A kind of homestay

Today was wonderful. The principal of my Monday-morning elementary school invited me nearly a month ago to come spend the day at her house so she could help me through my (then-)homesickness, and that day was today. It was like I had an adoptive family for the day.

We met at 7:30 this morning (well, 7:35–I left my apartment at 7:30, and ran nearly the entire way…nice workout, and good to know that if I wear sneakers and don’t carry a heavy bag, I actually can run most of the way to my bus stop) and drove back to her house in Mima, a 30-minute drive, where we made a traditional Japanese breakfast, hung out, chatted and looked at photos, and started to make a traditional Japanese sushi lunch.

That’s when I received the Nasty Shock Of The Day: sushi and miso soup aren’t vegetarian. One of the ingredients that goes into the standard “one-two-three broth” to prepare sushi rice is freaking dashi, and that same dashi is almost always used in miso soup as well. All the bento boxes of sushi I’ve been buying for lunch during my past 11 months here, and all the miso soup I’ve had while under the misconception that it was one of my few washoku staples, haven’t been vegetarian.

Unfortunately, I had to eat it today. There was just no way around it, and the last thing I wanted to do was throw my kocho-sensei’s hospitality in her face by refusing the food she was making as part of her efforts to be my surrogate mom for the day. I’ll just have to stand my ground and not buy any more sushi from the supermarket, and if my eikaiwa ladies ever invite me for another temakizushi night, I’ll see if they can prepare the rice without dashi. Really, the only truly vegetarian foods left for me are onigiri, tofu (raw is my only safe bet), cold/brothless summer udon, shoujin ryouri meals, and anything I prepare for myself. I’ve been a little lax about my vegetarianism here, just due to the difficulty of explaining it when I go out to eat, and I think this was a wake-up call I was hoping not to get–but now I can’t help it, and I have to crack down. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t. (I’m so glad they’re hooking up my stove again on Monday!)

Well, anyway…after lunch was another awkward moment, involving my frustratingly temperamental stomach. I had to go lie down for a while because it started to ache again, and I was really, really worried that I’d offended my teacher because she’d think her food made my stomach hurt, even though I explained that I’ve been having problems for at least the last month. She ended up being totally understanding, though.

The rest of the day proceeded far better–it turns out she has four children, the youngest of which is a year older than me and lives in Takamatsu, and he comes home every weekend. And he’s huge! He’s the tallest Japanese guy I’ve ever met–well over 6 feet tall. He ended up being really cool, and after we broke the ice a bit, we ended up chatting throughout the afternoon. He was pretty knowledgeable about the US and had a decent English vocabulary. I went on a walk with his grandmother and him up to a nearby shrine, and to see the family burial plot up on the hill past it (it was really a casual affair, but still respectful), as well as the really nice view of Mima that the hilltop vantage point afforded.

I also didn’t mention that their house was the most beautiful, spacious Japanese house I’ve ever been in. The kitchen/dining area was as big as my entire apartment, and the whole house was kept up immaculately. Right now, just this sensei and her husband live there with her husband’s mother (a really, really sweet woman–she reminded me a lot of my dad’s-side grandmother), but I believe all 4 kids grew up in that house.

After dinner, my kocho-sensei (I’m wondering at this point how to keep referring to her here) drove me back to Ikeda, but with a couple of brief stopovers…she takes weekly ikebana lessons, and we went to the ikebana sensei’s house, but she unfortunately had to leave about 20 minutes after we arrived, though it was still quite interesting to watch. We also went by the house where my teacher’s mother lives, which is also where my teacher was born! I felt honored that she showed me her birthplace. After that, under a brilliant sunset, we drove out to Ikeda and parted ways.

My kocho-sensei was really eager to have me over in part because I know that she missed being able to mother her kids–she took really good care of me today. She’s taken in previous ALTs, either from her schools or from her area, and fed them and chatted with them similarly and frequently in the past. This really did feel like a homestay, particularly in the afternoon and evening, when her husband got home from work and I sat down to dinner with the whole family. I did a homestay in Kamiyama last year, the one the incoming ALTs have traditionally done (but won’t be doing this year), and while my host father really tried (but he had such a thick accent and my Japanese and my confidence in my abilities were still pretty crappy then), the host mother really didn’t care much at all, so it was a really strange experience. This felt far more like one than that did, and I really enjoyed it. I know that if she invites me again, I’ll definitely be glad to return.

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