Apart from a bit of very sad news from home, which I recieved just today, my life has pretty much settled into a routine. From Monday to Friday I commute to Kansai Gaidai by bus, along what must be the easiest bus route ever (which I’m very grateful for – being a pedestrian in Japan offers nothing but the opportunity to get yourself killed on a variety of road surfaces, none of which remotely qualifies as a pavement). I keep pretty much the same hours everyday, heading home between 4 and 4:30. Stuff has become predictable. There are still areas where there’s room for variation, though. There’s another typhoon warning this week (hence the title, an adaptation of Elvis Costello’s brilliant “Tokyo Storm Warning”), and this one has hit southern Japan. From the stairs to my flat, you can see the ferris wheel in Hirakata Park set against the storm clouds on the horizon. Pretty, n’est-ce pas?
Things haven’t been too good so far. I don’t really see the dad, as he works typically Japanese hours (comes home from 10pm to midnight). The two brothers aren’t around much, and when I do see them they’re either sleeping or eating. They tend to do both wearing only their underwear. Now, I know this is a cultural thing and I have to make allowances, but it’s getting to the point where it seems like a good idea to throw cultural awareness to the winds and shout “Put some damn clothes on, you weirdo!” whenever a semi-naked body hoves into view.
So the two members of the family I talk to are Okaasan (mum) and Toko (the sister). Toko is nice, and spent two months in France, which means I can switch from Japanese to French when I’m having trouble, and we can talk about France. Okaasan is a different proposition. She repeats herself several times, even when I’ve said I understand, and generally makes me feel like I’m either a complete idiot or I can’t make myself understood, or both. Jesus, I think, if that’s really the case, who cares about improving my Japanese? I’ll just move back into Seminar House, relax in the Anglophone bubble, and fail this year with a clear conscience, knowing that I’m stupid.
As the above course of action doesn’t really appeal to me (which is not to say there’s no possibility of it happening), I went to see both Dr. Hollstein, my academic advisor and Misako Hashimoto, the woman in charge of the homestay program. Both helped, but the biggest boost I got was from talking to fellow Leeds students. Both Hollstein and Hashimoto advised that I give it time (it’s only been a full week, after all) and make more of an effort to talk to them. A lot of their previous homestay students have been American, and – trust me, this is not just a stereotype – Americans do tend do be more outgoing and friendly, so it could be that they’re not used to someone who’s a bit shy.
Another thing that Hashimoto-san explained to me was that people from the Osaka area tend to be pretty outspoken and confident (I’m guessing that’s tactful code for “rude and pushy”) and maybe that was the cause of some of the friction. It’s something to remember whenever they seem a bit overly competitive. Anyway, I’ve made up my mind to talk to all of them as much as possible and try to get them to do things with me. Another deciding factor was talking to John Simmonds this afternoon. He’s doing Japanese and Russian, and spent last year in Moscow. The first time we properly talked, he asked me what halls I’d been in during my first year.
“Henry Price Building.”
“Ah, you were up there with all the Jews?”
“What?!…” I spluttered, thinking he was making some dodgy joke about Henry Price being one of the cheapest halls and the old slur about Jews being tight with money. In fact, Henry Price was a very famous Jewish alumnus of Leeds University, and the hall apparently used to be full of Jewish students from Golders Green who were very cliquey with each other. Anyway, he’s a good guy. We were talking this afternoon, and he said that he’d been having the same problems with his host family – problems with communication, lack of a common ground, not knowing how to socialise with them, that sort of thing. What’s more, he reported that several other people he’d talked to had said the same things. It’s a great help that I’m in the situation as others, and they’re trying to deal with it just the same as me.
Another good thing was that while we were sitting down, our conversation turned into a little unofficial meeting of Leeds students, which meant I talked with Mark a bit more. I laid into him a bit in an earlier post, but he now seems pretty cool. I’ve found it’s always best to talk to people without prejudice, and if they do or say something you don’t like you can call them on it. Unless they’re your host family, of course, in which case you just put up with it.