11 August 2004

Homestay.

The third day in Japan started my overnight homestay with a Japanese family, which ended up being one of the most memorable aspects of this trip! I took a train to Osaka with a group of other students on homestays, and we met our families at their local community center in the afternoon. The whole group participated in some singing and dancing, including the Hokey Pokey and two Japanese songs, before departing with our families.

Lisa, the other SAS student I was paired with, and I went with Akiko, our host mother, and her two adorable kids, a 4 year old son and 1-year-old daughter. We drove into Osaka, where we parked the car and Akiko left the children with her mother while we met up with Akiko's friend, who was hosting another SAS student, Laura. We walked through an area of downtown Osaka popular with young people, including a famous bridge where Japanese guys go to pick up girls. We tried fried octopus balls from a street vendor, which were surprisingly good, considering the octopus! They showed us some of the other famous sites in the area, like a seafood restaurant with an enormous moving crab on their sign, and a drumming robotic man outside another store, before we parted ways and headed back to the car and kids.

We drove to Akiko's house on the edge of the city- the family is doing quite well for themselves! They own two cars, and a gorgeous two-story house. Their house was beautifully decorated, but also filled with children's toys, many of them with Disney characters, so it was quite homey! Lisa and I watched some English CNN and played with the kids while Akiko prepared dinner. Her husband, Hiro, came home from the lighting company where he works, and we all had dinner together.

Dinner was interesting- there was an electric hotplate on the table, where Akiko and Hiro made these interesting vegetable pancake-esque things with shrimp and bacon on top, and then stir-fried noodles in the pot when everyone was done eating the pancakes- it was a fun, social way to cook, and definitely cut down on the dishes! We also had some chicken wings, rice, and immature soybeans in the pod, which were especially tasty! Hiro took us down the street to the 7-11 for ice cream while Akiko cleaned up. We all sat around and chatted for a while about Japan and the US- Hiro had recently been to Atlanta, and showed us his pictures from CNN headquarters. They offered to take us to Kyoto the next day, which was a fabulous surprise, since neither Lisa nor I would have been able to make it there otherwise.

The next morning, Akiko made us breakfast (eggs and toast- no traditional Japanese!) before we left for the drive to Kyoto. We visited the famous Golden Pavilion temple, which, as the name suggests, has the top two floors of the temple covered with gold leaf and overlooks a beautiful lake and garden. We had traditional Japanese green tea (very strong!) and tea cakes (yummy!) in the garden before we left the temple for lunch. Kyoto is famous for ramen, so we went to a local ramen restaurant for lunch- delicious! It put the instant ramen noodles back home to shame.

Next, we visited the Gion area of Kyoto, where we were able to see a few Maiko girls walking around in kimonos and full make-up. Akiko and Hiro had a difficult time explaining in English what they were, but the best we could gather was that the Maiko are girls training to be geisha, in the future. After Gion, they drove us back to Kobe and the ship, where we said good-bye. Justin did a short home visit today day, and his family had college-age kids who go to SUNY Buffalo. Meg, one of the Japanese students, and her boyfriend invited us to see the firework show (part of summer festivals around Japan) with them, so we met up with them after dinner on the boat. The fireworks were great- over an hour long, and we had a great seat watching from the edge of the water.

After the show, we went into Kobe with Meg and went to a Japanese dining bar, where they serve drinks and light snacks. We tried sake and ate a bunch of snacks- edamame, fried chicken morsels, and a plethora of food on skewers, including octopus, chicken, mushrooms, and bacon, in varying combinations. Since Meg and her boyfriend were students in the US, they spoke perfect English, and it was great to hear about the differences between life in the US and in Japan from people who live in both places. Meg had to catch a train home, so we said good-bye and headed back to the ship for the night.

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