As we all walked, single file, into the welcome party reception room, a sudden wave of fear swept over me. "What if I hate my family," I thought. "I'll have to live with them for an entire four months of misery!" Each of us, smiling out to the crowd awaiting our arrival, scanned the room to gain some kind of hint as to whom our family might be. Mine was an excited wave from Masako, my 30-year old sister, from whom I had received a postcard a few weeks earlier. I wondered how she knew who I was, and then realized: it must be from my high school senior photograph that my mom sent along with a letter thanking the Saito family for having me stay with them. Next to her was an older woman, whom I assumed was her mother. But where are the father and the brother that I had heard about?

As nice as they both seemed to appear, I felt very upset. . . . Both Masako and her mom spoke to me in very fast Japanese, and even though Masako had written that she spoke fluent English, I didn't hear a word of it. However, by the time we got out of the crowded atmosphere and back to the house, everything started looking up.

The Saitos' house really surprised me when I first arrived. . . . While it wouldn't be all that big by American standards, it is certainly large enough to house the family, and then some. Also, it's pretty modern, with a lot of high-tech electronic gadgets, like a bathtub that automatically fills itself to the right level (and the right temperature!) Most of the floors are hardwood, with the exception of the parents' room and an extra room off the main gathering/TV room, which have tatami mats. So basically, it's not a traditional Japanese home, or at least not what I had imagined a traditional Japanese home to look like, I guess because the house is less than a year old.

The Saitos had bought me my own slippers, tea cup, bowl, and hashi, (chopsticks) and even had my room and desk set up with brand new supplies. It looked as if they really went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. Then, after the father came home, we had a birthday cake (my birthday had been the day before I arrived) and some kind of festive red rice. Afterwards, we sat around and talked for a few hours, getting to know each other as much as possible with my very broken Japanese.

page top