Back to Toyooka aka 鼻から牛乳第2回 (Milk coming out the nose part two)

9/24/07 the host family (bottom left) and friends

About a year ago I made my first trip to Japan to a little town called Toyooka. There I stayed with a host family for about three weeks taking in the scenery, visiting sights and city officials, and teaching English on the side. It was probably one of the most memorable moments to date and definitely the first time experiencing a foreign country where communication barriers and cultural barriers where so acutely visible. Everything about that trip was better then I could of asked for. I remember the last thing my host father said to me, please come to Japan again. It was a kind thing to say and easy to understand for a discombobulated foreigner. However, I don't think I realized how seriously I would end up taking that sentence.

A little less then a year later I wound up in Kobe Japan, a completely different experience altogether. Big city, support for international students, crosswalks a quarter of a mile wide and half a mile long,things I had never experienced. I knew I would eventually make it back to that little town but the question was when. After a couple letters and emails to my host family it wasn't until the end of the summer that I made a phone call and got a hold of Masae the mother of the household. After a good talk I was invited over again and we planed on a week long stay. I took the Hamakaze train north to Toyooka with freshly bought gifts for the family. I get there late at night and Ryushin, the priest and father wearing his casual clothes, and the two kids, Yurika, who has just joined the basketball team as it's shortest member and Yoshihide a continuing soccer team member (also the shortest), are waiting for me at the station. We get back to the house up on the mountain where Ryushin proceeds to show me the beer keg and tap he has rented. We quickly get to drinking and start talking about the past and whats happened in the last year.

To be honest it wasn't a sight seeing and event filled trip but instead an extremely relaxing, for the most part, low key stay. I felt more like a part of the family and less like an intruder or a helpless foreigner. I helped with chores, learned about the family and their past, played with the kids, and even helped clean the temple. For those who don't know Ryushin is a Buddhist priest for the Shingon sect. He's nothing like what you would expect a Buddhist priest to be. Try and picture a man who drives a BMW mini, smokes, drinks, and enjoys red meat and see if that matches up with what you thought a Buddhist priest was.

I met up with the Japanese teacher, Hashimoto Sensei, who gave her time to the 5 of us who came last year, to talk about the city and how its changed in the past year. The city of Toyooka is famous for its oriental white storks and the effort being made to save them from extinction and return them back to the wild. For several years they've been trying to get them to breed with no success. Last year there was a ceremony for the release of one of the storks that was attended by Japanese Royalty. Not long after the research facility had successfully mated the storks and the news went national. This little town was all of a sudden on national news. As time went on it became a destination for new housing. With a newly build hospital and new shops sprouting up here and there thinks were changing in Toyooka. Hashimoto Sensei has been keeping busy teaching Korean and working at the local radio station, FM-Jungle, as DJ Hershey. There is one other teacher Yoshi, who I regrettably didn't get a chance to see, who has his has own radio show. Ryushin, my host father as well has his own talk show on topics about Buddhism. Everyone's a radio personality in Toyooka!

Hashimoto Sensei! She does interpreter work too

Yurika, (bottom center) Shin chans wife (top center) and Friends (sorry I was briefly introduced to the other two...)

On the last night Ryushin hosted a big party in which through out the week he was constantly calling up friends and literally running into people he knew and asking them to come. It was way more then I was expecting and I think a lot of the people who came thought the same. It was a very warm group of people, friends, and the host family. I felt very welcome and at home. I was even given a gift by Shin chan and his wife, a friend to my host father and the other Buddhist priest who is a part of the radio show.

Shin chan's gift a Japanese fan (扇子、sensu)

Later in the night the group began to dwindle and then swell again as we moved to a karaoke bar. People sang, danced on tables, and had a good time. For some reason Hashimoto Sensei kept saying that Shin chan the priest, was a Yakuza mobster , jokingly but repeating it enough to the point I thought she was serious. Then Ryushin, began singing the song. This song's title is チャラリー鼻から牛乳 meaning milk coming out the nose. For some reason or another it became an inside joke with me and my host father the last time I was there and the absurdity and strangeness of this karaoke tune was again brought out again. It actually says a lot about his personality I think, wild, out of the norm, and hilarious. It will probably be one of the few karaoke experiences I would say was great in every possible way (which says a lot because I wouldn't be caught dead doing karaoke in the states.... again).

On the last day I packed my things and found another giant bag of fruits, snacks, and other assorted food stuffs from Masae, a truly amazing women and host mother. She kept asking me to come back for the winter break which I willingly said yes. We drove to the train station and they waved me off as I tried to stumble out my appreciation for them and how I can't thank them enough (always seems hard when you have so much to say and so little time and then there's the language barrier..). A couple final waves and the train pulled out of the station to take me back to the busy life of Kobe.

The familiar sites of Toyooka and the slower pace to life were all welcoming sights, especially unlike last year I wasn't completely trained from teaching and going to classes. I think what I'll treasure most about this trip was the ability to converse with my host family that wasn't possible a year ago. That and just being able to see them all again. They are truly genuine people who can take the negative energies out of anyone (well at least me). It makes you think about all the stereotypes about Japanese culture and people, the comparative studies and cultural research and just blows a giant hole in those thoughts and all you see is a family and friends. I've learned so much from the Amao family and they have done nothing but give and give again. All I can say is: Thank You, and if possible I would be happy to babysit for the kids again.

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