At long last, I have arrived in Hiroshima. As I near the end of my first week in the City of Peace, I am feeling settled and ready to tackle the exciting research task before me. Having outgrown my map, I am relatively confidant that I no longer emit tourist vibes as I roam the streets. Through meticulous exploration, I have pinpointed all gumball machines within a 3 mile radius of my home, along with cheap lunch joints and Daiso locations.
Let’s back up a bit. In light of my maddening surprise flight itinerary last summer, I opted not to book a flight with STA Travel. Instead, I used Orbitz, and my flight to Japan was as smooth as could be. Lesson learned: when traveling halfway across the world, book flights with layovers. Not only are they less expensive, but for hyperactive people like myself, they also provide opportunities to run laps on the moving walkways and eat slightly better non-plane food at the airport.
During my trip to Nagasaki last summer, I traveled by myself and stayed in a youth hostel. While this
lifestyle afforded me freedom to do what I pleased, it was also a bit lonely. This time around, I decided to organize a home stay with the Hiroshima International Homestay Club. While in Hiroshima, I will stay with two host families. Currently, I am living with the President of the Homestay Club, a truly remarkable woman: compassionate, energetic, and life-loving. Since she founded the Club with her husband, she has housed over 400 young people from all over the world. Additionally, she happens to be quite active and well connected in Hiroshima’s peace movement, a bonus for my research. Let me also testify to her amazing cooking abilities. I feel honored to call her okaasan.
My okaasan’s home has 5 stories: a floor for the genkan (where you remove your shoes), a floor where okaasan’s son has his medical practice, a floor for the kitchen/okaasan’s bedroom, a floor for guests (aka, me), and the roof. I am especially fond of the roof, which features a refrigerator filled with delightful Japanese juice drinks that I am free to sample. I’m also partial to my floor because it has a traditional tatami room (tatami smells good).
As you can probably tell, I am living the good life. I am privileged to attend my okaasan’s frequent dinner dates with her intriguing friends, to play (attempt to learn) mahjong with her adorable granddaughter, and, occasionally to ride in her car. Walking 6-7 miles in the rain got old after… the first time I walked 6-7 miles in the rain. However, there are also complications when it comes to staying with a host family. For one, my home has no wifi. NO WIFI. At first, I thought I was doomed to live a despondent 2 months, cut off from family, friends, and Fruit Ninja. Now that I have an Ethernet cable things are slightly better. Slightly. Also, I have less privacy and less independence. Since I have been busy with research, interning, volunteering, and interviewing, I need to make a conscious effort to spend time with my okaasan each day.
That being said I can already tell that my home stay experience will be invaluable to my language skills, to my general acculturation, and to my immersion in Hiroshima’s peace culture. Since stepping off the plane, my Japanese has immensely improved. I can hold conversation smoothly and am quickly picking up new vocabulary, attributable to the fact that I’ve done nothing but talk to my okaasan, to her friends, and to those I’m interviewing, all in Japanese. Absolutely exhausting, yet totally worth it.
Stay tuned for updates on my internship at the World Friendship Center and volunteer work at the Hiroshima YMCA. As always, please shoot questions and comments my way.