Monday, April 24, 2006

Enter...The Muratas

*This one will be a bit long because I have to get you all up to speed*

As you can undoubtedly tell from the recent pictures, I have assimilated into the Murata Family of Kyoto, Japan. Misako (my host mom) came to pick me up around two this past Saturday – she looked hip in her smart black work coat and shades – kind of like a movie producer or an agent.

We got in her small car and drove to her house named “La Primivera” (in English) I lucked out in that my home is only a 25 minute walk or 15 minute bike ride from the Stanford Center. Other kids have to commute for over an hour on crowded trains and busses to get to class.

On the ride we talked. Generally, the recurring theme of the “aisatsu” or initial meeting period was that of expressing surprise and happiness that I was not nearly as fat as I seemed in my picture. The center gave each family a picture and profile to go off us. I can already hear the TV voice over now; “For just 3 dollars a day you can bring the little gaijin Benjamin into your home.” Apparantly Misako thought I was going to be very fat. When I asked if she thought I was going to be much taller too, she said no, just fat. The picture had been blown up so that my face took up the entire space, as though my face was too fat for the camera lens.

All the way to the house she remarked about how she thought I must be well fed and wondered if furniture and the like would hold my massive girth (I’m not kidding). She also took pot shots at how many heavy bags I had. We spoke the entire time in Japanese (this is great practice for me). I know Misako can speak pretty darn good English cause she’s been to America several times and has American friends, but around me she doesn’t speak anything but Japanese.

We arrived at La Primavera. Misako is a piano and singing teacher and in her spare time she teaches elementary Japanese at the local community center. The house is two floors and big by Japanese standards. I live in the room abandoned by the older son Tsuyoshi (who is studying abroad in Las Vegas for a year). The only problem is that the walls and ceiling are all concrete and not only is it cold at night, but when they turn off every light in the house (which they do often) it creates the feeling that you are living in a mausoleum. Misako has an adjacent studio space with a grand piano where she teaches lessons.

Upon arriving home I briefly (and by this I mean VERY briefly) met my host siblings; Daisuke – a 21 year old college student and Nami – a 28 year old employee of an auto insurance company. Nami literally said “konnichwa” and then stepped out of the house to leave with her friends for a weekend in Osaka at Universal Studios (I wouldn’t see her again until Monday evening when she would come downstairs for dinner squinting and making the same face you would make if you were kidnapped in the middle of the night and woke up in a detainment cell). Daisuke also said “konnichiwa” and then retreated to his room to be with his girlfriend – a high school student. He would remain in her company the entire weekend and make brief trips into the kitchen to say “Hi Ben” and eat the Sapporo ramen packs I brought the family as a gift – I think he’s at three now. Yuko was right when she said that all Japanese guys love ramen.

We all exchanged nervous bows and both kids remarked at how thin I was. I can only imagine how long the Muratas sat around the dinner table worrying about the 300 pound American mammoth that would soon invade their fragile home. Soon, both host siblings were gone. Misako and I sat and talked over tea for two hours. She explained to me that she is home a lot because her kids don’t get home regularly until around 8 or 9 (including her husband). She cooks for one and eats while watching the TV in the kitchen. Her kids, while friendly, don’t seem to care about not spending time with the family – I was a little underwhelmed by their welcoming me into their home.

I met Daisuke’s girlfriend by chance. She shook my hand American style with her left hand – I didn’t have the heart to correct her. She has niceness going for her as well as cuteness. She liked that we were the same height – and that I wasn’t fat. She still has braces which doesn’t help one not notice the age difference thing between her and her lover. She has a small dog that she brought with her to the house (I don’t know if she is trying to imitate Paris Hilton or just enjoys the whole dogs as fashion accessories thing).

She didn’t need to bring a dog because the Murata household is practically a zoo by Japanese standards. There are two friendly cats named Kouta and Kouji (both are affectionately called ko-chan, so it is often hard to differentiate between the two). There are also three dogs. They look like big collies – so I believe they are Shetland Sheepdogs (according to the AKC). They are named Jikku, Stella, and Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt is blind. They live outside and bark all the time.

Misako and I went to take her dogs on “inu no sanpo” or the dog walk. This is not so much a walk as it is organized chaos. Misako takes her three dogs out front and puts them in crates. They hate the crates so they start barking. She then shoves them into the back her white doggie mobile. I get in the front – the van reeks (as you can imagine) of dog shit and piss. The dogs are freaked because A) I’m a new person, and B) they don’t like being caged, so they start howling.

Misako then proceeds to drive at 45 miles per hour down the crowded, narrow Kyoto streets (being in the front seat is SO frightening as she darts around bikes and plays chicken with oncoming cars). Our van goes rip-roaring up hills and peeling around corners as the three captive dogs slide around in their crates and bang into the walls of the vehicle. This only serves to make them howl louder.

Finally we stop. Whew. Darn, we’re at her brother’s house to pick up one more dog. That’s right…one more dog. This one, a miniature of the same breed named Ami rides on my lap and stares at me with big doggie eyes that say we’re not coming home in one piece (I can’t reassure her).

We got to the dog park where Misako has a lot of friends (both human and canine) for “inu no sanpo.” I walked Ami. Misako walked her three guardian beasts. They growled and stared at me but eventually cooled down and let me pet them.

“Inu no sanpo” wasn’t as much a walk as it was a mountain hike. I bet dogs in Japan live till 85 just like their human counterparts. I was really surprised that the dogs (6, 7, and 8 y/o) could climb up the steep grades.

Coming home was the same thing described in reverse. By the time we arrived back at La Primavera, I couldn’t hear anything but my own ears ringing. Thus concluded my first “inu no sanpo.” Misako does two “inu no sanpos” a day, everyday, rain or shine. God bless the woman. These dogs are her kids.

The Muratas operate independently. I would love to post some pictures as soon as all of us are in a room together. This should be sometime next month.

Misako and I ate dishes with the featured ingredient bamboo for dinner. Just the two of us. Eventually Kazuhiko, my host dad, came home. He is very nice. He is, as Misako describes, a normal worker at a normal factory. I don’t know which factory but I suspect Asahi Beer. He doesn’t speak any English. He was surprised that I could, “actually speak Japanese,” in his words. He was also surprised that I wasn’t fat.

Misako and Kazuhiko sleep in separate bedrooms in separate wings of the house. This seems kind of weird by American standards but it is commonplace in Japan.

I handed out my gifts after dinner. I gave Misako some Seattle souvenirs from Boeing and the Mariners. I gave my host dad Jack Daniels. I gave Daisuke an Ichiro t-shirt. I haven’t had an opportunity to give Nami her Bed Bath and Beyond stuff yet – maybe sometime in June when I next see her.

I’ll be back soon.


1 comment:

Troy said...

"Surprise and happiness that I was not nearly as fat as I seemed in my picture"

Ben Whaley: Thinner in Real Life

"Brad Pitt is blind"


"He was surprised that I could, “actually speak Japanese,” in his words. He was also surprised that I wasn’t fat."

Good reincorporation Ben. Solid.