My first homestay with the Shinoda family was originally set up for just three weeks. However, I enjoyed it so much that I asked if I could come back, and returned for another 10-day visit at harvest time. The family then invited me to return for New Years, and at this point I decided I really wanted to stay with the family for a longer period. I liked the family a lot and I felt I was learning a tremendous amount. The family were wonderful language teachers, and I felt my Japanese was improving enormously. And besides all this, I was learning a lot about the village the family lived in. At New Years I asked if I could stay through the winter.
The family told me they would have a hard time managing this. The problem was that the youngest son, Nobu, was taking his high school examinations in March, and he wasn't a particularly strong student. If he failed the exam, there was no alternative in this rural area, and he wouldn't be able to attend high school. The exams had become a matter of concern for the entire household; all the family members seemed to worry endlessly about whether Nobu would pass his exams. Each confided to me his or her deep suspicions that Nobu wasn't actually studying effectively, or possibly that he wasn't studying at all.
One night my host sister, Katsuko, and I thought up a plan for my staying on in the family, which would cause the minimum amount of intrusion to the family. I would stay in Katsuko's room, would study there (rather than at the main family kotatsu), and socialize with the family only during the evening. The okaasan agreed to this plan, but said she had to talk it over with the others (which I knew must mean the otoosan).
The next day we were all sitting around the kotatsu, feeling tired at the end of the day. The okaasan was laying beside the kotatsu sleeping, the rest of us were watching TV. The otoosan was out. Suddenly we heard a shout from the gate: "Oi! I've brought guests! Ooi! I've brought guests home! The house had no phone, so the otoosan 's shout was the first warning we had about the guests. Muttering about being tired, the okaasan got up and trudged toward the kitchen to prepare some food.
The otoosan invited the guests around to the best parlor, and motioned for me to join them. "They want to meet you." Sympathizing with the okaasan I grumbled, "Why does the otoosan always bring guests home? It's like a zoo here; we're all on display." Katsuko and my homestay brothers, Tadao and Nobu, all picked up the on the idea, and began to complain about how we were all treated like elephants, stared at continually by the otoosan 's guests.
The otoosan kept coming back into the kotatsu room to invite me to meet the guests. I resisted at first, helping Katsuko and the okaasan in the kitchen. But finally she told me I should go, so I reluctantly obliged. I found the guests extremely interesting and easy to talk to, and soon was immersed in the conversation. Too soon the sound of a car horn intruded and the guests rose to leave. "It's too soon!" I complained. "Why can't they stay a little longer? They were really interesting to talk to."
Obviously pleased, the otoosan assured me that we would meet again, as they ran to catch their taxi. Just then Nobu came in from the kotatsu room. "It's just like a zoo in here, and we're all like elephants on display!"
The otoosan silenced everyone emphatically. "No, that isn't the way it is here at all." He commanded us all to sit down in the parlor kotatsu where the guests had been, and proceeded to lecture us loudly on his intentions, which we he said we had all seriously misunderstood.
"You see," he explained, "all those people were from the city office, and they were the people who read Janine's application from her Japanese teacher in Kyoto last summer." (The otoosan worked in the city office and these were his colleagues). "Together we tried to figure out which house she should stay in." Since the otoosan had had a good quantity of sake his voice was much more impassioned than usual, and was accompanied by theatrical innuendos and gestures. I felt as if I had narrowly averted disaster by obeying the otoosan and going in to meet the guests.
The okaasan took this opportunity to bring up the question of my staying longer. "Janine wants to stay," she explained, "because it's much better for her to study here than in Kyoto . She'll spend most of her time studying, so her being here won't interfere with the rest of the household."
"That's fine," began the otoosan . But we all have to remember that Nobu's examinations are important." (Nobu was not at the kotatsu at this point, having once more retreated into his study room.) "We all know that his emotional attitude is all here and there and everyplace. While he appears to be in that room studying--he gave a dramatic flourish--we don't know what he's doing. He probably isn't doing ANYTHING."
"That makes us very worried about Nobu," he continued. "And Janine, since she's here and we have to take care of her in the same way as our own children, we now have two to worry about, and two is very much, it's too much."
By this time the otoosan , carried away by his own speech, was endlessly repeating his concerns about the household taking care of me and how much parental worry that involved. The okaasan and Katsuko, who were sitting with me in the kotatsu, laid down their heads on top of the kotatsu in exhaustion and moaned: "Wakatta. . . WAKATTA." (We understand. . . we underSTAND).
I realized that I would have to give up my place at the center of the family to Nobu if I stayed. That meant I would have to do things more the way the family did them. I would have to accommodate myself to them . I was glad of the chance to stay longer with the family. But all this time I thought I had been accommodating myself to them. Now I could see that I hadn't done so at all. I had barely managed to comply with the otoosan 's wishes by talking to the guests; this episode was an example of how things worked in the family. The otoosan 's word was final in everything, but he exerted little overt authority, except on rare occasions like this. Even at such moments he reiterated his responsibility to us, and the need for our cooperation; we had to carry out our part of the bargain. Nobu's exams were included in this general scheme—he was supposed to study as his part in making the household run smoothly.