The events of the past five days have been so overwhelming I’ve rewritten this sentence about five times in an attempt to find one that can do justice to what I intend to write about. Needless to say, I can’t, so I’ll just start from the beginning.
The flight here was the longest of my life. Mostly because until this point I had never been farther from Pennsylvania than Florida, but also because it took me longer than it should have to decide to watch movies instead of insisting on sleep. I was lucky enough to have my first what I’ll call “foreign experience” within the first hour of my arrival to Tokyo, before I had yet to even leave the airport, when I was approached by three people with a video camera who proceeded to interview me about myself and my intentions in Japan. I was already so overwhelmed to be in Japan that I was very taken aback and relied heavily on the help of one of them translating to answer their questions. Afterwards, I was told by another person that the people I had spoken to interview people for a TV show that he said a lot of people watch, and that I’ll be on TV. My first question was whether or not they were going to make fun of me, to which he responded, “probably.” Welcome to Japan, right? I don’t think I could have imagined a more unexpected or perfect way to start off my trip.
Upon meeting my host family I did not have the help of a translator, as my family speaks little to no English and I’m forced to try to communicate to them with my broken Japanese. However, in just the past few days I have noticed myself adapting to the language barrier in that it has become much more easy for me to memorize vocabulary, which has always been a weakness of mine. My first night trying to talk to my family I would blank on everything from basic phrases to everyday nouns, and I worried that I was going to quickly become frustrated with what felt like inadequacy, but my family has been extremely understanding and helpful and everyday I find it easier to talk to them. It’s kind of amazing how you can find a way to communicate a thought to someone who speaks a completely different language when you have to.
Anyway, my host family consists of my host mother and father, as well as my two younger sisters, Aina (5) and Mizuki (2). Aina has already become comfortable enough around me that she’ll follow me around and ask me questions in such rapid Japanese it is often difficult for me to understand her, but it doesn’t seem to bother her that half the time she speaks all I can say in response is, “Wakaranai.” (I don’t understand.)
Today my host parents took me to the center of Machida, the district of Tokyo that we live in. It’s a pretty bustling area, with countless stores and restaurants, and we happened to come upon a taiko performance and a group of people making mochi. Taiko is an art form of ensemble drumming, and mochi is a rice cake that is made out of pounded rice, a very old custom in Japan. I was lucky enough to take a shot at both of these, as my host mother has been very enthusiastic about getting me involved in the culture and asked if I could participate. Everyone was really excited to show me the ropes, and even asked me questions about myself. So far, everyone I have spoken with has been very polite, as well as forgiving if I don’t understand.
To end the day, my host mother’s parents treated us to sushi, and insisted I try just about every type I could before getting too full (but even then they insisted I get dessert!). My most daring choice was definitely tako!