I ended up laying on my futon that night wondering what to do and how to change my position from being a total outsider to more like a family member. Because of the very friendly but polite treatment I had received I realized I would have to discuss my position since as Japanese hosts the Nakata family seemed not to be able to treat me any other way unless I would "give permission" for it.

In my opinion, the very strong sense of separation I felt on the first night with the Nakata family illustrated how social distance was operating in Japanese social relationships. I sensed there was an invisible wall between me and the people I was visiting, which left no social space for me to take part in tasks like setting the table or washing the dishes with the family members to overcome the wall. Since I felt quite awkward about my position as a guest when the purpose of my visit was to do a homestay, I discussed the situation with okaasan the next morning and asked her not to treat me as a visitor. Hiyoshi also supported me by telling about his experiences while in England in order to assure her that it was perfectly suitable to treat me less formally.

Later during the day we cleaned the house together and I helped okaasan do the dishes after lunch. My help was also welcomed while preparing dinner and I felt relieved since I started to feel more comfortable and not so separated from the family like the night before. I also noticed that they had added -chan to my name instead of the -san they had previously used.

In spite of all that, I was again asked to go first to take a bath like the night before. However, now I felt that I could refuse the honor and ask the parents to go first without hurting their feelings. Otoosan accepted and went before me, which he always did after that. But it took nearly a week before okaasan finally went once before me, and this was only after several apologies.

After the first week okaasan did not hesitate to ask me to help and I found myself in the kitchen more and more often before lunch and dinner. We also did shopping together and since we were both interested in cooking I spent some afternoons teaching her how to make Finnish bread, buns and casseroles. Furthermore, I soon noticed that otoosan had started to use plain language when talking to me, but okaasan hardly ever did so.

Also, as I already mentioned, it was not even open to question that otoosan would take the bath first, whereas nearly every night I had to negotiate with okaasan in order to get her to go before me. Once, when doing so, otoosan came smiling, and saying "Papa first" even though I had fully expected that he would go before me. To be honest, it was one of those moments when I felt I had been told very clearly my place in their social hierarchy.

During the two weeks of my stay plenty of food, cakes, and biscuits were offered, to the extent that I was really surprised since I had heard that Japanese cuisine was very healthy. However, the amount of food gradually decreased toward the end of my stay and when I visited the Nakatas at Christmas there was a clear difference in the amount of food offered.
page top
close