Monday, October 02, 2006

First Japanese Family Homestay

My first 48 hours in Japan were with my friend, Yusuke, and his parents -- a rather exciting time for them, and a special time for me.
His father was persevering and philosophical, having learned English while at the OECD in Paris. His big words and broad concepts were warm and thoughtful: 'James -- how long will you live?" he asked. 'Since my father died when he was 72, I know my time in this world is limited, so I cherish every encounter I have, like this one.'
Yusuke's mom contrasted with her giddiness. Over dinner at a nicer version of Toronto`s Red Lobster, she knocked a standing wine glass with a contrasting arm movement in a desire to bring the Hokkaido crab legs closer to me.

Her curiosity stood out most: supported by her husband's occasional translation and context-framing of her questions, I moved into a Japanese discourse on Europe's quest for a north-west passage to Asia, the reason for English dominance in North America, and general Canadian immigration trends. Not bad practice as I found my historical knowledge and Japanese vocab being put to the test.

I now see Yusuke is a combination of mom, dad and his emerging self. We`ve always conversed easily in Canada, and with the curiosity of his mom, the philosophical bent of his dad, and his own interest in business models and general concepts, chatted at lenght in the rather upscale Aoyama Starbucks. But where I started to shift, was when he told me about his 8:20AM to 10PM daily work schedule followed by a return to a strictly controlled dorm where friends and family are prohibited entry. Not only do you have dinner very late, but you`re eating with colleagues most of the time. Imagine -- as a junior worker, you would work, eat, sleep. Repeat. Weekends are often spent with co-workers hanging out, or spending time with the supervisor and your work group on casual driving trips. Sure it may be fun -- but I'm trying to imagine weekends with my entire working team. I can`t think of my supervisor wanting to hang out with me on weekends.

We parted ways on a rainy Tokyo Monday morning, rolling my heavy suitcase to the bus-stop, onto the bus, to a train, then a couple more trains, onto my next destination: Machida City, south-west Tokyo.


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