry blossom. They are ridiculoulsy smily and laughy and love each other. They all speak English though Tokiko's is best. The girls know the months, numbers, letters, a lot. Tokiko even knows the names of various playing cards.
They picked me up at around 11 at the ship. She took me to a place I want to work at--The Canadian Academy. This is one of 3 or 4 international schools in Kobe. They were having an international food and fun fest. They had Japanese drum performers, baton twirlers that were very bad--dropping their batons all the time, cheerleaders, bands, and choirs. There were tons of Westerners at this school as it seemed to mostly be for expats. I had to see what the American food table was offering. It was hamburgers, hot dogs, imported soda (Dr. Pepper), and numerous kinds of candy. Everyone noticed the smell from the Swiss table because of the melting cheese. There were so many different countries represented and a number that I had visited. What was strange was to see a Japanese woman standing behind the German table or some other nationality. These women had married men from other countries and are now representing them at the food fest. I enjoyed a bit of Korean, Indian, and German food. We played with some children in the playground, the girls got manicures which made them very proud, and we headed out. I really liked this world in the middle of Kobe. There were just so many nationalities all speaking English. I can't even imagine the education the students get there. The diversity of cultures they experience is tremendous.
From there we went to Tokiko's apartment. They live in an apartment building right along the hills of Kobe. They've put me in the room with a view of a cherry blossom tree. The house seems to have one large bedroom that the family shares. There is a cabinet barrier in the middle to block the children's half and the adult half. The kids slept on a wooden platform with a thin mattress on it. They have a bathroom and a toilet room. The bathroom has the washer/dryer in it as well as the bathtub and shower. The toilet room has the sink and a wooden stall for the toilet. The toilet has a faucet above it so that when you flush you see the water come out of the faucet and fill the toilet tank. They have a cute penguin attachment on the faucet so the penguin arms go back and forth when water flows through it. I did briefly think I was supposed to wash my hands in the water but decided that would be gross.
We took a walk up a hill behind the house where the girls had a lot of fun on the slides. For the rest of the evening we sat in the living room. The girls watched some movies on my iPod. Tokiko spent 2 hours making dinner. While she did that she turned on the heated carpet for us to sit on. What a nice invention a heated carpet is.
Dinner was good. We ate on what would be the coffee table, sitting on the heated carpet. She told me that she made a few extra dishes because I was there but not too much more than usual. It was nice to have the girls there because I could watch them. Japanese are so polite that they let you go first with everything, but if you don't know what to do you could offend them. I figured the worst I could do was follow the lead of the girls. Being like a five year old with my manners was probably better than being like a rude American.
We had delicious miso soup with clams in it. She made a salad, broccoli, and fried and breaded pork. She had two kinds of tofu--one was less firm and in square shapes and one was in a vegetable and sausage dish. The tofu squares were just stabbed with the chop sticks while the other one seemed very much like eggs. She made octopus with cucumber and seaweed. One piece of octopus was enough for me and I had a hard time getting that down. She had a large plate of udon noodles which the girls took and put their portion in a bowl of soy sauce. We ate it from the sauce bowls. I did ask about the cigarette water from last night. She said it was tea. Other than the octopus, it was all good.
I gave them a few gifts from home including Disneyland playing cards. We played a few rounds of memory in which the girls were quite good.
Then it was bath time. I hate baths but I had been told this was a Japanese custom. Tokiko went through what I had to do. First you shower with the hand shower and get all clean. Then you sit in the bathtub for a while--10-15 minutes. Once you are done, the next family member comes in to repeat the process with the same bath water. I was glad to go first as the tub water would be cleanest, but I worried about going before the kids who probably needed to go to bed. On the ship they told us to soak for like 30 minutes to an hour so I was glad she said just 10-15 minutes. As I was in the bathroom getting undressed, I noticed through the frosted glass door that a small yellow spot was just outside. Then I heard Tokiko tell Sakura to move away. She had been peaking through the crack in the door on me. I actually kept my watch with me so I could time how long 10-15 minutes in the bath was. I was eager to get out as I felt like a naked teabag. After my bath it was to bed on a futon mattress on the floor. A very nice day.