This weekend I took a Japanese friend up on an invitation for a real homestay experience at his house in the Japanese countryside. Whereas in America where this may be a somewhat casual occasion, in Japanese culture, especially for foreigners, there are many rules to adhere to. Little did I know, the relaxing weekend would turn into a lesson in Japanese culture that I will not soon forget.
The journey began with a three-hour train ride from the Nagoya metropolis to my friend’s tiny village nestled on a peninsula between Nagoya and Osaka. Close the Pacific coastline and the towering mountains of central Japan, the village was extremely picturesque. As it was deep in the countryside, life moved at a much slower pace than in the bustling city, and Japanese traditions were much more strictly adhered to. The first and most important tradition to remember when entering someone’s place of residence is removal of the shoes. Whether it be into an apartment or house, always remove the shoes before stepping on the wood floor. As I learned this weekend, there are also a plethora of specific greetings that one must use when entering or leaving a house. There are separate phrases for entrance, entrance further into the house, about to leave, and leaving; along with appropriate responses from the mother of the house.
The next lesson came at dinnertime. Although my friend often speaks with foreigners, his family was not familiar with seeing the ubiquitous “gaijin” or foreigner that are always discussed among Japanese. Again, before eating there is a customary saying of “itadakimasu,” which thanks the cook for the food. Then, after each bite it is customary to exclaim “oishii,” or delicious. Rather than just saying it at the end of the meal, as in European cultures, it is necessary to compliment the cook often, otherwise the guest is viewed as rude. The grandmother of the family could not help staring and commenting on my proficient use of chopsticks, as most Japanese assume foreigners cannot muster the skill to use them. After dinner, one must say “gochisousamadeshita,” which again thanks the cook for the meal and shows great appreciation.
The final adventure came at bathtime. In Japan, the nightly bath is viewed almost as a religious experience. There is a certain order to the bath. First, one must sit on an incredibly tiny stool and rinse the filth of the day away. Next comes shampoo and body wash with soap. Once rinsed, it is necessary to enter and soak in a hot tub for up to an hour. This is a tradition that all Japanese follow on a nightly basis. However, for an American used to a morning shower, it definitely took some getting used to.
Overall, a homestay in another culture is an incredibly valuable experience. Whether it be in Japan, Africa, Europe, or anywhere around the world, there is an incredible amount of value in observing and learning the customs of other nations, no matter how difficult to remember they may be.