The one unusual thing about me as an exchange student is that I have family in Japan. My mother is Japanese, and therefore her whole family lives there. So of course I had to visit them! Since I just so happened to be in the neighborhood.
My grandparents live in a mountainous area of Japan called the Nagano prefecture. It took me about five hours total to get there by train. It was a peaceful, unpopulated ride through beautiful rural fields. Farmers hacked at their land, scarecrows blew in the wind. Ragged mountains reared up at the horizon in dark blue, highlighted by pure white snow.
The last train I rode was the smallest train I’ve ever ridden. It was three cars, and required only one driver for most of the ride (most trains have at least two, one in the front and one in the back). Instead of ticket gates, many of the stops simply required passengers to hand off their tickets to the driver. Some ‘stations’ consisted of only a small platform and a building the size of an American shed.
The town that serves as my grandparents’ home is one of the “urban” neighborhoods in the area. By the name of Omachi, it has at least a couple supermarkets, some clothes stores, and even two post offices. It does have a decent taxi system for the hiking and skiing tourists that come all year round.
The house my grandparents moved into seven years back, however, is not nearly so modernized. In fact, there is not a single hot water tap in the entire structure. Not that the structure is very large; it consists of a hall, bathroom, bathing room, kitchen, living room, bedroom, and sitting room.
It was built quite long ago, which explains the lack of hot water. There is an appliance installed by the kitchen sink that uses gas to almost instantly heat water, for washing dishes. The bath uses electricity to heat the water inside it. Otherwise, hot water had to be obtained from the ever present kettles that sat over the gas stoves placed around the house for warmth. Which reminds me, the March days I was there included quite a bit of cold and snowy weather. Some mornings I woke up and was able to see my breath in puffy white clouds.
Strangely enough, it wasn’t unpleasant at all. I loved every minute of my two-week stay there. Even if there was no shower, and I had to use a bucket to scoop water out of the tub to wash myself, even if there was no internet access, even if every room was hardly more than four steps across and six wide, even if the electrical fuse blew out every time we accidentally ran the microwave and toaster oven at the same time, even then I loved it. There was something simple and pure and oddly right about this way of living, where I buried myself in blankets and sat close to the stove when I was cold, and when I spent whole afternoons looking at children’s books instead of staring blankly at a TV.
I think I could easily say this was my favorite time in Japan.