Friday, May 8, 2009

Life at my Host Family's Home

(The neighborhood of Ryosanji)

Memories of Life in Ryosanji

The house I spent 10 months at was never what I’d expected before coming to Japan. It was both old and modern; a mix of the 1960s, pre-war Japan, and 21st commodities sprinkled about in rooms sparingly. It was a traditional Japanese house built with none of the Western trappings that have become so common in those numerous shallow and often tacky homes of contemporary Japanese construction. What existed in this home was character and acknowledgement of Japanese culture, rather than an enshrined shunning of Japanese architectural heritage so encased in the numerous new homes that now replace many of Japan’s old houses. A wall encasing a garden with a large roofed gate adorned the front of the house. Inside there was a sizable traditional Japanese garden. Peering into the garden are great large windows which are shrouded by pull down bamboo sheets. The house is constructed out of fine wood that is deep in the hue of dark browns and feint reds seen in the cedars of forests found all over Japan.

The interior of the home was always a little bit of a confusion of style, purpose, and design compared to the façade of the outside structure. While some sections, such as the living room, the butsudan room, and other multipurpose rooms, including the upstairs bedrooms in the middle section of the house were all fairly traditional in layout, other areas were quite different. The kitchen, minus 40 year old appliances, is a true relic of the 1960s. Its drab colors and layout always seemed like such a collision of style compared to the adjacent tatami floored living room. I remember the kitchen as always being so cluttered and never in any state of true cleanliness or order for too long. Always the dishes were out drying on the racks. Cups for water sat constantly partially empty along the table ledge near the water cooler. In the warm months fruit flies buzzed in their crazed patterns among the trash bag and recyclables, finding whatever leftover food that still remained pasted to the damp surface of assorted plastic containers. Often Obaa-chan (grandma) would have come in at some time from the fields, tracking dirt and briers along with an assortment of seeds onto the floor. In the sink and next to it on the countertops she would usually leave the produce she had picked from the fields along with pots of different wild flowers that she’d found for the house. Frequently, okaa-san (mother) would come back home in the evening around 6:30 or 7 and exclaim in surprise and dismay about the “mess” that was on the floor and in the kitchen. And so that was life was in at the Umekage household.

I never did venture into all of the corners of the house. Often I had wanted to see what was in the “white” tower of the far left of the house where Hitomi lived. Once when no one was home I had went as far past Obaa-chan’s room until the staircase that led to Hitomi’s room. I crept up it, but both fearing and feeling a strong pang of shame and embarrassment, I turned back down no matter how curious I still remained. That room to the day I left remained the one area of the house I never saw. Creeping about like the way I was, I felt like a thief or some type of spy. It didn’t feel right.

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