Staying at a local's house
Or a memory of Japan that I would forever keep in my heart?
Khang and I dragged our suitcases onto the subway.
It was almost 10:30 pm at Temmabashi station.
I opened Google Map to check the route again. We would pass 13 stops in 26 minutes before we reached Nagahara station, then walked for about 20 minutes from Nagahara to Mr. Hiro's house. We could get to his house at 11:15.
Except for the fact that the walking might take longer than we expected, I had complete confidence in the accuracy of the Japanese subway.
We got off at Nagahara station on time but were still delayed because my suitcase's lock suddenly broke. Under the glimmering street lights, the shadows of me and Khang were blurred in the sound of dragging suitcases. We were nearly 2 kilometers from Hiro's house.
"It is so late at night. Would we be robbed or kidnapped?" - I hesitated. Fortunately, Khang - my younger brother, remained optimistic. He talked to me all the way to ease my anxiety. We stopped at the gate of Hiro's house at 11:30, 15 minutes later than scheduled. I was really grateful to their family for waiting for us from the afternoon until then.
Hiro was our "host" in Osaka
We knew him via Couchsurfing. It is a social network for travelers to experience new things. Tourists will connect with locals and get to stay in their homes for free when they visit the country.
Hiro seemed quiet and composed - just like my first impression of Japanese people. He helped me drag my suitcase through the small stairs and told us about the places to eat, shower, and sleep.
Without experiencing living in a Japanese home, we would probably keep our first impressions of Hiro as well as find it difficult to clearly understand the good qualities of the people here: Enthusiastic, caring and eager to share. Those sparkles emanated from Aunt Sonoko - Hiro's mother.
Aunt Sonoko was the reason Hiro signed up for a Couchsurfing account. Letting tourists from far away stay at their house is a way for Sonoko and her son to improve their English.
She is a home school teacher. Her teaching room is small and cozy. The long tables are arranged in a U shape and are enough for about 10 children to study. On the wall are stickers of Japanese and English alphabets, next to which are a map of Japan and a world map. The room is full of books and documents along one wall, but they are all neatly packed into boxes and shelves.
If you have ever read or heard the story of Japanese people's orderliness in books about minimalism, I believe you can visualize this cute room somehow.
Sonoko's kitchen was also small and modest. It was where we chatted during the time Khang and I were in Osaka. Aunt Sonoko told us many things: about Japan, about the Kansai region, and Osaka city - where she lived. During our conversation, she even offered us matcha tea and pancakes.
Speaking of pancakes, do you find this kind of cake familiar? This was the same question that Sonoko asked us and she also sang a piece of music as the hint. When Aunt Sonoko sang the first note, we shouted out, "It's Doraemon!".
At that time, it felt like we were returning to our childhood, and Aunt Sonoko was like a fairy who was gently telling the children about a cat robot from the future.
Aunt Sonoko always asked us "bedtime questions" like these:
"Do you feel comfortable?"
"Do you need more blankets, pillows, or anything else?"
"Do you need me to wake you up early tomorrow?"
That was the warmth that I did not expect from a stranger. Besides, only my mother often asks me such things. Therefore, the moment I heard Aunt Sonoko asking those questions, I felt like I was in my own home in my hometown.
Last morning before going to the airport to go back, I got to try on Aunt Sonoko's Kimono
I once tried a Japanese national costume during the time of the Vietnam - Japan Cultural Exchange Program in Hanoi. However, this time, it felt much more special. Sonoko's Kimono has been with her for more than 30 years of her life. It was like a friend - a companion who has witnessed all the changes in her life.
Putting on each layer of clothing while listening to Aunt Sonoko's happy stories of the many-year-old Kimono, I felt thrilled. Not only did I try the national costume of Japan, but I also heard stories about the life of one individual.
I ended my trip to Kansai on a summer day in July 2019, with the basic experience that anyone coming would have: enjoying ramen and takoyaki in Dotonbori; visiting the Gion area and going for a romantic walk under the rain in Kyoto; taking pictures with the deers in Nara park, etc.
Still, perhaps, the short time that I stayed at Aunt Sonoko's house was the memory of Japan that I will always cherish in my heart.
Thank you Aunt Sonoko, thank you Japan for the love they gave us!
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