Fun with the Fam

You’ll have to bear with my long-winded posts, I’m really only used to journal entry form of personal writing in which I put down nearly every detail I can recall, so figuring out how to separate the interesting from the mundane content will take some practice. Anyways, let me go ahead and introduce you to the Uda clan:

Katsumi: The big man of the house, he works as a nurse at the nearby hospital. He’s a huge fan of baseball, as he apparently is also of teaching, since he’s already filled much of the notebook he gifted to me on my first day with information on Gyoji, Japanese proverbs, famous baseball players, words I should know, and detailed transit information so that I don’t become hopelessly lost. His joking nature made it very easy for me to become intimate in the family, and while of course many of our conversations will consist of Natsumi going on in Japanese and I restrained to responding with grunts and the occasional “wakarimasu” as I have no idea what he’s saying, for the most part I’d say we have a pretty good relationship.

Satoko: The most caring lil’ ol’ Japanese mother you ever will meet, and I mean that. In addition to cooking some 5-star quality meals, she does everything from doing my laundry to vacuum drying my shoes after a rainy run to setting up defenses in my room against the encroaching mosquito threat. Given how I’ve somehow ended up in the top level class, I’ve had quite a few late nights, yet okaasan has been there the whole way with a concerned look plastered across her face, ready to jump in and help at a moments notice. In other words, Okaasan’s my number one cheerleader.

Leah: Named after Star Wars’ Princess Leah as I later found out from my host father (to be fair, the Star Wars series was solid), Leah is the youngest of the siblings. She reminds me a lot of my brother in her avid liking of manga, anime, and gaming, and I’m really interested to see how they’ll get along when they meet a couple months from now. Relations were a bit cold at first, but after giving her some help on an English homework we became much better friends, and I’m glad someone else has the role of being the youngest (I feel a bit over pampered as it is).

Natsumi: My older sis, probably the most amazing person I’ve met since coming to Japan. She doesn’t have a whole lot of work at college right now as she’s about to graduate, but instead of just vegging out as I certainly intend to do for a bit after graduating, she goes out of her way to make life easier on everyone else. Whether that consists of helping Okaasan with preparing dinner, going out shopping for food, giving me help with Japanese grammar, or straight up just doing her sister’s English homework for her, Natsumi’s care for others is quite remarkable. She’s been in my corner perhaps even more than Okaasan, staying up way past her usual bed time reading manga on nights that I just so happen to also be up late doing homework, glancing over every 30 seconds or so to check that I haven’t yet laid down my head in defeat. Even better than that, she laughs at my jokes, which for me is probably what gives me the greatest confidence in my Japanese ability, even if the ability isn’t actually there. If I can express my meaning strongly enough and concisely enough to inspire laughter, then I must have some level of Japanese skill.

We’ve done a lot of stuff together, and there’s certainly no way I’d be able to recount it all, but a few moments certainly stick out in my mind.

Day 1

After meeting my host family for the first time sweating bullets and mumbling absolutely incoherent Japanese (I did manage to get off that during stressful situations, I can hardly speak in English let alone Japanese, which hopefully conveyed my meaning). After a bit of self-introducing on the car ride back, the family decided they wanted to take me out for some soba, so we headed for the nearest sobaya.

While in the car, Otoosan was trying to explain to me the difference between hatake and tanbo, the prior referring to fields in which crops are grown in soil, the later referring to rice paddies in which the crops are grown in water. Unfortunately, I zenzen wakaranaied what he was saying, so after attempting in vain to explain the difference between the two types of fields, Katsumi pulled off the highway and drove maybe half a kilometer down a dirt road. We stopped at a divide between a hatake and tanbo, and pointing to each and naming them, Katsumi illustrated the difference. Of course I’m not usually this slow to understand Japanese and was probably just a bit thrown by having to meet this new family and realizing that I would be spending the next 8 weeks in their home, but I think this story effectively expresses the family’s interest in helping me with my Japanese education.


Dinner’s probably the most important period of family time in the entire day. Okaasan and Natsumi will spend anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half preparing dinner, after which they distribute the food to each of our respective bowls. Fun fact about Japanese customs: each family member will have their own rice bowl, soup bowl, and set of chopsticks. Ever night so far has been an awesome experience, and the family seems to really enjoy it to with Okaasan gently suggesting I try eating something and the silent anticipation taken on by everyone as I try a piece of fried chicken or squid for the first time. I’ve yet to encounter something I haven’t liked, but I must confess that I have been able to avoid natto up until now.

Every night is something new and special, and it’s great to see how much effort and care Okaasan puts into making each meal. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the night we made 手巻き寿司 (temakizushi), which was done by taking a sheet of nori (seaweed), putting in a bit of rice soaked in sweet water (not sure of the ingredients), and then finally putting in a bit of fish meat before rolling everything up and dining on our original creations. Otoosan bought some beers to celebrate the first week with his new son, telling me that it was just mugi juice if anyone asked (from what I gather there’s an official policy against allowing students to drink, but I think it’s hardly enforced). It’s been an amazing experience so far, and I really think I lucked out getting put with this family.


Today (Saturday) I went with the family to Leah’s school club/sports festival. Unfortunately as I slept until about 11:30 (WHO AM I ANYMORE), I missed the part in which Leah participated. However, I got there just in time to watch perhaps one of the strangest obstacle courses I’d ever seen, but I’ll get to that later.

The closest equivalent to this event in American high schools would probably be Homecoming in the sense that it’s a large school-wide festival. However, in the case of the Japanese high schools, grades are broken down into teams that compete in various athletic and sports related activities (tug of war, relay race, obstacle course). Leah being with the first years was on the purple team, which unfortunately didn’t seem to be quite up to top standards from what I saw, but seeing as they have four years left to get it right, I’m sure they’ll be fine.

So this obstacle course. As I watched from the grass seated on a towel brought by Natsumi from the car enjoying a brunch of onigiri and donuts, I could only think of how wonderful it would be could this obstacle course be turned into some fashion of drinking game. The obstacle course was broken down into 5 parts, the first being a sprint then a hurdle, the second being a sack hop for about 20 meters, next a round with the dizzy bat (where my frat castle peeps at amirite?), next a military crawl underneath a net while four students mercilessly rained down on the participants with water pistols, and finally a random obstacle. For the random obstacle each participant chose a piece of paper, and on it was written the instructions they had to follow. Some of these were to ride a child-sized tricycle (child-sized by Japanese standards, so VERY small), pull a tire behind you with a rope for about 30 meters, balance a pingpong ball on a spoon while walking to the finish, getting a specific student out of the crowd to run across the finish line with you, and various other things.

Afterwards we drove off to a farm to get ice cream (one of the perks to living in a rural area). It was dope.

I suppose that most of the things that have happened aren’t really able to be recorded. It’ll be the small things, like Katsumi expressing his love for the movie Independence Day, Natsumi showing me some of her manga, Okaasan’s concerned look on her face if she sees me getting frustrated with work or if I come back from a run a little later than initially estimated, me showing the family some of my favorite tunes and listening to Katsumi try to sing along to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” Little things that only cause me to wonder at the fact of how readily I was accepted into this family, and how quickly I came to feel a member of it.

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2 Responses to Fun with the Fam

  1. Great narrative, Ben: your family members REALLY come to life for me. And thanks for the head’s up about “natto.” (I googled it; even my nuts-and-berries background screams, “No!!” to that nasty sounding stuff.) Finally, just a little reminder to you to not get too used to a maternal figure vacuuming dry your wet shoes (cuz it ain’t happening when you’re back in the States . . . .).
    Write more! Write more! Write more!

  2. Van Barker says:

    Sounds like you are with an awesome family, Ben. So glad to hear.

    (Doesn’t sound like you and Natsumi have any chemistry at all [sarcasm alert]) hahaha

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