Why I Wake Up
As most college students know, the ability to wake up early is a superpower granted only to a chosen few. In Japan this is no exception, especially after the initial 2 to 3 weeks of excitement and jetlag wear off. Between doing homework until midnight and going out to explore Tokyo any (and every) day of the week, waking up in the morning is not appealing; most days, it is an all-out struggle. Yet it is a struggle I undergo gladly for the sake of two smiling faces and that wonderful “Ohayo.”
In the apartment where I live with my host family of Mama, Papa, L, and R (names abbreviated for privacy), mornings start around 6am when R, age 4, wakes up and decides to play with his train set with volume on high. This chorus of beeps soon harmonizes with the giggles of L, age 6, who joins her younger brother in morning playtime. By 7:30am Mama is ushering them in to the bathroom across the hall from me for bath time. Around 8am Papa leaves for work, and everyone sees him off at the door on the other side of my wall with cheerful hugs and more giggles. Once 8:30am rolls around, the children are out the door with backpacks and umbrellas and sweaters in hand as Mama takes them to the bus and then goes on to her own workplace.
This daily routine is imprinted in my brain; on the days I cannot get up early, I lie in bed and listen to the routine play out like listening to a movie on in the other room. The familiarity of their voices as I lay half-awake is comforting, rather than irritating. On the rare mornings when the children sleep in, I actually wake myself up because the house is too quiet. I love hearing the sounds of family life and the simple joy of L and R when they wake up to greet the new day. As often as I sleep past the morning bustle, however, I also push myself to get up in the morning at least 3 or 4 times a week, despite not having class until 11am, so that I can spend time with them. The few hours of playtime in the morning are some of the most joyful moments of my day, and it is now far more valuable than sleep to me. Fighting epic battles to save the universe or watching the ever-intriguing Japanese children’s television is much more worthwhile than the lame adult dreams my mind comes up with.
Back at my university in the States, sleep took priority over everything for me; I think I would have slept through my homestay experience very easily had I not received some valuable advice from the CIEE Student Services Coordinator. She explained that, for Japanese people, spending time together doesn’t mean going somewhere to do something. Often, she explained, Japanese people spend time together merely by sharing the same space. In a homestay, that means everyone may be in the living room on separate electronic devices, “doing their own thing” in a Western sense, but to Japanese, this is “being together.” This advice really helped me during the first week when we would all be home in the evenings not talking to each other, just watching TV. But it also helped me appreciate how important it is to my host family that I wake up to just be with them in the morning. As much as I love playing with the kids, I think my host parents also appreciate the effort I am putting in to be with the family in the moments of everyday routine, not just the exciting moments or the fun trips on the weekend.
My host family experience is turning out to be the most rewarding part of my time here in Japan. They are the reason homesickness has not hit me yet, even after 2 months; they are also the reason I feel so at home in this country. My host parents explain the difficult or unfamiliar aspects of Japanese life to me; the children help me learn alongside them as they read books or watch children’s TV; the whole family has made me feel welcome in a country not my own. I think this experience has also been so positive because of the extensive coaching and advice I received from CIEE prior to moving in with the family. I was better prepared for how to fit in with the family, and the transition went much smoother than I expected. I think my homestay is the best part of my CIEE experience so far, and I encourage every applicant in the future to seriously consider homestay as an integral part of their time in Japan. I laugh with my family, learn from my family, and love every single moment of it, even when I wake up early in the morning.