Thousands of Miles from Home


Two Thousand Five

I've made the move to my second host family, which in retrospect was fairly painless aside from the tedious act of packing and unpacking clothing, gifts, books, and other japanese booty into suitcases. Also, sorry for the small interruption of service, you junkies need to learn to get your fix elsewhere anyway. But at last, a recount of this past week's activities.

The day before I left the Watanabe's house I went to see my friend Katrin perform in the Joto Koukou symphony orchestra at the Okayama Symphony Hall. I met a bunch of other exchange students at the performance and had an overall enjoyable time. After the orchestral performance the Joto chorus also performed, singing "Seasons of Love" from Rent and some other terrible musicals (just kidding). My favorite was perhaps the Joto brass band, which did a "tribute to anime," playing songs that I was able to recognize (theme from Lapita, Totoro, Sen to Chihiro (Spirited Away), etc). After the performance some kids and I grabbed donuts at the aptly named "Mr. Donut."

The next day I finished stuffing various items into suitcases. It was definitely sad to leave the Watanabe's house; they have been such a great host family. Shoko assured me that I could come back any time I wanted, after they came back from their New Year's trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Kawai-san (my second host mother) along with Aketa-san (my rotary counselor) showed up around 4 o' clock to help with the process of moving. The whole Watanabe family was home for the New Year, so I got to see Shoko, Masatoshi, Shun, Mai, Miyu, and Shoko's mother before I left.

A little background about the Kawai family. There are three people, Osamu (my host father), Mayumi (host mother), and Tomoya (host brother, who is thirteen). The Kawai family lives about 10 minutes away from the Watanabe family, in Tai (The Watanabes live in Tama). Both houses are about 15 minutes by bike from Tamano High school, almost in opposite directions. My new address is

Captain Benjamin Gleitzman III
3-18-39 Tai
Tamano, Okayama 7060001 (I can still get mail at my old address too)

When I arrived at my new house, Mayumi showed me my room. In terms of tatami mats, it is about the same size as my old room. But the ceiling is really high, with what I will call a large "alter" that makes the room look a lot bigger. The rest of the day was spent unpacking, until Tomoya came home from school with a whole pack of his friends. Tomoya is in the band, and all of his friends also happen to play instruments. I showed everyone my pictures from america, the DVD that kostya made (a big hit), and the english project that Rahul made for school last year (Tomoya's friends almost died during the car chase scene, and everyone agreed it looked really professional).

The next day I went to meet my host grandmother who lives very close. I was told that she would be making lunch for me because Mayumi had to go to work. She came to pick me up and we had a long conversation about her trip to Hawaii with a chorus group. She spoke really fast japanese, but it seems to me that I can usually understand everything that old people say. At least if they want me to. We left for her house, where she told me that she was a licensed cook. She prepared yaki soba (a type of noodle) that was the most delicious I've ever had. That afternoon Tomoya's friends came over again and we played with Tomoya's large collection of plastic guns and video games.

The next day, Kawai-san took me to experience mochitsuki (which means making omochi, or sweet rice cakes) at a friend's house. I had wanted to do this for a while. The process involves putting a ton (figuratively) of cooked rice in a stone bowl, and smacking it with long wooden hammers until it turns into a paste-like "goo." The goo is then squeezed into small balls and covered in flour. It can them be eaten in a variety of ways including plain, with soy sauce, with a sweet powder, in soups, etc. After the making of omochi, I went to see a boat race at a nearby arena. It is very similar (I assume) to horseracing, with six racers and a bunch of people betting on certain boats. It looked pretty chilly to me, but if I got the chance I would try it.

The next morning (New Year's Eve), I woke up to find snow on the ground. Dragging myself to the window I got a small shock because this was the first snow of the year yet pretty decent sized. I small snowball fight ensued involving myself, Tomoya, Tomoya's cousin who stayed with us over New Years, and some of the kids next door. After the battle, thoroughly soaked and satisfied, I sat down to a delicious lunch of sushi prepared by my host grandmother. That evening, the whole family went back to the house where we made omochi to wait for the New Year. I had a gratuitous amount of osake which sparked interesting conversation with my host father and left me in a good mood for 2005. About 20 minutes before midnight (14 hours before the ball would drop in Times Square) all of us went to a nearby shrine (a japanese custom) to watch fireworks (not a custom as far as I know). When we reached the top of the shrine steps, the countdown had already begun. We turned around to see fireworks on a hill near a small amusement park to the sound of "ooohs" and "aaahs." I helped myself to more sake at the shrine and wished for a good year.

The next morning I woke up to a traditional japanese New Year's breakfast, consisting of various foods that each have a certain meaning. I drank more osake with some gold foil in it (just being traditional not an alcoholic), and decided that was enough alcohol for a while. That morning Tomoya's friend came over and the three of us went to Tamano's shrine by bike to pay our respects for the new year. We also visited the Tai shrine before returning home for a traditional New Year's lunch consisting of the same foods eaten for breakfast, plus soba. Soba is traditionally eaten during the New Year for reasons I am assuming relate to good luck.

On New Year's Day my host father's brother came to visit as well as his wife and three children. My host grandfather and grandmother also joined us. My host father, father's brother, grandfather, and I played Mahjong which would have made my grandmother very proud. Not only is it a difficult game but in japanese it can be daunting. I really enjoyed it, however, and can't wait to get my next chance to try and best my host grandfather, who cleaned me out.

The rest of the weekend proceeded with more excitement, but I will leave that up to another entry. For now, あけまして おめでとう (akemashite omedetou) and Happy New Year.


  • I don't think I could've found anything better to read after sleeping on and off from 1pm-5am

    By Bernard, at 5:44 AM  

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