Skip to content
June 28, 2011 / Karen Hill Anton

Informality happy homestay secret

Mie, Mario, Lila in Sanarudai — around the time Hirotaka stayed with us

(September 10, 1992)      

Homestays are popular now, and every year more and more Japanese go to stay abroad while their counterparts come to live with families in Japan.

Many friends here have told me about their rewarding homestay experiences hosting foreign guests, while others report they have “homestay burnout” or that it’s just “too troublesome”. These latter admit they’re unable to tell their guests “help yourself”.

“In the end, in Japan, a guest is a guest,” one friend says, and in the end, Japanese hosts turn their homes into inns, providing all services. Endeavoring to make their visitors welcome, they prepare and serve elaborate meals, striving to present the look and taste of Japan.

A couple of years ago we had a homestay experiences that was a little unusual because we are an American family whose home is in Japan, and our homestay visitor was a Japanese boy – whose home is also in Japan.

Never mind the particulars of how this came about, but we thoroughly enjoyed having Hirotaka live with us. Thirteen years old then, he was an unusual boy, mature for his age, and with an adventurous nature.

It was agreed Hirotaka would stay with us for several months. Already balancing the affairs of four children, a husband, a dog, and writing, I could hardly welcome a long-term guest. But it had also been agreed Hirotaka would not have guest status, and it was evident he was soon as comfortable with our family as he was with his own.

The first thing to go was the honorifics – we did not attach kun to his name, and he did not attach san to ours. We all called him “Hiro,” and fllowing the example of my children, he called me “Mama”.

His mother worried that he might get too comfortable and familiar with us and forget his manners in the process. But I found Hiro was just like my own children – polite most of the time, and not mindful of good manners enough of the time.

Although we’re a large family, our children were delighted to add Hiro. And our son Mario, the only boy among three girls, was thrilled to have an older brother.

Our daughter Mie, who was also 13 then, got to know a boy her age for the first time. She and Hiro spent a lot of time together laughing and listening to rap, rock and popular music. On Saturday nights they stayed up late talking about whatever it is 13 year-olds talk about.

Hiro helped our youngest daughter Lila with her homework just like her own brother and sister did, and he felt free to tell her to get out of his room when she was a nuisance.

Nothing was so interesting, and amusing, than to see the reactions of other people when they realized Hiro was living with us. One neighbor remarked about his size, marveling at how big he was. I agreed, he was a big boy. But then she said he seemed, well, a little “unusual.” Hesitating, she then asked if Hiro was “haafu” whereupon I assured her he was quite whole.

Once when a deliveryman rang our bell I almost laughed out loud seeing his utter confusion when both Hiro and I answered the door. I put my seal on the form acknowledging receipt of the package. Hiro took it into the kitchen, and the deliveryman retreated, flabbergasted, to the familiar safety of his van.

Another time when someone was visiting, Hiro came out of his room, said “Konnichiwa” and then went to the refrigerator to get a glass of mugicha. I could tell my visitor wanted to ask, “Who is he?” but didn’t feel it would be polite since he appeared to be a member of our family.



© Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” 1990-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: