It was strange that two families were living together under one roof having not know each other previously. Over the first few days, Yoshi and Kana outlined how their household was run but made us feel at home. The house, like any other had it’s quirks; it was very compact and everything had it’s exact place. We were instructed about the dogs feet being wiped, to toilet protocol! At the end of each day there was a big clean up and pack away mission; before long we were in the tune with the daily routine and all the idiosyncrasies of the house.
Our room comprised of some traditional tatami (wicker) mats on the floor and three Shiki Futons: slim, rectangular, foldable cushions, only 3-4 inches in height and filled with cotton batting. The pillows were traditional Sobakawa pillows -used extensively in the Orient for hundreds of years- which are filled with buckwheat hulls, and much to our surprise were extremely comfortable.
It got bitterly cold at night due to the house being extremely old and the walls paper thin, so we had to huddle together to share some body heat. We slept soundly – possibly due to the sharp contrast of being cold at night compared to the previous 6 months in the heat, or maybe the futons. The only problem was if there was a call of nature during the night, as leaving the confines of our warm huddle to hit the sharp icy cold air to venture downstairs was a proper mission.
During our time in South East Asia, the kids moaned about the heat. Once the trip to Japan had been booked, the rule was that no one was allowed to moan about being cold whilst in Japan….but that didn’t last long. Our packing had been based on warm climates, and visiting Japan hadn’t been in the initial plan. A few items of clothing were purchased in Thailand, but we had to invest in more warm clothes, hats, gloves and socks a few days after arriving in Japan.
Over the course of our stay the dinner table was a real source of education and bonding. We learnt about the protocol relating to eating; the preparation of Japanese food; picked up some vital Japanese phrases; got to understand the Japanese culture a lot more; and found out more about each others families.
Kana was a superb cook, and everything was always freshly prepared. Meals consisted of a bowl of rice, a bowl of miso laden with vegetables -the miso paste was made by Kana- and a plate with some vegetables and generally fish. A very balanced diet and nothing processed in the meals at all. Nothing went to waste in the household. What we may have deemed fit for the bin was used in someway; prawn heads were used to make a broth, vegetable roots fed to the goat; and all garbage was carefully sorted and recycled where possible. We were taught that if eating rice in someone’s house, it was disrespectful to leave even one grain of rice in your bowl, as food was very sacred in Japan. All in all some great lessons were learned, especially comparing the wasteful eating habits of Western culture with the Japanese respect for food.
Yoshi ran the Nagoya branch of the Renato FC football academy. Sessions were run Monday to Thursdays in three different locations. My role was to assist him with coaching; but it wasn’t as immersive as I had hoped; partly due to Yoshi having his own coaching methods and secondly due to the language barrier. I had previously coached a local side that Rico played for in Cape Town for 6 years prior to leaving. It was interesting comparing the different styles of coaching and more so the players. The marked difference I found was the physicality during games. The Japanese players really got stuck in with some proper tackles, but there was never ever moaning or play acting; tough kids. The second thing I noticed was how technically gifted a lot of the kids were; great close ball control and trickery on the ball, but with this came some selfish single minded play. It was great to build up a rapport with the players over the month and to be back coaching again; my happy place.
The coaching was tiring but it was Becky who had ended up with the more taxing role. Never one to shy away from hard work, she naturally assumed the role of second mother to little baby Hyuga, who was only two months old. On top of that she’d be supervising our two doing school work, and also looking after Mimi -who was two- if Kana needed to run errands or cook.
On weekends we were free to do as we pleased. The first weekend we took a 3 hour drive with Yoshi to his small rice plantation in Takayama.
Moriyama was a very quiet town, so we used a couple of weekends to explore Japan’s third biggest city Nagoya, which was only 40 minutes away by train. As luck would have it we managed to meet up with some family from my Dad’s side, who were also in Japan on I.O.C business as Sam was part of the Olympic committee of Guyana. Again, it was a great to see familiar faces, and a fun day was had, culminating in the crucifying of songs in a private karaoke room which we hired, and then gorging ourselves with a traditional Japanese hotpot.
The days were busy and tiring but fulfilling; we were constantly learning from our hosts in some shape or form. Rico and Tiana’s days were also busy; school work, helping around the house and keeping the kids entertained. They loved the freedom of being able to ride bikes and skateboards, and walk the dogs around the neighbourhood with nothing to worry about; a far cry from the insecurity we had felt in Cape Town. It was a simple and enriching life.