Sunday, June 01, 2014

40 Days of Summer (in Japan) - Part Yon

It was thirty degrees Celsius today. Atusi means warm/hot. Yes.

You know how you're not supposed to expect things, because expecting things means you set a standard of disappointment, and how being pessimistic means you'll only be right, or pleasantly surprised? Yeah, I forget that sometimes. Or I can't help but make comparisons, because that's what human brains do. Unfortunately. But that's life, I guess.

Today I was supposed to wake up at 7am so I could eat the hostel's breakfast, which we paid 600-yen for. I wake up to the sounds of Linus and Xi Min packing up, and my phone happy reads 9.30am, hahaha-say-goodbye-to-your-breakfast-deposit-sucker.

We had a homestay orientation in the morning, where the people from the homestay company basically read out the booklet they sent to us two months ago. We also got our rental phones, basically emergency telephones which the homestay family can use to call us if we don't run up when they expect us to turn up. They're essentially giant in-case-of-emergency-break-glass-with-gold-bar we carry around with us, because they're also for us to contact other people in emergencies, but their prices are exorbitant.

We met our homestay families right then and there too! I'm staying with the Koike family, and the mom, Yuka-san, and their seven-year-old kid, Jun-kun, came to meet me at the prison- er, hostel. We made very light conversation as we took the subway back to their house in Sangen-jaya, which is a neighbourhood on the suburban outskirts of Tokyo, very near the district of Shibuya, actually.

I walked ten minutes to their house in the midday sun, trundling along the asphalt back-roads and alleyways. Hopefully I don't get lost trying to find my way tomorrow, because I can't read a word of Japanese and can't ask for directions to save my life. Literally.

The Koike house is really very nice, a narrow, modern little thing tucked between two other apartments, like almost all housing in Tokyo. It's centred around this tight, winding staircase and has three floors and a modest rooftop balcony. It's not tatami-mat and paper screens, but it's wonderful.

The bottom of those stairs actually connect to the top of the stairs behind the wall. As of time of writing, I'm still climbing this Escherian nightmare.

Yuka-san made a very simple lunch, cold somen noodles with soy sauce. Apparently Koike-san and Jun-kun said that the noodles weren't very good, but I was hungry and hot and I love noodles so I at up almost a whole pot by myself.

I followed Yuka-san, her mother, and Jun-kun to a shopping mall at this place whose name I have forgotten. It's this new shopping mall with a whole bunch of current fashion and stuff. I didn't want to interrupt their family time so I accepted their offer of walking around by myself. After discovering that most of it was women's clothing, I accepted that I was a woman trapped in a man's body, ripped off my shirt, and shopped to my heart's content. (What I really did was accept the fact that there was nothing for me here, and wandered over to the bookstore.)

I really like bookstores, and I really like Japanese bookstores more. Their book covers are usually so much more colourful, and they stock more of each type of book, so each shelf is a rainbow of orderly-stacked volumes, beautiful like a piece of modern art that doesn't have a pretentious caption below it.

Something peculiar I noticed about Japanese department stores: the food is usually located on the top floors. You can see this in places like Takashimaya in Singapore. But back home, the food places are usually on the ground floors and basements. I wonder why the Japanese decided to bring their eateries skywards; is it some cultural thing, or have they just discovered greater economic benefits for leading their people through multiple floors of tempting merchandise before getting to the sumptuous tasty morsels above?

I bought an Auntie Anne's pretzel for my host family, because I wanted to eat one and I thought it would be nice if they had one too. I successfully asked for a English menu, ordered in the most rudimentary Japanese I know (by pointing at the picture, saying "kore, futatsu") and charading that I wanted them in separate packets. Next step, world domination.

I spent most of the rest of the afternoon reading the material I needed to read for tomorrow, which is freaking long and quite tedious. The stuff's pretty interesting though, about the urban history of Tokyo and how it developed into the sprawling megapolis it is today.

Although it's worth it given that this is the cozy room I'm doing it in.
Yuka-san made hamburgers and radish soup for dinner, which was also very delicious. I also managed to hold my first actual conversation with Koike-san, who speaks decent English but heavily-accented and with a lot of pauses as he searches up the words in his mental dictionary. From what I could understand, he works in a banking firm, doing asset management for large fixed capital, like buildings. He asked what my dad does, and I told him that he works in a Japanese advertising company called Hakuhodo, and Yuka-san said she deals with them all the time, because she does marketing for Triumph. I also talked to Koike-san about the family travels, and their trip to Singapore two years ago, and how they went to Hawaii four years back but Jun-kun came down with chicken pox and they had to be quarantined.

I also spent a lot of time today playing MarioKart 8 with Jun-kun. The little guy better grow up to be a racecar driver, for all the practice he's getting now. Today I learned that "difficult" is muzakashii. Because MarioKart 8 is freaking muzakashii.

Bringing this back to my first paragraph. The Koikes are, I would guess, a very modern Japanese family. They're not so focused on the insane-level hospitality that I experienced with the Hikidas, and they seem very chill about almost everything. I have a feeling some of it can be attributed to the fact that I'm their fifth homestay tenant over the last year, and they've been to Singapore before, so I'm not the omoshiroi (interesting) novelty I expected to be. Nevertheless, they're really nice and accommodating and very liberal about what I can do around the house; but I constantly feel awkward because they converse in Japanese a lot and I don't have any idea what to do.

But I like them, and I hope they like me. We'll just have to see how this goes, over the next few weeks.

Maybe we'll be doing crazy selfies by then; but for now, this will have to do.

No comments: