A couple of months ago, my son brought home a memo from school calling for families to host a group of students who would be visiting from Australia. They’d been planning on visiting the Tokyo area, but due to the March 11th earthquake and worries about radiation, they’d had a change in itinerary.
At first, I hesitated to volunteer. After all, the students were probably eager to experience Japanese culture, and our family is hardly typical. I’m an American and my husband is Japanese. Our children embrace both cultures.
We eat with chopsticks much of the time and take off our shoes before entering the house. We soak in the same bathwater in winter. But we communicate in English and Japanese Sign Language as well as Japanese. Sometimes we draw pictures to get our point across. Mealtimes are also a little unusual. Ordinarily, my husband makes breakfast for our family. The morning menu ranges from spaghetti peperoncino to fried rice and Chinese pot-stickers. Occasionally we start the day with blueberry pie. What would a teen-ager from Down Under make of our cultural mish-mash? Wouldn’t she be happier immersed in traditional Japan?
On the other hand, many other families were reluctant to open their homes at relatively short notice. Maybe they were busy, or worried about communication, or didn’t have enough space for a guest. I wanted to be welcoming. Japan is known for its hospitality, after all. And, come to think of it, our family may have its own unique habits and customs, but doesn’t everyone? These days, just as many Japanese people sleep in beds as on futons, and many houses have carpeting or hardwood floors instead of tatami. Furthermore, mixed marriages are on the rise in Japan, having more than doubled over the past ten years or so, according to government sources. Now, 1 in 30 babies in Japan is born to parents of different cultures. So perhaps our multicultural family is not all that unusual.
At any rate, I signed up. The Australian junior high school students arrived during a torrential downpour. School was let out early that day and cancelled the following day due to flooding. We wound up spending more time than we’d expected with our guest, a tall, 15-year-old girl who liked to dance. While she was here, she communicated with us in all three of our languages. (My daughter taught her some Japanese Sign Language, which she immediately put to use.) She played video games with our children (the same ones that she played at home). She slept in a bed and took showers. At breakfast, we offered her miso soup, which she declined, and at dinner, we served the popular Japanese dish curry and rice, which she told us she enjoys back home on the Gold Coast as well. As far as I could tell, the exchange was a success.
A month later, my son set out for Hawaii where he would spend a night with a local family. With his hazel eyes and fondness for macaroni and cheese, he was hardly the emissary most Americans would expect from the East. But perhaps when they opened their home to him, they became acquainted with the future of Japan.