I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, a city that’s known for “Southern Hospitality;” at least it’s supposed to be anyway. But to make a pretty bold statement: I have never in my life experienced the kind of hospitality that I have here in Japan. Not to say that everyone in Japan is going to behospitable…that’s simply not the case. But I have had some situations where people here have gone so far out of their way to make me, and my co-workers feel welcome, that I’ll never forget it.
For example, a former co-worker, Hiroshi, used to have all of the foreign teachers over for barbecues, get-togethers, fireworks festivals, and even for the holidays. This teacher’s family lives in Tsuchiura, a neighboring, less-developed city southeast of here. His house was something to marvel at. I believe his family owns a dry-cleaning business, and members of the extended family live in the house, mom, aunt, nephews, etc. I was always extremely grateful just to be there. Hiroshi’s mother, an extremely sweet, elderly woman, would make incredible dishes for us to eat. During the meal she wouldn’t eat herself, she would always walk around to make sure we had tea in our cups and hot food on our plates. She didn’t even speak any English, but I think hospitality is a universal language. We would have the best time playing ping-pong and Nintendo Wii, singing songs while my co-worker Gareth, jammed-out on the piano, watching Hiroshi get drunk and make the younger kids cry (sorry Hiroshi, but it’s true, lol), eating and just enjoying each other’s company. The rooftop BBQs at Hiroshi’s have been an essential part of my stay in Japan.
Another example happened a few weeks ago when some of us had dinner at a student’s home here in Tsukuba. This student, Kyoko, picked us up, and drove us to her house about 10 minutes away. This was actually the second time I’ve had dinner there, and I always feel so welcome. Kyoko’s English is amazing (she’s worked hard for years on it) and her son and husband speak pretty well, to. There’s just something so charming about being there. Going home, stuffed full of great food is always a given when I go here. Kyoko also let us try hachinoko which are bee larva, sounds disgusting…I know, but I rather enjoyed them. It’s so refreshing to sit down at a table with genuinely good people, no TV, no music, and just talk. Every time I’ve gone, I’ve felt like part of the family.
The last instance is the most extreme case of hospitality I’ve ever encountered. My friend Kentaro (a dentist here in Ibaraki) invited another co-worker and I to Kansai for our last Golden Week vacation, and it was incredible. Kentaro took the time to make an itinerary so we could see some of the best sites that Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka had to offer. It wasn’t a forced schedule either, we saw so much and it was so comfortable. We had futons prepared for us, breakfast was on the table when we woke up. This family, and I kid you not, would even run our bath water at night for us. We had a pretty expensive night with Kentaro, his parents, and some of their friends and they paid for everything (we all tried so hard to pay, but they wouldn’t let us). I remember taking a taxi to Kyoto Station at the end of the trip, and Kentaro’s Mom and Dad helped us with our bags and waved to us as the taxi drove over the horizon.
Truthfully, I could probably write a book on the wonders of Japanese hospitality, but I won’t overwhelm you today. Being here in Japan has given me a whole new outlook on how to treat company when they visit. I was always taught to be polite to guests and to be a good host, but never to this extent. People were so hospitable that I almost felt guilt at times. I think if everyone could show a little eastern hospitality…the world would be a better place.