(Paraphrasing a friend) I don’t just want to see the smiles and laughs and all the good in a family. I want to see the flaws and the bad too, basically the things behind the scenes that you don’t see because all of those things make up a family, and all of those things bring a family closer.
I have an amazing host family. They are all so crazy and loving, and I’m glad to have been able to spend time with them for the few months I’ve been in Japan.
Meet Yoshinobu (Yoshi-san)
Yoshi-san, the father, is the head of the household. (He has a separate hand towel from everyone else because of this. I don’t quite get it, but I assume it has something to do with their hierarchy and [gender] roles). I don’t see him often because he is always working on something, whether it’s going to his job in Odaiba or working in his office at home. However, when I do see him, it’s normally at dinner time. Yet even in the short time I see him, I could tell how much he valued education. Whenever he had the chance to teach, he’d take it (and he often did this by teaching English words to his son, Harumichi. Sometimes he’d use me to correct his pronunciation and grammar). Whenever I made a mistake while speaking with him in Japanese (which was often), he’d always cut our conversation and make me repeat the correct way of saying whatever I said wrong over and over and over again. It got really annoying, I will admit. But it understood that he was only trying to help.
One other thing Yoshi-san told me was that he couldn’t cook to save his life, so we’d all be lost if my host mom was gone. Even so, I found that he was ok with it and that he really didn’t care. In fact, one thing I noticed about Yoshi-san is that he says “I don’t care” A LOT. An example of this is when he, Harumichi, and I returned home from a long Jiyugaoka Kumano Jinja Festival (which I will talk about in another blog). As it started pouring outside, he came to my room just when I finished changing and asked if I wanted to go out and get soft cream. Looking outside, I asked if I had to change, and he said, “I don’t care. So, I went out in my plaid pjs, with a bandana on and went about trudging through the soppy rain. I got so many stares. XD
Meet Reiko (Reiko-san)
It’s very normal in Japan for mothers to quit their jobs if they have children because daycares are so expensive and sometimes even hard to find. So, they decide to stay at home. Reiko-san is one of those mothers; she is a house wife, and she does almost everything around the house. From cooking three meals a day, to shopping for food and school supplies, to attending her kids’ recitals, to helping with homework, to dropping off kids at practices, to planning trips, Reiko-san is always a busy beaver. I remember a time when I was still getting used to my host family. I asked her what she did during her free time. Almost instantly, she replied, “I don’t have free time.”
I am always amazed at how Reiko-san gets up super early to make everyone’s breakfast AND bento lunch only to then say goodbye to everyone and start on daily chores. (Sometimes if I’m home, I’ll go with her to drop of Harumichi at swimming or running practice). And at the end of the day after serving and having dinner with everyone, she is back to cleaning, helping Harumichi with his homework, and doing laundry. (Every night, she also reads Harumichi a book before he goes to bed). She goes to bed late because of all the tidying she does after dinner. (Since Reiko-san is the cook, she has made the family a “healthy” family, so she serves a lot of vegetables and soups. Also, she doesn’t think eating a lot of meat is healthy, so she only serves it about 2 to 3 times a week).
When it comes to dealing with her kids, she has a lot to deal with too, especially with Harumichi. For being eight, Harumichi continuously whines and throws tantrums, literally falling out and rolling on the ground. If Harumichi spills or wastes his food, she’ll say “Haru-kun!” sternly. If Yuchi puts her head on the table or eats straight from a group dish, Reiko-san will either say, “Yuchi-chan!” sternly or hit her on the head.
Besides Harumichi, I am the one who spends the most time around Reiko-san. I’ve come to realize how encouraging and honest she is. (There was a time when she let me borrow one of her jackets during winter. When it was time for me to give it back, she didn’t want to take it; instead, she gave it to me. When I asked her why, she said she didn’t want it because it had my smell on it XD). She’s extremely organized too. There is always something on the calendar, and she is always writing something in an agenda. If I need to go somewhere on my own, she draws a map for me or writes down directions. She always does her best to include me in things. She recently started teaching me piano (since she was surprised that I didn’t know how to read music or play piano). She also taught me how to sew buttons on my uniform (which actually comes in handy considering how many buttons come off).
Yuchi is the crazy older sister in the family – well, I’m a year older than her, but I’m not the crazy one. But anyway, she is really down to earth and loves joking and laughing a lot. (When she laughs, she leans back and claps her hands together). She often finds enjoyment in picking on Harumichi a lot too, but sometimes their bickering turns into a one way fist fight with Harumichi being the one throwing the punches. At school, Yuchi is very lively and talkative as well. There are times when I’d see her running through the school halls being chased by a friend. Whenever someone asks who I stay with and I say Yuchi, everyone gets excited and refer to her as the “talkative” one. Like me, a lot of people think she is silly and loud.
Besides a few trips to karaoke and shopping centers, I don’t really get to hang out with Yuchi that often because she is always studying. (I’m not saying that is a bad thing because finals and tests in Japan are very important). After school when she doesn’t have hiking club, Yuchi goes to an [English] cram school. So a lot of times, I don’t even see her at dinner because she always gets home late. But when she is at dinner, she scarfs down her food (along with Yoshi-san) and is always the first to finish eating so she can go off and study. However, she still gets in a few words and jokes before running off.
When she does have free time, I often see her reading the newspaper or looking at YouTube or Facebook. Sometimes when I try to strike up a conversation with her, she tells me to wait before leaving the room. (She has a hearing aid for both ears, and I think she forgets to put it on sometimes, at least when I’m around. I guess I talk too softly). Our conversations are normally short, but I always love how attentive she gets when I speak.
Now I welcome you to the dark side! Harumichi! I have a lot to say about him, but one word that really describes the brother and the youngest in the family is “Star Wars.” When I say he has an obsession with Star Wars, I mean he’s so bent in lightsabers and Darth Vader to the point to where he randomly breaks out into song, mostly singing “DUN DUN DUN da-da DUN da-da DUUUN!” with much enthusiasm. He also says “The dark side!” randomly along with “Sistaaaa” from the scene where Luke told his twin they were related. (I don’t know). He even learned how to play Darth Vader’s theme on the piano! And while he is constantly singing Star Wars themes, he is also playing with Star Wars Legos or swinging around a lightsaber. (Harumichi hasn’t gone one day without playing with the lightsaber I got him when I first arrived or a day without mentioning even a single word of the classic sci-fi). Whenever we go somewhere by car, Yoshi-san plays an English narration of a Star Wars book that is constantly on repeat. (Maybe that’s where he got “Sisstaaa”).
Sometimes when I’d be studying in my room, Harumichi would come sneaking in, wearing a dark, silky cape. He’d try to use the force on me, and I’d counter with my own force. Then, he’d toss me a lightsaber, and we’d have ourselves a battle. Harumichi is the only one in the family who doesn’t speak English, so we’d just make grunting and clashing noises instead of battle insults and such. Other times, he’d come into my room and ask me to watch a Star Wars movie with him and the family. Every time, he gets so excited and just beams!
But when Star Wars is removed from the picture, if that’s even possible, I find Harumichi to be both sweet and sour. But to be honest, I mostly see him as sour. He can actually be very rude to everyone, especially to his mom: he yells at and interrupts her, snatches things from her, throws his food onto her plate when he doesn’t like something, and even hits at her sometimes. And when he doesn’t get his way (not being able to watch a Star Wars movie for using bad words for example), he will throw a tantrum. For being eight years old, I’m surprised to see him throw tantrums like a 2 year old because he will literally throw himself to the ground, fall out and roll all over the place. In fact, Harumichi is always whining about not getting his way. And it’s funny sometimes because his voice really gets high and squeaks! (Yuchi and Yoshi-san laugh at him a lot when he starts to cry and whine).
On top of his tantrums, he is picked on a lot by Yuchi, so they often get into really violent fights. One time when I told everyone I was making an Oreo cheesecake, Yuchi told Harumichi that he couldn’t have any. So what does he do? He crawls under the table and smacks Yuchi right in the face, throwing a flurry of punches until the point to where he knocked her and the chair onto the floor. Then he kicked and stomped on her right in the gut before proceeding to hit her. The crazy part was that everyone, including the abused Yuchi, was laughing the entire time. It wasn’t until Harumichi started bashing her on the floor that Reiko-san intervened.
Harumichi and my drawing
But don’t get me wrong, Haru-kun does have a sweet side to him too. He’s normally the last to finish eating his food not only because of his whining, but also because of his engagement with his family. He is always finding something to laugh and joke about just like Yuchi. If I’m trying to say a word in Japanese or am receiving advice from a host parent, Harumichi will intervene and do his best to help. Actually, he is very nosy too. He is a monkey-see-monkey-do kind of kid. If I have yogurt, he wants yogurt. (Because of this, if I have some food, Reiko-san will tell me to hide it in my room). If I draw, he’ll draw. If I’m doing origami, he’ll do origami. If I’m playing with my tablet or laughing at something at a video, he’ll swoop over and see what I’m laughing at. (There were times when I’d let him play Star Wars angry bird on my tablet, and he really enjoyed it, but I’d have to kick him off because he played for so long. One time, Harumichi took my tablet and started playing Solitaire on it. I tried to help him and show him how to play, and he snatched my tablet from me and growled! I took my tablet back and didn’t let him play after that).
One last thing about Harumichi that I really had to get used to was his staring. He CONSTANTLY stared at me, especially when I was eating. And if I’d turn, our eyes would lock for a split second before he’d turn. And this happened so many times. He also stares when he really wants or likes something, so he stares a lot when I have food different from everyone else. Sigh. Harumichi is truly a unique case.
Well, this is the Yamamoto family. A crazy bunch, I know, but I am really going to miss them. And I’m glad I was able to be with them for my short stay here in Japan.