Yoshikawa-san: My mom away from home

Part of the Eurocentres program is to arrange homestay with a Japanese family as part of the school experience. I felt (as did most students) that staying in a Japanese home was a critical part of the experience. Not only did you get several more hours of Japanese-speaking in (all of our homestay families spoke Japanese at home), you also learned the cultural practices that go with the home -- instead of just the ones that go with work or school.

My homestay mom was Yoshikawa Masako (family name first, which is the Japanese style), pictured at left. Yoshikawa-san is a very active retired schoolteacher in Kanazawa. Yoshikawa-san was a wonderful host and friend. She talks a mile a minute, is active and interested, and (see below) was an amazing cook.

At left: Yoshikawa-san poses in her formal wa-shitsu (Japanese-style living room) at my going-away dinner (see below).

My
Room

WatashiNoHeya1.jpg I stayed in an upstairs room at Yoshikawa-san's house in Kubo-machi on the outskirts of Kanazawa. Her children have all grown, so their rooms are now the homestay areas. I was the only student there; I don't know if Yoshikawa-san ever hosts more than one student at once. It was a wa-shitsu.
WatashiNoHeya3.jpg In the best traditional form, the wa-shitsu included the tokonoma (nook) with scroll, sculpture, and ningyo (Japanese doll). I'm pretty sure the scroll is one of the many portraits of Basho, the founder of Zen Buddhism. WatashiNoHeya2.jpg
The room came complete with a canonical Japanese student desk, a flimsy contraption with squeaky desk chair. It was essential for the 1-2 hours of homework a night that our senseis loaded on!
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Getting to School

Yoshikawa-san's house (at left) was about three miles from downtown Kanazawa. At right is the view up the street towards the bus stop -- after getting to the T intersection at the end of the road, I would turn left at the bus stop was a hundred feet away.

On the days it wasn't raining, I used the bike I rented from Eurocentres. It was about a twenty-minute ride down to school, and it was a pleasure. Unfortunately, it rained more than half the days I was in school.

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Among her other talents, Yoshikawa-san was a fantastic cook. Every breakfast and dinner I had at her house was fantastic; in fact, eventually I had to beg off finishing dinner because it was so much food.

Every meal included tea, miso soup, and rice, all ingredients Yoshikawa-san thought were essential for a healthy meal.

Eating

(and eating and ...)

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At left is a one of the only times Yoshikawa-san didn't cook (it was a meal she brought back from a retired teachers' association meeting she went to), but in fact it's a good indication of the kind of food I was eating in Kanazawa. A little bit of Sushi or Sashimi, miso soup, vegatables, pickles, and rice. Beatifully arranged, and often including local and/or seasonal foods. Several of the meals had bamboo shoots picked in the hills around Kanazawa, as well as the famous Kanazawa seafood.
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Playing for your Food

I brought my guitar to Japan (with the zeal of the newly converted -- I had only started learning guitar eight weeks before), and since Yoshikawa-san knew about this, she insisted I play the night of my farewell dinner at her house (the Thursday before our farewell party at Apre). Naturally, I pulled out my guitar and played a bunch of western songs they had never heard!

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Samurai Leo

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Yoshikawa-san had a beautiful wa-shitsu (Japanese style living room), and when showing this off she had mentioned that her grandfather (one of the men in the portraits at the top left of the photo) had been a very large Japanese man. On the last night I was at home, she got out ojiisan's traditional Japanese clothing (kimono, hakama or Japanese pants, and haori or coat) and verified this theory -- grandpa's clothing fit me just fine. I felt very honored that she allowed me to wear her grandfather's silk clothing.

At right below, I pose with the sukiyaki spread for the farewell dinner (see below).

SamuraiLeo2.jpg Yoshikawa-san also had a traditional katana (sword) display rack in her wa-shitsu, and she had me hold the katana for my photos. I can't attest whether the sword was actually sharp (I've read that you should never draw a Japanese sword unless you intend to use it), but I can attest that it was heavy. SamuraiLeoEats.jpg
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Farewell Dinner

The last night I was at home, Yoshikawa-san made a fantastic sukiyaki dinner served in her wa-shitsu. At left, Yoshikawa-san and Kidani-san (and a friend of hers who attended the dinner) pose outside the room.

At right, the incredible spread while I was playing before we began eating.

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At left below: yet another view of the food. There was a lot of meat out, even the three of us didn't finish it off. KidaniSan.jpg
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At right: Kidani-san sits down for dinner. My month in Japan convinced me to acquire a couple classic Japanese kitchen appliances when I got home: for one, a rice cooker like the one shown; and secondly, a hot pot, the small, electrically-heated kettle that means all Japanese kitchens have hot water for tea upon demand. Not surprisingly, the good versions of either of these aren't cheap.

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Sayonara, Yoshikawa-san!

Alas, all too quickly my weeks in Kanazawa living at Yoshikawa-san's house ended and it was time to go! At left, Yoshikawa-san poses in her garden before we took off for the eki (train station) that would whisk me off to Kyoto and Tokyo. At right, another view of Yoshikawa-san in her wa-shitsu; you can see the various accourtements associated with the formal kimono outfit I was wearing on the left, and the hot pot on the right!

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Two weeks of living at Yoshikawa-san's house have definitely had their effect. After I got back to the U.S., I immediately went out and bought a rice cooker (Zojirushi fuzzy logic, mochiron), a Japanese-style hot pot like in the picture above, and started drinking Japanese green tea (both hot and cold) constantly!
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  © 2004 Leo Hourvitz