Japan Trip Ten: An Evening with the Hamaguchi family Part One

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This is the tenth post in a multi-part series covering my time on a Japanese tv show. If you haven't been following along, you should probably start at the beginning. Otherwise, welcome back, and enjoy!

When I finally got out of the air-conditioned van, feeling revived, if not one hundred percent oojah-cum-spiff, I found that a new member of the Hamaguchi family had arrived. She was the wife of the oldest brother, who you will remember was in Tokyo. I will call her Mrs. Hamaguchi since I only ever knew her as Hamaguchi-San. This was confusing because everybody was called Hamaguchi-San since San can mean either Mr. or Mrs. and most people go by their last names. At any rate, Mrs. Hamaguchi didn't speak a single word of English, and I think I've already demonstrated that my Japanese is extremely limited, but right away I felt that she and I would be good friends if it weren't for the language barrier.

She was very pretty, with chestnut brown hair, and a reassuring smile. Even though I knew that Mrs. Hamaguchi didn't understand what I was saying, she had a way of listening that made it feel like she did. Her eyes never sliding out of focus and her attention never drifting. It's always interesting how people listen to someone when they can't understand the language. Reacting to spoken words is such an ingrained thing in human society, that it feels really weird to be having a conversation with delays in the translation. I developed a mode of nodding as though I understood them, then doing the same thing again when Saori-San translated. I also found myself going "Mmm" a lot, which was something that everyone else did, and seems to be a cultural thing. I did wonder if I would keep doing it once I got back to the United States, but it melted away as fast as it had appeared. 

After introductions, You-San explained that even though I had opted to sleep at the hotel, they wanted to film me at the house, as though I was staying there. Just a little subterfuge for the sake of our "documentary". We loaded ourselves back into the van and followed the Hamaguchi family through the narrow streets of Tomie. Finally, we parked behind a very dingy looking building and a gravel-covered yard. It didn't look like anyone lived there, and even if it had, I couldn't imagine Mrs. Hamaguchi having such a shabby looking home. I looked at the house next door, which was tidier, with a large front yard and a very classically Japanese looking dog sitting on the porch. I thought this was a more likely candidate. 

We all got out of the car, and as usual, it took a little while for the crew to get organized. But, the wait didn't bother me, since there were only a small road and a stone wall between me and the ocean. Finally, we began to walk, heading away from the two buildings and mostly keeping to the roadway which traced the shore.

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I kept expecting every building that we reached to be the Hamaguchi home, but we kept going, turning up a few streets and then walking back down towards the ocean. After a few minutes of this strange course, I began to suspect that You-San was looking for a good place to stop and film. Finally, we reached a beautifully picturesque spot where an inlet broke into the town, framed by a concrete wall. The tide was high, so the water came almost up to the walkway. Many houses sat not too far away from here, their exteriors a brownish-red and their rooves a pleasing slate.

You-San asked Mrs. Hamaguchi and me to walk from one end of the inlet towards the camera on the other end. He encouraged us to chat as we walked, which was an odd request since we couldn't understand each other and our one language bridge, Saori-San, would be standing thirty feet away behind the camera. But, I was determined to do it right this time, and as with so many aspects of my social life, I was inspired by my one true love, cats. I spotted one of these wonderful creatures strolling along the opposite side of the inlet. I usually get excited when I see a cat but when I was already desperate to think of something to say I was even happier. 

I pointed to the cat and said, "Oh, neko!" ("Oh, cat!"). Her face lit up and she said "Hai, neko!" ("Yes, cat!"). I swelled with pride and we both giggled like old friends, stopping at the camera. "That was perfect!" said You-San, clearly relieved that I had shown a spark of personality. Then we were interrupted by George-San who tapped on his shoulder. He said something to You-San, who nodded and said something to Saori-San. "They want you to do it again," she told me. "Something went wrong." Seriously? Do you guys realize how hard this stuff is for me?

Mrs. Hamaguchi and I walked back to our previous starting point, her good-naturedly and me furiously wondering if I dared point out the cat again. Would she realize what I was doing or would she think I was a total idiot? Ah, the plight of the socially inept television star. On the whole, I decided I couldn't pull it off, and instead, we walked jauntily down the road in amiable silence. 

After this, we walked up a side street from there, then turned down another road and stopped in front of a beautiful stone wall that bordered someone's lawn. You-San stopped and asked Mrs. Hamaguchi a question. He seemed to like her response because the cameras were hoisted back onto George-San and Chan-San's shoulders and You-San asked me to ask her about the stones. "Say something like, 'how old is this stone wall?'"

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I parroted the question and waited for Mrs. Hamaguchi to finish her lengthy but unitellgiable (to me) reply. Saori-San then explained that the stones are volcanic and come from the island. The stone wall, and most of the others like it that I would see around Goto, have been standing since the days of Samurai rule. Very cool. 

We then turned around and walked back the way we came, stopping in front of a house we had litterally passed five minutes beforehand. We had finally reached Casa Hamaguchi. It was squeezed in a corner between another house and a storrage building of some sort. It was a traditional Japanese house, with a tiled slate roof, sliding doors, and carved fish on the ends of each ridge pole. I was enchanted and I began to fervently wish I was really staying there, even though I knew I needed to sleep well that night, which would be easier at the hotel. 

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We entered through a heavy sliding wooden door and I found myself standing in a small mud room. I took off my shoes and stepped up into the hallway, which led towards a kitchen in the back of the house. To the side was a large door which opened onto a living room which had a tatami mat floor. I can't describe to you how exciting this was for me. I'm such a nerd. 

The house was sparsely decorated and didn't have a particularly "lived in" feel. This was explained to me by You-San, who told me that the family had several houses in town and this one was sort of like a guest house. If I had been staying there, I would have had it all to myself. After they briefly showed me the living room and kitchen Mrs. Hamaguchi brought me up the staircase to the bedroom. As soon as we got halfway up the stairs I stopped feeling sad that I would be at the hotel that night. It was so hot upstairs that I felt like I couldn't breath. 

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That being said, the room was very cute, with tatami mats on the floor and curtains that hid a door to the balcony. The ceiling was very low, for someone of my substantial height, but the overall effect was pleasing. The only "furniture" in the room was a Japanese mattress on the floor. I complimented the room and was persuaded to try the bed.

I've always been very curious about these futons, never having seen an authentic one in person. As it turns out, anime and manga are very misleading on this point. They always look fluffy and snuggly as clouds in this medium, but in reality, my pampered American backside was having none of it. I'm sure I would have gotten used to it but not in the advanced state of exhaustion I had reached. 

I got back up and they pointed out a garment that was neatly folded and sitting next to the bed. "They have a yukata here," said Saori-San. "They want you to try it on." A yukata is a type of kimono that is worn in the summer. It is generally made out of cotton so that it is light and easy to wear in the heat. I have always wanted to try on a yukata but as usual, something kept me from being wholeheartedly excited. As anyone who is not of average proportion will know, it is not always easy for some people to just throw on garments of unknown sizes. Generally, one wishes to only do this when they are alone, in a changing room at a store, where no one can see their shame. Definitely not in a room full of people, two of whom are clutching cameras.

But, I'm a tough cookie and decided to roll with the punches. Mrs. Hamaguchi unfolded it and helped me into it, over my clothes. I tried not to wince as Saori-San unwrapped the narrow obi that would hold it closed. In my experience, this is where things usually go south, when I try out belts and their compatriots. To my utter amazement, Saroi-San was able to wrap it around me and fasten it closed. Oh, thank god! Crisis averted. I'm sure I would have gotten over it if it hadn't fit, lord knows I'm used to it. However, knowing how kind they all were, I knew they would have felt terrible if it hadn't fit me. 

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As it did fit me, they were able to spend the next five minutes telling me that I looked amazing in a yukata. They took pictures, filmed, and got me to sit on my shins on the mattress so I looked super authentic. I'm glad I don't blush noticeably because otherwise, I would have looked like a radish throughout the whole trip. 

Once I had taken it off and attempted to hand it back to Mrs. Hamaguchi they informed me that it was actually a gift from the crew. I was very touched. As we walked down the stairs Saori-San asked me if I liked it. "Yes, very much," I said. "The color is lovely." 

This seemed to please Yuki-San who was walking behind us. "He picked it out," said Saori-San at his prompting. I thanked him and he laughed, saying something else. "He said it was his grandfather's," said Saori-San. My eyebrows shot skyward. She laughed and slapped his arm. "He's joking," she said. 

"Oh," I said, also laughing but unsure as to whether or not this was true. If it is true, it would probably explain why I actually fit into it, I find it far more plausible that I'm a similar shape to Yuki-San's grandfather than any Japanese women I've met. 

We got downstairs and I was informed that we would be heading back to Fukue to have dinner with the Hamaguchi family. My stomach had just finally settled down and I had reached that stage of tiredness where you're not even aware of how tired you are. Not to mention, I was happy to spend another few hours with the family that was being so kind to me. We walked out of the house and found the Hamaguchi men outside, talking with an older gentleman and a young man. "Ah!" said You-San spotting them, "Kaisaki-San!" 

They bowed to each other and then You-San presented me to them. "Kipp-San desu," he said. I bowed and smiled and said, "nice to meet you." Then You-San informed me that they were the men who would be taking me fishing in the morning. "Oh," I said, "I'm really looking forward to it!" They beamed like I had just made their day, then took their leave, promising to see me bright and early. Ah, bright and early, my favorite time of day. 

We got back into the van and set off for dinner. 

Wow, I didn't think that it would take me so long to describe this part of the story. I guess I'll have to save my harrowing experience with the poisonous puffer fish until the next post. I do apologize. I promise it is worth the wait. 

Until next time, enjoy your sleep while you can.

Please remember to share this post on your social media of choice. If you want something else to read, you might enjoy this post about Japanese cats. Or you might like this one about parenting in Japan.