In 1996 I took a ten-week language immersion program in Kobe that included an eight-day homestay in a small town two hours away by bus. To be honest I was ambivalent about the homestay. My wife, then fiancée, is Japanese and I had already been to Japan a few times. I felt I already had a fair amount of cultural access, but what I really needed was language training.
For the most part the homestay went okay. Every morning at ten o'clock the group of nine students, each staying with a different family in this small town, gathered at the community center, and from there a driver would bus us to various places. We met a calligrapher; were taken to the home of a potter, where we learned how to throw clay; and even went to a middle school. Once we went to the nursery school (hoikuen) where my okaasan Yoshiko works.
The evenings we spent with our "families". Mine was pretty interesting. The otoosan worked in the town office, and he would drink sake in the evening with his father, then retire to his study to listen to jazz. In addition to okaasan there were three children, two girls in high school and a boy of eleven.
Looking back I can think of a lot that is worth being embarrassed about, even in that short time, but I'll just share one short example that sticks out in my mind. The Ueharas lived about four kilometers outside of town, and both parents started work early. Due to the timing of my schedule, that meant either otoosan or okaasan would have to take time off work to drive back, pick me up, and bring me to my scheduled ten o'clock meeting. I thought I'd be less of a burden if I could get around on my own and asked to borrow one of their mountain bikes that, as far as I could tell, no one ever used. Besides, I liked the idea of the ride, with a little time to myself, and a little bit of "freedom". Of course they insisted that driving me was no trouble, that it was too far for me to go by bike, and what if I got lost? But I was adamant and they gave in.
Then, after three days of commuting on my own, I got sick. It was nothing more than an attack of hay fever, and it turned out that a day off the travels with the other students and having a little time to myself was just what I needed to get back on track. But after that I didn't go back to using the bike.
Of course, it wasn't until much later that I gave serious consideration to how that episode had appeared to the family. And how I had made them look to their community. At the very least it was probably embarrassing for them that I was riding four kilometers into town on a bike, rather than them taking proper care of their newly arrived guest by driving him where he was supposed to be. Even worse, after allowing me to run loose on the bike I then became too sick to attend the daily activity. Even though I thought I was "helping them out", by riding the bike, they obviously felt responsibility for my going to town by myself on the bike. In fact, getting sick was like having all the okaasan 's worries coming true. She in particular seemed to take responsibility for my allergy attack, and it struck me as curious that no amount of assurances seemed to allay her concerns.
If I had it to do over again, I would have accepted the ride and arranged for some other mountain biking experience, perhaps with their son. At the time I thought such risks as getting lost and becoming ill were my own. Now it seems like there is no such thing—especially since I was a guest in their home.