Saturday, December 30, 2017

Homestay Series: All the wonderful weird things happening in a Japanese Home

Although I am yet to experience a month-long homestay myself, I’ve interviewed several friends who had gotten the chance to do just that and “live to tell the tale. " Here is what I’ve got:
homestay with japanese family Japan culture shock

“Express” Language Learning.

It is possible that your host family speaks only Japanese, so inevitably after your months-long stay, you might forget how to English… Homestay provides you the best Japanese learning environment, so your confidence in speaking will be skyrocketed after a few weeks or even days. Weird… because no matter how well you do in class, you’ll never make that great of a leap in a short time… but that is no magic.

Getting special treatment. 

It happens to most caucasian friends that their Okasaan tend to make their meals the largest portion on the dining table. There was once My host mother took a young soccer player into their home and once she got to know that he needed to eat more protein, she researched and came out with different protein-rich dishes every day to cater to his special diet requirement. Every day, without fail and she made sure that she tried not to repeat the same dish so that her homestay son wouldn’t get bored.

Blood group tells fortune. 

Joel was asked by his host sister what his blood type was. That's a really unusual question to ask to a person you just met. But it didn't take long for him to realize that in Japan, blood groups are like astrological signs... It can give one insight into your "fortune of the week" and personality. So it becomes a popular ice-breaking question.
Japan homestay

Becoming a mini-celebrity. 

Being the one and only blonde in the neighborhood, Alyssa was easily spotted from a mile away. "Little children will stare, point and ask questions.... Students and adults in the neighborhood would seize every chance to practice their English with me. My host family is well aware of that and they are proud of it." Culture Shock!

Interesting Food, some downright scary. 

While most people I interviewed love Japanese food, the following made the “scary food” list which most of us would not want to eat a second time: sea urchin, moving (why are they still moving?!) sashimi, slimy seaweed, and raw baby octopus.

On the flip side, here are some that we never thought we’ll enjoy without trying: fish roe, fluffy omelets that come in cuboids, cured scallops and some strangely flavored ice cream. Talking about ice cream, I was very envious that some of them got to try fried-chicken ice cream, sea-urchin ice cream, wasabi ice cream and such…. Although I doubt that I’ll like the taste, it is fun to try new things. Here are some must try “as-special-but-easier-found” ice cream flavors: Sakura, Bamboo, Matcha, Ramune, Sweat Potato, Miso, Soy.  (enough culture shock...)

No cockroaches. 

My friend Max told me throughout his stay in Hokkaido, he hasn’t seen a single cockroach. No cockroaches? That is music to my ears! When he described the pest to his host family, showing them photos and such, he got the most unexpected reaction, as if cockroaches are unicorns… “Cockroaches are so cute aren’t they!" “ Do you keep them as pets?" Tell me where else cockroaches are praised like this? Only in Hokkaido. (Huge culture shock!)
Japan homestay

Bathing together (I’m not talking about onsen.)

If you are a teenager (considered child in Japan) staying with a family with small children, you may have to go through this (provided if your little host siblings like you a lot). It is not unusual that little children of both genders bathe together, so they won’t be shy to jump into your tub with you. Major culture shock!

The magic soap. 

Here is a story shared by my friend Wen. She said during the last weekend of her homestay, the family initially planned for an onsen trip which was eventually canceled due to unforeseen reasons. Her host mother felt sorry for her and insisted that she can’t go home without a proper onsen-sort of experience. So on the last night, the host mother set up the kid’s pool in the balcony, filled it up with hot water and put in a bar of soap thingy. In a few seconds, the water turned milky white and had the smell of Hinoki wood, just like in a natural onsen! Then the whole family spent a great time soaking and chatting.

The limited supply of hot water.  

In some homes, hot water supply is limited, so you have to time your shower. Avoid taking long showers and accidentally finish up the hot water supply, especially during the dead of winter. I was told that hot water is limited due to eco-friendly reasons.

The robot toilet seat.

I bet everyone is curious what is the deal with all the buttons on the toilet seat? We tried them one by one and the functions really made us acclaim “Ooohhhh!!! Fancy!” The functions include seat-warmer, butt-hole rinsing, music, nature sounds, and the temperature control of the water and seat. If it wasn’t for the baggage weight limit, I intended to buy a Fancy toilet seat home...   
Japan homestay


When we thought curfews only exist in school dormitories, it is a norm in a Japanese household (especially for girls). So better ask them before going out at night or they might worry about you.

Younger siblings walking to school alone. 

It is not uncommon to see little children taking the train and walking to school unsupervised. Japanese train their kids to be independent from a very young age.

Mealtime ritual. 

In my case, my host family provided 2 meals (breakfast and dinner). If I need to go out super early, I would tell my host father (he is the one making breakfasts) 1 day earlier that I’ll not have breakfast the next day. My host family is super chill with dinner time and we usually schedule our dinner time in the morning. I’ll start making my journey back home about 1 hour to the promised time. Some host family is strict with mealtime, for example, breakfast at 8, lunch at 2 and dinner at 7. If you can’t make it back on time, you need to tell them beforehand or else, it's either that the whole family will wait for you or they’ll consider you skip it. Some families have a strict rule which states that everyone should be at the dining table before anyone moves their chopsticks.  

Do your dishes manually. 

There are no dish washer!!! Wen freaked out a little when she first discovered that. Well, that means back to basis! She helped her host mother with the dishes after meal and grew to like this additional bonding time.
Japan homestay

The heater/ table.

When a friend of mine arrived at her homestay in a cold winter night, her host mother brought her into a room with tatami mats and a table that seemed to be covered by a thick blanket. She made hot tea and ask her to put her legs under the table. She did just that and immediately felt warm. Turned out that there was a heater incorporated into the blankets or the table itself… After return to Canada she still often thought about the magic table during cold winter nights.      

Family stays forever.

The most beautiful part of a homestay experience is that when your host family accepted you as one of them, you are forever in their minds. Some still keep contact with their host families after many many years and occasionally “go home”.
Japan Homestay

Now off to you! 

What are the most amazing unusual things you experienced on your homestay? 

Or if you haven’t been on one yet, sign up on now! You’ll never know how you really feel about this until you are at the door… so take that leap of faith! 

Read more: All the Details of My Homestay Experience in Tokyo, Japan

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