Friday 26th February & Saturday 27th February
We finally arrived in Yosano, after a three-hour car journey from the airport through the snow, and we stopped at a local supermarket to get a snack before meeting our home-stay families. We were amazed at the wide selection of food available (my personal favourites were English Breakfast flavour Doritos, and Green Tea Kit Kats, which we soon realised are common delicacies here!) I opted for a fast food option, similar to KFC, except that the chicken had been marinated in soy sauce and butter – this quite literally melted in my mouth, making any attempts at fast food in the UK look pathetic in comparison. We then drove a short distance to the town hall, where we met the parents of our home-stay families for the first time. We introduced ourselves, and the parents bowed and welcomed us in response, before we separated off into our individual families.
We drove to the family’s house, where each family member introduced themselves over a cup of green tea. We sat around a kotatsu, a low wooden table covered by a blanket. The table has a heater attached underneath, and the blanket retains the heat produced – I have never seen anything like it, but it is genuinely one of the best inventions ever, and I’m hoping the UK catches onto the idea soon! We laughed and talked (mainly through sign language) for hours, until we realised it was nearly 1am and then we decided to go to sleep.
I had the best night’s sleep in my cosy futon (traditional Japanese bedding laid out on the floor), which was incredibly comfortable. My Japanese “mummy” made us a delicious breakfast of yoghurt with kiwi, toast and a sweet Japanese bun. We sat and spoke for most of the morning, discussing what we’d like to do that afternoon, and before we knew it, it was lunch time. We had bowl of traditional udon noodles with egg and vegetables, and I was presented with a pair of chopsticks to practice with – I was shockingly bad at using these (noodles are surprisingly difficult to eat), and we all laughed together as I had to switch to using a fork instead. I then went shopping with my Japanese mother to the local supermarket, where we bought ingredients for that evening’s dinner. I was surprised to see that the layout of the supermarket was different – you take the basket up to the cashier, who, after scanning the bar codes of your items, places them into another basket, which you take into a bagging area at the end of the aisle after you have paid. It all seemed very efficient!
We then went to visit the historical landmark of Amanohashidate, a thin strip of land connecting the two sides of Miyazu bay. We walked around the surrounding town, which was beautiful – we made a wish using a coin in the traditional wishing well, we inhaled smoke/incense from a metal cauldron which supposedly makes you wise, and we stopped to eat some famous traditional rice cakes at one of the tiny village shops.
We then went to visit the onsen (hot spring), which is something I’d really been hoping to do during my time here. A hot spring is a source of water which is naturally heated by geothermal heat, and in Japanese culture they are thought to have both spiritual and healing properties. To enter the onsen, you are required to be completely naked, which should have been an awkward experience, but it surprisingly wasn’t (the springs were also divided by gender which helped). The feel of the warm, slightly salted water was extremely relaxing after the stress of the travelling the day before, and I found myself feeling a sudden inner sense of peace. We then moved to the outdoor hot spring to find that it was snowing, and the contrast between the two temperatures made the whole experience even more magical. Whilst taking in the surroundings, I felt overwhelmingly lucky to be able to experience such a beautiful place – a few days prior, I had been panicking in the library at 2am before an exam, and now I was bathing in a hot spring, in the snow, in Japan, having the time of my life.
We returned home, feeling content and very sleepy, and we all sat and talked whilst my Japanese parents prepared our evening meal. They made homemade yakisoba, a stir-fry noodle dish, right in front of us at the table, which was delicious. Each dish was prepared with a humbling amount of pride and care; we had noodles to start, followed by a Japanese-style vegetable pancake, with sweet beansprouts to finish. I then went upstairs to call my parents, but the combination of a full tummy and such an overwhelmingly amazing day soon took its toll, and within minutes I was asleep – it’s only our second day here, and I never want to leave.