Friday, May 1, 1998

Hokkaido Homestays

by Vincent Siegel

After traveling 21 1/2 hours, I was most relieved to meet my first host family, the Matanos. Their family has five members, Mr. and Mrs. Matano, daughter Fumina, and sons Tomohiro, and Yoshihito. Fumina and her parents picked me up at a school in downtown Sapporo, and then drove me to their house, located just outside of downtown Sapporo. Upon entering their home, I removed my shoes, as is customary in all Japanese homes. Then, in keeping with another Japanese tradition, I presented the family with gifts.

Two days later, Mr. and Mrs. Matano and Fumina took me to the Kitara, Sapporo's concert hall that had been open for just one year. We were given a private tour of the facility which was elegant, yet very simple and functional. Very Nihonteki, I called it. Very Japanese. Later that day, we attended a pep rally at Hokkaido Women's College, where Fumina is studying to be an elementary school music teacher. That evening, Fumina and her boyfriend, Shota, joined me at the Sapporo Beer Garden for our farewell-to-Sapporo dinner.

The following afternoon I was introduced to my second host family, the Watanabes. Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe have two children, Hyato and Shino. After getting acquainted, they drove me from Nanae to the city of Hakodate, where we toured Koryuji, the oldest temple on Hakodate, which is still a functioning monastery. Other sites in Hakodate I visited included the Motomachi Catholic church and the Hakodate Russian Orthodox church, both located just below the foot of Mt. Hakodate. The narrow, hilly streets of this area reminded me of San Francisco.

After finishing both of my homestays, I reflected on the experience. In Japan there are traditional households and Western households. Both families with which I stayed were decidedly progressive, the Matanos being more so than the Watanabes. Both had a western-style dining room table, and neither had different slippers for different rooms in the house, as is traditional in Japan. It was acceptable to walk around in the house wearing just socks. But the Watanabes had a traditional Japanese-style bath, whereas the Matanos had only a shower. At the Watanabes I slept on a futon; in the Matanos home it was on a Western, albeit short, bed. In this sense, I experienced a little of both styles of Japanese homes. Other than the aforementioned differences, and the acceptability of slurping at the table, I found Japanese family life to be not unlike Western family life.

Most importantly, both families were extremely accommodating and they expressed an interest in continuing correspondence. I have found friends in the Matanos and Watanabes that I wish to keep forever