Day 2: A New Family

Breakfast at the hostel was a cultural experience. Bread and jams occupied one small part of the breakfast layout. A majority of it was rice, soup, Japanese cutlets, and [other things I was clueless about]. I tasted nato for the first time, which is fermented soybeans, a popular Japanese breakfast item eaten with rice. It was the strangest thing ever, I could barely taste anything in my mouth. The smell was repelling. It reminded me of my first time trying durian in Singapore. I know that this will probably be one of the foods that I will end up loving by the end of my 7 weeks here. An interesting food item that one of my friends had brought to breakfast was coffee jelly, and it tasted great! The water filter dispensed cold water, hot water and green tea. I loved the idea of green tea being available as easily as water, and it reminded me of how different a culture I was dealing with here.

Later, we were all given our cell phones and tickets for commuting between our homes and Waseda University. I was confused to see three different tickets given to me, but I was told that my host family would explain the system to me. The same day, I was picked up by my host family comprising Kaori-san and Masaki-san, a young couple who live in Saitama, which is a suburb of Tokyo. We went around Tokyo the first half of the day, running errands and getting to know each other. My host mom and dad took me along the entire train route from Waseda University to their house. They told me that there are around 10 different companies which are running trains in the city, and each of them have different tickets, which explained the three different tickets I had received to travel on three different lines each day.

My room for the next 5 weeks

My host mom and dad had both studied sociology in college, which was once my dream subject. Spending all afternoon with them taught me more than a classroom has ever taught me. Apart from learning several Japanese words and how to navigate the confusing train system in Tokyo, I learnt about Japanese family dynamics, cuisine, lifestyle, etc. We went to lunch to a cute little restaurant which had little wooden compartments made for four people. Kaori-san and Masaki-san told me that these places are usually for drinking at night, and have great and cheap food during the day! The restaurant had a little device on each table which you could use to call the waiter. What a brilliant concept! I went grocery shopping with them later and learnt about all kinds of new foods that I wasn’t used to seeing. I tried sake for the first time that night, and loved it! It wasn’t too bitter nor too sweet. Or rather, it was both bitter and sweet. I don’t know. Either way, it was great.

The comfort level that I reached with Kaori-san and Masaki-san on the first day itself was incredible and totally unexpected. I had only heard of Japanese hospitality before this. However, I felt like this was more than just hospitality. It was genuine concern and care under which I suddenly didn’t feel lost anymore.