A couple of weeks ago 19 Livermore area students and I traveled to Japan on an exchange program with the Livermore Yotsukaido Sister City Organization (LYSCO). (oh, I almost forgot, there were also 17 chaperones/delegates too).
Our sister city is Yotsukaido, in the Chiba Prefecture. For an easier frame of reference, it’s an hour east of Tokyo. Yotsukaido has a population of 300,000, and a central downtown area with high-rise buildings. It is in a geographical area similar to Livermore. Livermore is about an hour east of San Francisco, you may know of it because we are home to the largest laser on earth at the NIF (National Ignition Facility). We don’t have high-rise buildings, but we have a flourishing wine making industry, the oldest in California.
Our flight was 11 hours and pretty smooth. I got all the high scores on Tetris Ultra, and watched a few movies. Once in Yotsukaido we went to city hall to introduce ourselves to the Japanese counterpart of LYSCO. I got to give a speech, partly in Japanese and partly in English. I thought it was cool because after I talked, someone read a translation of it so that the Japanese people that didn’t know much English could understand what I was saying.
Once we were finished with the formalities, we met our individual host families and went home. We had already been talking with our host families through e-mail, so we had already ‘introduced’ ourselves. Although anyone watching us on the ride home would have thought we were complete strangers. Literally no one talked in the car for a solid 20 minutes, which was the whole ride home. Once in the house though, we were a lot more conversational, mainly because the host dad, who wasn’t in the car, spoke the best English.
From left to right, me, my roommate, my host student
We got a tour of the house from Shimpeisan, our host student, after dropping our stuff in our room. We started in the kitchen, which I really liked. It is super small compared to the kitchens in the US. It felt like it was joined with the dining room because one side of the kitchen had a cut out section that looked out to the dining area, so you could pass food across. You could only fit two people in it comfortably and everything was super small, including the oven. One night, we cooked a North American dinner with another couple of students. I enjoyed working in the kitchen because everything was in your reach, plus, it was efficient and organized. Although having four people in it stretched the carrying capacity of the kitchen to its max. Our meal ended up turning out great, we had tacos, mac and cheese, and brownies. Our Japanese families started putting the mac and cheese in the taco shells, which is actually really good.
My roommate and host mom making the brownies in our kitchen
Upstairs was where our host family slept. They all used beds, none of them had a futon, which is a soft mattress without a frame (they are really comfy). We slept downstairs in the ‘Japanese room’ of the house, where there are tatami floors with rice paper walls and doors. There isn’t much else in that room because it can also be used for Japanese tea ceremonies, so most houses have a room like that. Since that space was sometimes used in the day, after we got up, we would fold up our futons into thirds and move them to the corners of the room. Instead of using it for a tea ceremony, we used it to play games in.
The living room with the tatami room in the background
The bathroom, and the toilet room were a fun experience in Japan. In North America, the shower or bathtub, toilet, and sink are generally in the same room. In Japan, the toilet is in its own small room completely by itself, so you have to go out of the toilet room and into another room to wash your hands. That room also had the washer and a clothesline to dry the clothes. The shower and tub were in another room adjacent to the hand washing and laundry area. The floor was sorta squishy and had a drain in the middle of it. There was also a tub, but you would use it only after you had already had a shower because the bath water is reused multiple times for all the people in the house. I thought that was quite interesting and it amazed me that they would put that much space into cleaning themselves.
Compared to the rest of the house, the living room was huge. They also had a large TV. As far as I know, they don’t use Netflix but our host family had Hulu. I figured out that they only heated the dining room, living room, and the Japanese room of the house, which can all be divided off. The reason I figured it out was because my host family diligently would shut the doors leading out of those three rooms after they went through them, and also the temperature difference was very noticeable. That first night, we got to sleep around nine pm, after eating a delicious dinner and playing a bit of the original Super Mario Cart on Shimpei’s Nintendo NES.