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The Hashibas

2008 June 11

I have put off catching up on this blog for a day now, so I think I had better get it over with. Be warned – this post is going to be huge!

First of all, to sum it up: the Hashibas, my host family, were amazing. The whole family is simply wonderful. I came to them through Professor Miura of Kanazawa University, who is friends with my advising professor on the Monroe project, Japanese professor Kato from W&M. Miura takes traditional bamboo flute lessons from Mr. Hashiba, and while she was searching for me for host families around campus, Mrs. Hashiba volunteered to take me in for a few days. She turned out to be the best host mother I could have asked for – very patient with me, chatted with me even when I could barely understand her, tried to help whenever I was at a loss, and really treated me as if I were a family member. Mr. Hashiba went so far as to introduce me to people as “私の娘 – my daughter”; he tried very hard to converse at a level I could understand and enjoyed exchanging English and Japanese words for things. I took pictures with everyone but the son (he said goodbye early and went to work), so you can see tagged photos of me with Mr. and Mrs. Hashiba and Haru the cat over on my Flickr page – but don’t laugh too much; Mrs. Hashiba makes me look huge. Also, I should note here that the best I can do on identifying which member of the family I’m talking about is through title – Mr., Mrs., and -kun for the younger man (though he’s older than I). I do know Mr. Hashiba’s first name thanks to his business card, but Mrs. Hashiba only referred to her family as Dad, Mom, and Son. Dad very rarely called Son by a shortened version of his first name.

When I arrived on Saturday, I was pretty out of it, especially meeting the son first. He speaks with a youthful slur and probably has the heaviest accent, so we had trouble talking, but we did manage to discuss music in the car while waiting for his mother to do some quick grocery shopping. His tastes run toward things like Marilyn Manson, Judas Priest, and German metal; there were a couple bands I wanted to share with him, but when we did examine his CD collection later in the evening, the iPod concept turned out to be rather foreign to him, so I figured I’d stay away from the laptop idea at all. When we got back to the house, Mrs. Hashiba had me put my stuff in the daughter’s old room, which she had marked for me with a little Hello Kitty keychain. I then sat in front of the TV for a little bit watching some sort of parade going on in front of the station I had just arrived at while she cooked and dad taught a flute lesson; at some point here son came in with three huge boxes of CDs for me to inspect. Dinner was curry rice, a Japanese staple, with homemade cheesecake and pizza and I don’t even remember what else. Mrs. Hashiba apparently just started baking breads and such, and the whole family was amused to hear that Dad bakes the bread in my family. 

On Sunday, we slept late (9:30) and woke up to crab croquettes and shredded veggies and cheesecake with homegrown strawberries for breakfast. Mr. Hashiba enjoyed getting the English pronunciation of loan words from me, especially after I had trouble understanding “youguruto” for a few minutes. Mrs. Hashiba showed me how to put away my futon for the day, and then we went for a walk. We were apparently headed somewhere specific, but I had no idea where; we did have a lot of good conversation, though, and she pointed out interesting landmarks as we went. Finally we got to a theater where there was some kind of festival performance related to the previous day’s parade, which I figured out was the annual celebration of the milestone rice output that made Kanazawa founder Maeda Toshie rich. There was song after dance after song and dance number; Hashiba-san asked me if I had had enough, but it was really fascinating, so I told her I was okay to stay. Later on she admitted that she was a little bored, but then we found seats and she was glad to make it to the more exciting numbers at the end. It ran later than expected, which apparently made us late to our next stop, but we still found time to duck into a little museum on Noh, which is taught and performed in Kanazawa. I learned an interesting fact about the kimonos of female characters in Noh plays, and also that Hashiba-san doesn’t care for Noh. We then ran to the ikebana viewing we were supposed to see, which was really neat, except that Hashiba-san’s friend who had a few pieces in the viewing was there in a formal kimono and made both of us feel embarrassed. On the way back we got soft serve – Mrs. Hashiba had blueberry, and I had matcha (traditional green tea), and she joked all night that I was more Japanese than she was. For dinner, we went to their favorite hole-in-the-wall yakitori place – basically an anything-on-a-stick grill – and had things like squid rings, cow tongue, and really peppery cow cheek. I also had a very small glass of beer, which did nothing but taste bad and turn my stomach, to the amusement of the son. That night I made friend with Haru, the cat, whom the son had warned me was not fond of people. He did nibble, but he was very sweet to me – possibly because I had the most accessible futon to nap on.

On Monday, we had breakfast at their usual time of 7:30, and then Mrs. Hashiba and I went for another walk. We went through a touristy street where there used to be geisha houses and toured two of them, one claiming to be the oldest surviving geisha house in the area (where we had matcha and sweets) and the other a more modern version of a geisha house that we both preferred. We then were picked up by Mr. Hashiba, who drove us over to Kenrokuen, the famous palatial garden of Kanazawa Castle. We walked through that a little bit and then went over to the Castle and got a detailed explanation of all the outside surfaces, though tours of the inside were closed for the day. On the way back, we drove through the Kanazawa University campus, and Mr. Hashiba pointed out where I would be staying, which building Professor Miura’s office is in, and so forth.

We met their son back at the house and went out again for sushi, which was neat because it was one of those restaurants with a conveyor belt of food that you simply pull off and pay for later according to which plates you’ve collected, but difficult for me because I had no idea what I was eating. I started feeling sick halfway through the meal, but I couldn’t really explain it the way I wanted to, so the Hashibas got very concerned and I got upset. Mrs. Hashiba tried to comfort me by stopping at the supermarket and offering to buy me some sweets, but we instead agreed upon some cherries and yogurt for us to share at breakfast. I was going to go to sleep early to get rid of the moodiness when we got back, but I wandered out of my room at some point to find Mrs. Hashiba watching the live-action Nana movie, and I felt much better sitting and watching it with her. I had seen the movie before after watching the anime series, which was technically spawned from a very long manga series that has since produced a second movie. The story follows two 20 year-old women named Nana – one a punk rocker and the other a spoiled princess – who end up sharing an apartment in Tokyo. The concept seems girly, but the character development’s really captivating. It turned out that the son was watching as well, so afterwards we had a good discussion about Nana and about the anime Death Note (which is very popular in America right now, to his surprise) as well. Then I went back to my room and found Haru comfortably nestled in on top of my futon. Hashiba-kun was astounded when I started petting him and scratching his belly and, rather than biting me or complaining, he started stretching and looking happy! Of course, this disturbed his nap, so he padded back over to the living room where mom balled up a piece of origami paper for son to throw down the hall. Turns out that wads of paper are Haru’s favorite toy. Hashiba-kun and I threw that ball of paper around for possibly half an hour, and any time he saw it fly, Haru went crazy. I stayed up a little later than I had planned to, but I really enjoyed the casual family interaction.

Tuesday was our last day together, so we had breakfast that included udon noodles in the miso soup as well as my cherries and yogurt – although Dad preferred to eat his wife’s homemade yogurt, which is really very good. Mr. Hashiba announced to me during breakfast that he was calling an acquaintance who does kaga yuuzen, the famously elegant (and expensive) kimono-dyeing process invented in Kanazawa, to see if he couldn’t give me a head start on my research. I said goodbye to the son as he went off to work for the day, then Dad and I headed out to the home of his acquaintance. We ended up at the home of a very nice young Japanese couple who took us upstairs to the husband’s studio. I tried my best to explain the basic idea of my research in Japanese, which was news to Mr. Hashiba as well as to his friend; while the artist didn’t know if he could help with the language aspects (and while I was sure I didn’t yet know how to ask the questions I have), he pulled out some kimono for us to inspect and explained the kaga yuuzen process to us. At one point, his wife suggested that I try on one of the kimono; I was afraid to do so and damage it, but she put it on me, and the kimono’s creator took a few pictures of me in it. I don’t have those yet, but he promised to send Mr. Hashiba copies, who promised to pass them on to me. I stupidly forgot to bring a gift to them for having me as a visitor, but the wife insisted that I take some of the candy she had put out for us, and the husband gave me a small bookmark that he made using the same dyeing process. He also gave me his business card, and his wife assured me that if I emailed them some questions in English, she would get out her English dictionary and translate them for him to answer.

When we got back to the house, Mrs. Hashiba happily asked for some pictures to be taken. None of us were feeling particularly photogenic, but at least I have shots of the house and of them to remember them by. The family doesn’t use their computer, but Mr. Hashiba gave me his business card with the home address on it, so I’m going to send the originals home to be printed on photo paper and mailed back here with a thank-you note. When Mr. Hashiba drove me to the Guest House, he told me that he was sad to see me go and that he hoped to see me again, or at least that I wouldn’t forget them. He even put himself down as my emergency contact while I am at the guest house, though my contact professor here will probably be closer.

When I got settled into my room last night, I really missed them. Though it was only a few days, and we hardly understood each other, it really felt, looking back, like I had gained a family. The son particularly said something at the end which made me reevaluate a conversation we had the day he picked me up. He said something about “older sister, brother, younger sister”, which made me think he had two sisters, one married and one simply away for a while. From the mother’s comments later, though, I could only pick up on one daughter, married and in Saitama working as an advertising designer. When saying goodbye to the son, he again mentioned the younger sister, and I didn’t think much of it until his mother said something later about him having wanted a younger sister. I wonder if he meant, despite us not having communicated all that well, that he saw me as one.

 

Now that you’ve made it through that wall of text – I’m here in building number 34 on Kanazawa U’s Kakuma campus in the Kakuma guest house. It’s right next to the regular international dorm, but it’s more like a hotel, since it’s really intended for stays of two weeks or less – I still don’t really know how I managed a room here, since I’m not anything official to the university. The bed is Western-style, which is kind’ve nice considering how sore one can get from tossing and turning on a futon – but there’s no drawers of any sort for my clothing, just a small closet with three hangers and a very weird non-useful desk. The bathroom is a kind of weird cubicle; it’s all segmented plastic fit together (and it’s the first toilet in a place I’ve slept to not have a Washlet! Disappointment!) that’s raised from the rest of the room. There’s really not a whole lot exciting about the accommodations here, and the hotel-like aspects have me on edge a little bit. I’m slowly settling in, though; the first thing I did in the way of unpacking was to hang the Hello Kitty from my room in the Hashibas’ house on the lightswitch to my bedside lamp. 

Today was pretty quiet; I had a lackluster breakfast in the guest house that I probably won’t order again, then wandered around campus a bit and purchased some food – the campus eateries and stores were closing, but five minutes in the other direction from me is a nice Circle K convenience store. Tomorrow night I’m going out for okonomiyaki with at least three of the four students who visited W&M in March as well as some exchange students they know (one of whom is originally W&M) and some of their friends. Tomorrow afternoon will hopefully be getting in touch with Professor Okazawa, whom I’m hoping will assist me somewhat with the actual research I’m supposed to be doing here. The summary page on here is actually copied from a document I sent him that he still hasn’t responded to; I tried writing him in Japanese last night to see if that would elicit a faster response.

Later on, I should probably write about things like the shinkansen, double words on English translations of signs, and – the topic I know my father’s been anxiously anticipating – Japanese television. For now, I’ll try to get some sleep – I’ve got chocolate chip melon bread to look forward to in the morning!

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