The experience of living with a different family, the games at the bowling alley and the trips to the notable parks and shrines made my 2-week stay extremely eventful and memorable.
It was a very familiar smell. From the golden crumbs to the crunchiness of the battered surface, I looked at my last pieces of Tonkatsu with a strange see of being in two places at the same time. I was having dinner with my family at a popular Japanese restaurant in Cebu but I was mentally thousands of miles away, remembering that day when I was about to board a train bound for Ofuna for the very first time.
After a few hours in a high speed train, we came face to face with our parents and foster brothers. Those anxious days of wondering how my “ice breaker” with my new foster family would turn out was quickly replaced by an evening of fun and laughter. Despite having only communicated with my foster brother Ken through social media, our single-lined queries soon became long conversations about common interests. The peaceful environment of the Italian restaurant where they hosted our first dinner was transformed into a venue with boisterous laughter and booming voices. The experience of living with a different family, the games at the bowling alley and the trips to the notable parks and shrines made my 2-week stay extremely eventful and memorable. For the first time, I learned how it felt to have a brother of the same age who I could almost completely relate with. I also felt the warm hospitality at Ken’s home. My foster father, mother and sister would share with me many different things and teach me the culture in Japan. It was a fun-filled and happy household, quite like my family back in the Philippines. They were also very considerate on how they planned out activities, especially when it would be preceded by long travels to and from Ofuna. Despite their tight schedules, my foster parents would prepare food, drop me to the station and pick me up after school. The thing that stood out for me was how my foster family taught me to face my fears by repeatedly conquering all the roller coaster rides at Tokyo Disneyland. I am fortunate to have travelled to several countries at a young age but this experience has been the most eye-opening for me. I have learned to appreciate the value of time, which we may forget in the comfort of our own environment or when travelling with our own parents. I have also witnessed firsthand how my foster family treats everything with respect and value. While we share many similar Confucian values with them, the new perspective I have gained from my Japanese family has given me a clearer context on the importance of what is being taught in my own home. Most importantly, I have seen how our environment shapes the character and traits of its people.
In some trips, we come home and hit the ground running. But this time, it was different. It’s been weeks since I arrived but I still occasionally experience feelings of being mentally teleported to and from Japan. Nevertheless, I will always cherish the memories of the long walks and train rides that feel like minutes because of laughter and conversation with friends and other host brothers. I will always savour the choice ingredients in their ice cream, the authenticity of their ramen and the quality of the experience which I can still smell and taste, even in my dreams. Most importantly, I will carry with me the unique perspective I have gained from the long, thought-provoking conversations with my foster brother, parents and grandparents. Thank you, Japan. Thank you, Teachers. Thank you, my dear host family. Thank you, Ken. Mata chikai uchini aitai desu!